Help available for human trafficking victims in East Tennessee

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - An in-depth study done in 2011 by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation shows there were more than 100 reported cases of child sex trafficking in Knox County. The Knox County Sheriff's Office created a unit in 2012 to investigate human trafficking.

Angie Duncan is a survivor. She was a victim of sex trafficking. Sexually abused as a child, she wanted to escape and was told she could be a model. Manipulated, she ended up in the sex industry being trafficking for sex across the state. She ended up at a Knoxville church, found resources to help, and was able to break the cycle.

Duncan started the non-profit Hosea's Heart last year. The goal is to reach out to victims, offer support and help end the sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of women and children.

"My background includes childhood sexual abuse, like 95 percent of the women who end up in the commercial sex industry, and so I share that background with them as well. As a young adult, I was then trafficked into the commercial sex industry," said Duncan.

Previous story: Knoxville sex trafficking victim works to help others

Since WATE 6 On Your Side first spoke with Duncan in February, she has provided support for three local victims of sex trafficking.

"They just want people to love, encourage and support them while they fix themselves," said Duncan.

Capt. Allen "Wolfie" May with the Knox County Sheriff's Office is part of a unit created to combat human trafficking.

"We do reverse stings where we set up to go after the johns and then we do stings where we go after the girls posting on the internet," said Capt. May.

They have made three arrests since 2012 for human trafficking in Knox County. One hundred fifty people have been arrested for promoting prostitution and 158 have been arrested for patronizing prostitution. Capt. May says the girls are often manipulated into thinking a pimp is their boyfriend.

"Shows them that somebody cares about them and they build that trust up, and the next day they say, 'Okay, you're going to have to turn tricks,' " said Captain May.

Victoria Copenhaver is a certified counselor and the director of the non-profit Street Hope Tennessee, which works to educate the community about child sex trafficking occurring in East Tennessee. She says the pimps aren't always these fake boyfriends.

"Here in East Tennessee, we obviously have a rampant drug problem so familial pimping is a big deal and is occurring. Mom or dad will pimp out their daughter in order to meet the need for their drug habit," said Copenhaver.

She says other counselors, FBI agents and church leaders are on the board. They have trained about 700 people to know the signs of sex trafficking and understand it is happening here.

"Knoxville is right at the cross roads where traffickers can move girls right through our area very easily. There's also a pretty active ring from Detroit right now that is coming down here bringing drugs sometimes bringing girls and sometimes they'll take girls back up," said Copenhaver.

Capt. May says to always know where your children are.

"Know who your kids are around. If you don't know the parents then you shouldn't allow your kids to go to someone's house," said Capt. May.

Copenhaver says to monitor what your children do online and look at their phone.

"Take it to a computer store and have their phone or their computer dumped so they can really see what their kids are looking at," said Copenhaver.

Duncan says if you're a victim, find the power to leave. She did and it changed her life.

"I'm mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually whole and healthy and my life is just completely different," said Duncan.

Cap. May emphasizes that the way to end sex trafficking is to stop the demand. He says law enforcement will target the people who are paying for the sex. He also says if a person is caught promoting prostitution, or aiding in the act like driving the girl to the hotel, they can face felony charges.

The sheriff's office says since creating the unit they are seeing fewer local girls being advertised for sex online but they are seeing an increase in people being advertised from other states, just passing through.

More resources:

If you are a human trafficking survivor looking for guidance, contact Hosea's Heart at http://www.hoseasheartknox.org/, (865) 245-0295 or info@hoseasheartknox.org

If you would like to get trained to now the signs and help prevent human trafficking contact Street Hope TN at http://www.streethopetn.org/ or Victoria@streethopetn.org

Also, if you are a victim or have a tip, call the Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-855-558-6484.


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