Tennessee is ranked at the top of the nation for legislation and anti-trafficking efforts, according to Shared Hope International, and for the past three years, Tennessee has led the country in response to the human trafficking problem.
However, state funding for the non-profit organization, End Slavery TN, has been eliminated due to COVID-19 budget cuts.
“We are just constantly trying to pivot on to see how we can just make up the difference so we can continue to do the important work that needs to be done to fight the fight,” End Slavery TN’s Leah Moyer said.
Moyer expressed that End Slavery TN, due to lack of state funding, has had to alter their whole system by moving online and navigating how to advocate for victims in this new environment.
“We have seen a lot of our partner agencies just not at a place where they are referring at the same rate they normally would be referring, not because demand has gone away, but because they’ve also had to adjust their priorities and how they facilitate their services, and might not be in a place to see some of the signs and symptoms that they normally would be,” Moyer said.
Moyer stated that the hotel industry has helped a great deal in the fight by training employees to recognize red flags and to report anything suspicious. However, now they have to limit interaction with guests and take other precautions because of the virus.
Rules have become more strict for entry into hospitals as well, so victim advocates have a more difficult time offering their support. On top of all that, they’ve faced a giant slash in their budget because the state cut their funding to deal with the economic crisis, Moyer stated.
“I think with the challenges they’ve experienced as well that lack of funding has been one of the greatest hits in just our ability to respond appropriately as a state and union,” Moyer said.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) recently reported that human trafficking is the second-highest rising crime in the state.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline also reported 180 cases from Tennessee in 2019.
According to TBI, human trafficking cases have been reported in every county in Tennessee. A large amount of them are reported in Davidson and Williamson Counties.
As reported by Free For Life International, there are two primary reasons for this.
The first reason is related to transportation and location. Nashville is one of only six U.S. cities where 3 major interstates converge. Additionally, you can reach 75% of the U.S. market within a 2-hour flight time from Nashville, making it a strategic point for movement around the country. Nashville is also in close proximity to Atlanta – a large metropolitan area known for high amounts of human trafficking – and this adds to the transportation of victims throughout the state.
The second reason that Nashville is a popular spot for human trafficking is its large tourism and sporting industries. Studies have shown that popular events that are characterized by large influxes of people (like the Super Bowl, for example) typically increase the demand for sexual exploitation. The presence of both the Nashville Predators and Tennessee Titans, as well as events such as CMA Fest, the NFL Draft, and Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival can drive a demand for trafficked services and make it harder for traffickers to be identified and caught.
Despite common misconceptions, the Polaris Project’s statistics show that the majority of trafficked individuals in the country are U.S. citizens, not foreign nationals.
For more information, on how to help with donations or education, visit End Slavery TN’s website here: : https://www.endslaverytn.org/