By Ondrea Johnson
Director of Education and Community Relations End Slavery Tennessee
You’ve had a privileged childhood in a comfortable Nashville suburb. You graduated from a local private school and are accepted to the college of your choice. But the next thing you know you’re being bought and sold for sex?
That is exactly what happened for one human trafficking survivor we recently met. The man who exploited her used a common lure among traffickers. He became her “boyfriend.” He sold her a dream; then he sold her for sex. At first his demands seemed harmless enough (“Let me take a nude photo of you.”) Once that bridge is crossed, traffickers use shame, fear and manipulation to keep a victim under their control. Fortunately for this survivor, her family discovered what was happening to her and was able to reach out to End Slavery Tennessee for an intervention, resources and the long-term comprehensive aftercare we offer. But sadly, less than 1% of trafficked minors are ever recognized as victims or offered help.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), in collaboration with Vanderbilt University, released the results of a two year study on Human Trafficking in Tennessee. The 2011 study validated what we at End Slavery Tennessee already knew. Human traffickers are very busy here in Tennessee. It happens in the major cities of our state, and, according to a later TBI study, it happens with the same prevalence in suburbs, small towns and rural areas. Victims suffer at the hands of “typical” pimps, but an exploiter can also be an 18-year-old who herself was trafficked as a girl, or addicted parents selling their children for drug or alcohol money. In fact, the study indicated that the crime of human trafficking does not discriminate between any demographic of our population.
In Tennessee, it is estimated that 94 youths are trafficked for commercial sexual acts every month. Eighty percent of these victims are young women and girls.
There is hope! We have made tremendous progress in the last few years in terms of public awareness, media attention and legislation. Tennessee is now one of the top states in the country for strength of our human trafficking laws. End Slavery Tennessee’s single-point-of-contact model is receiving nation-wide attention and is the model on which the Tennessee state wide plan for human trafficking service coordination and delivery is based. But there is still much more to do in the fight against this injustice. It’s a community problem, and it will take the community to solve it.
End Slavery Tennessee’s mission is to strategically confront human trafficking in Tennessee and holistically restore survivors. Our vision is for a slave-free Tennessee. You can learn more about human trafficking and how to get involved by visiting our web-site at http://www.endslaverytn.org. You’ll also find our list of “red flags” for identifying victims you might encounter, tips for keeping youth safe, printable handouts, Tennessee human trafficking laws, a place to sign up for our newsletter and much more.
As the Director of Education and Community Relations, Ondrea helps educate organizations and professionals in the community on the presence of human trafficking in Tennessee, how to spot it’s victims and how to combat and prevent human trafficking. Ondrea also oversees communication with and engagement of supporters and volunteers.