By Joyce Prusak
Executive Director of Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center
Every month, about 100 children in Tennessee are trafficked online for sex, and the highest rates of human trafficking in Tennessee occur in Coffee, Shelby, Davidson and Knox counties, according to a report, titled Human Trafficking in Tennessee. Some of the reports cited in this article were completed in 2013, with data from 2011. Child sexual abuse is a complex issue and sometimes it takes years to study its impacts. Hopefully, today’s numbers paint a more positive picture.
Sexual abuse is prevalent in our society, with one in 10 children experiencing sexual abuse before they turn 18. One of the forms of sexual abuse is commercial sexual exploitation. Human trafficking involves the exploitation of a person for the purposes of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud or coercion. Commercial sexual exploitation of children is any sexual activity involving a child for which something of value is promised or given. Such items of value include money, gifts, clothing, food and drugs. Things of value can also include a place to sleep or protection from threat.
Commercial sexual exploitation happens in Coffee County. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) or the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations (TBI) handle many of the cases involving commercial sexual exploitation of children.
The highest rates of human trafficking in Tennessee occur in Coffee, Shelby, Davidson and Knox counties, according to a report, titled Human Trafficking in Tennessee, citing studies from 2015. Atlanta is the “sex trafficking capital” of the United States, bringing a lot of activity to Tennessee. According to the report, 14,000 to 18,000 individuals are trafficked across US borders annually, and in Tennessee, 94 children are trafficked online each month for sex.
Coffee County was the only rural county with more than 100 cases of minor sex trafficking, according to a report of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, titled The Geography of Trafficking in Tennessee 2013. One of the Coffee County participants (non-law enforcement) in the TBI study said that her experience with sex trafficking was “a father who was abusing his daughters and then letting his friends participate for a fee, according to the report.
About 80% of sexually trafficked children were sexually abused prior to being trafficked in a in a non-commercial manner, according to Darkness to Light. If we can prevent and intervene early in child sexual abuse, we can reduce child commercial sexual exploitation. Recognizing the signs and knowing how to react responsibly can make a difference and protect children.
We have to be vigilant and limit risks – and the risks can be higher in today’s digital world.
Studies show that one in three children who run away from home will be approached for commercial sexual exploitation within 48 hours of running away. The internet has intensified the problem, giving tools to traffickers to attempt to exploit children anonymously. Often, potential trafficking victims are approached initially on social networking websites, such as Facebook. “Pimps and (traffickers) gain the trust of the individual by expressing sentiments of love or the willingness to make the individual a model, singer or actor. Pimps and (traffickers) will also pretend to be an employment agency promising an unbelievable job opportunity. Once trust is gained the pimp or trafficker will convince the individual to travel to a new location and possibly an isolated area. They will make the travel arrangements and purchase the ticket causing a sense of indebtedness for the individual. When the individual arrives at the pimp or trafficker’s location, there are various techniques that the offender uses to restrict the individual’s movements (i.e. physical punishment, limited access to communication devices, threats of harm to loved ones). Once in the possession of the pimp or trafficker, the individual becomes a product and is advertised,” according to the TBI report.
Sex trafficking of minors and adults is present in rural and urban areas, in jurisdictions regardless of their economic stability or demographic profile. We need to provide better education for the public about sex trafficking, more training among first-reporters, tougher laws, and victim treatment solutions in Tennessee and across the United States, according to the TBI report.
Our community can help end sexual exploitation of children by learning about the issues and participating in child abuse prevention programs.
To learn more about child abuse prevention, visit coffeecountycac.org and follow Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center on social media. The Coffee County CAC offers free child abuse prevention trainings, thanks to a grant awarded to the center. To schedule a training session, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you suspect child abuse, call 1-877-237-0004.