January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and state public health officials said it is important to recognize the warning signs and risk factors of exploitation.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are more than 25 types of human trafficking spanning numerous industries, from sex trafficking within escort services to the labor trafficking of farmworkers.
Tobi Adeyeye Amosun, assistant commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Health, Division of Family Health and Wellness, said the economic and social distress caused by the pandemic has exacerbated risks and vulnerability.
“From a statistics standpoint, through mid-December 2021, Tennessee had received 1,185 tips for human-trafficking concerns,” Amosun reported.
She pointed out those numbers are up from 2020. To report a possible case of human trafficking or suspect someone may need help, call the Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline at 855-558-6484 or text “BEFREE” to 233722.
Amosun noted increased computer time from online school and staying at home has increased the online exploitation of children.
“Tweens in particular get lured into unsavory situations through multiplayer gaming,” Amosun asserted. “That’s one thing that parents need to be aware of, just constantly checking in with your kids for their social media and internet exposure.”
She added red flags for human trafficking include lack of identifying documents such as a drivers’ license, excessively long or unusual work hours, and signs of fear, paranoia and depression. She emphasized the pandemic-driven recession has put more individuals in dangerous situations.
“They believe that there’s been an increase in forced and coercive labor for some people who can’t afford food and rent,” Amosun stated.
She stressed staffing shortages in law enforcement and social services have decreased the capacity of state agencies to respond, investigate and prosecute these cases. Last month, the Biden administration released an updated National Plan to Combat Human Trafficking.