Johnson City Press
February 28, 2016
by Zach Vance
It’s delusional to think human trafficking is only an international or urban issue now.
It’s now become a Tennessee issue, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is attempting to increase awareness with a marketing campaign based on the message, “It has to stop.”
In big bold letters: “Human Trafficking. Happens Here. Every Day” has been posted on a North Roan Street digital billboard. It’s been there since Jan.11.
“The key objective of this campaign is to raise awareness that this kind of crime occurs in big cities and small towns in Tennessee every single day. As an agency, we are not willing to stand by and let this kind of injustice continue, because – to be blunt – lives are at stake,” TBI spokesman Josh DeVine said.
Billboards relaying the message are also located throughout Tennessee — in Chattanooga, Nashville and Knoxville. The advertisement was paid for with a grant from the state’s Office of Criminal Justice Programs.
Gov. Bill Haslam has also engaged in the campaign by appearing in a public service announcement saying, “Real men don’t do it. Tennessee won’t stand for it.”
The hashtag #endmovement also has become a staple of the campaign on social media websites. On Thursday, Haslam’s Twitter account posted a photo of the governor with a red “X” on his hand and the words, “Over 27M people are enslaved by traffickers today, even in TN.”
A 2013 TBI study analyzing data from state law enforcement agencies, social workers and court clerks showed Washington and Carter counties had between 26 and 50 reported cases of minors involved in sex trafficking.
Washington County respondents reported 50 to 100 adult-involved cases, with 26-50 adult cases reported in Carter County.
None of the human trafficking cases in Washington County were reported by law enforcement respondents, but the study only examined one person from each law enforcement agency to avoid double reporting of the same cases.
Washington County Investigator Nicki Salyer said she didn’t have any experience in human trafficking because it’s usually handled by the FBI. The last reported case Salyer was aware of was when Connie and Ronnie McCall were charged with selling their kids to a sex film ring in 2013. Connie McCall was sentenced last week to 18 years in federal prison for her involvement.
Sgt. Len Edwards, executive director of the commission on missing and exploited children, said the Internet has expanded the borders of human trafficking in East Tennessee.
“Their vulnerability is just as great as someone living in Memphis or Nashville because of the World Wide Web and the sexual networking,” said Edwards, a retired police officer from Memphis.
Edwards, who counsels at-risk children, mentioned a few cues that may point to a child being trafficked.
“One of the things I talk to parents about is if you see a kid with brand new fingernails or a pair of $100 jeans or more cash than what they normally have in their pockets, they need to be looking,” Edwards said.
He mentioned a recent parent who called him saying they had found a hotel pass key inside their child’s purse.
“Somebody’s got a room for her and gave her a pass key and she’s working,” Edwards said.
Edwards cited East Tennessee’s high methamphetamine use as a contributing factor to increased growth in human trafficking.
For those who suspect someone may be a victim of human trafficking or witness suspicious activity can call the Tennessee Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-855-558-6484 or visitItHasToStop.com.