Tennessee victim of child sex trafficking speaks out

Tennessee victim of child sex trafficking speaks out

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By STEPHANIE BEECKEN
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - For many people, child sex trafficking is something that happens in other parts of the world, but that's not the case. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, every two minutes a child is trafficked for the purpose of sex exploitation in the United States. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reports child sex trafficking is happening across the state. According to the TBI, 750-1500 juveniles are at risk for trafficking in Tennessee each year

"You are treated so much like an animal you don't think that there's any way out and people need to know that this is going on here right here," said Hope.

Hope has been a victim of sex trafficking. She was forced to perform sex acts in exchange for money or items of value. Her first memory is being trafficked when she was three. We are hiding her identity for safety.

"I was being sexually abused. I would be abused by the people that I lived with, but they were also bringing people in to do that as well," said Hope.

Hope's mother died when she was born. Her guardians trafficked her across Tennessee including Nashville, Murfreesboro and Knoxville.

"Normally it's in places where there's lots of people, anytime when there's a ball game like a football game," said Hope.

An in depth study done by the TBI in 2011 shows there were more than 100 cases reported of child sex trafficking in Knox County. Other East Tennessee counties reported dozens of cases. TBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Margie Quin says child sex trafficking appears to be increasing possibly due to photos and ads online.

"If there's a demand, that demand is going to be met. And if there's money to be made, and there's a tremendous amount of money to be made in child sex trafficking, then it's going to occur," said Quin.

Hope says the couple who trafficked her were teachers and went to church. They looked like the perfect family. The men who paid to sexually abuse her were also active in the community.

"It happens every single day in every neighborhood there's people who they look good but they aren't who they say they are," said Hope.

As Hope got older, she thought of getting help, but her traffickers got her addicted to drugs and threatened her. She was trafficked though her teenage years.

"You do not understand the mind control that they put over a human being to where they will do anything just to survive and make sure the people they care about are not hurt. It's slavery," said Hope.

Knoxville churches are joining forces to combat child sex trafficking. Todd Stewart with Grace Baptist Church says Atlanta is the fifth largest city for sex trafficking. Church leaders in Atlanta believe the crime is going to come right up Interstate 75, making Knoxville a hub for this kind of crime. Stewart says churches in Atlanta are assisting those in Knoxville. He says the first step is making the community aware that child sex trafficking is happening here.

"We are trying to let them know of statistics. We are letting them know this is a reality. We're letting them know this is the fastest crime in the world," said Stewart.

After raising awareness, Stewart says the churches will then focus on identifying and caring for victims.

There will also be a human trafficking training event Saturday, March 9th from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. at West Park Baptist Church. That's located at 8833 Middlebrook Pike in Knoxville.

The cost is $10. Registration is open through March 4. RSVP by calling (865) 288-1613.

If you are a victim or have any information on where the crime may be occurring, call the sex trafficking hotline at 1-855-558-6484.

For more information on sex trafficking and how to help end it, visit the Be the Jam website or the End Tennessee Slavery website.

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