On Tuesday, Natalie Ivey, director of advocacy and outreach for the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking, gave a sobering and eye-opening introductory lesson about human trafficking and its prevalence and effects in our region.
At a Human Trafficking 101 forum hosted by the Family Justice Center in Johnson City, Ivey explained that the reality of the situation is far from the common misconceptions telling us that people are only exploited for commercial sex or labor in large metropolises or near the country’s southern border. Our rural communities are at particular risk for harboring trafficking, especially for commercial sex.
Instead of the trope of being kidnapped and forced into service, Ivey said more often, the trafficker lives in the home with the person being exploited and is usually a family member — a parent, grandparent or other relative — who sells a child out to strangers for sex.
Foster children, runaways, people with a previous history of physical or sexual abuse and individuals with special needs are at heightened risk for being exploited by traffickers, who often use psychological tricks, like legal or financial threats, or access to drugs to exert control over the person being trafficked.
Learning to recognize human trafficking is essential for combating it, for residents in our area, but also for our law enforcement officers.
According to statistics from the National Survivor Network, which works with trafficking survivors to lead the anti-trafficking movement, victims of human trafficking are often charged with and convicted of serious crimes, which makes it harder for them to re-enter society after escaping the clutches of their captors and makes it easier for those exploiting them to retain control over them.
These barriers make life harder for people who have already been subjected to intolerable abuse by framing them as criminals rather than victims.
Forty-two states have laws allowing victims of human trafficking to petition the court for the expungement of their criminal records, but Tennessee is not one of them.
Until we learn to recognize human trafficking for what it is and accept that our area is not immune to its wretched reaches, the exploitation will continue.