Recent human trafficking arrest in Knoxville highlights scope of problem

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – In light of a recent human trafficking arrest, it highlights the problem in East Tennessee and how the community can put an end to it.

A Pennsylvania woman has been charged in Knoxville with felony human trafficking and aggravated kidnapping.

23-year-old Rachel Shearer, of Duryea, Pennsylvania is facing felony human trafficking charges. According to court documents, the victim was transported from Baltimore to Knoxville.

More than 100 human trafficking cases were reported in 2015 in Knox County, according to the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

“We have yet to go into a community being involved with TBI in those stings where we are not overwhelmed by the demand in the community, and not just the demand to pay for sex, but the demand to purchase children for sex,” said Natalie Ivey, Director of Advocacy and Outreach with Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

Investigators say sex trafficking in Tennessee happens every day, at every moment and it’s harder to detect.

“It’s very rarely that stranger danger. When it happens in rural populations, it’s a unique form of sex trafficking and that form is familial trafficking. So, we’re talking about a mom or dad, brother or sister, even an uncle being the trafficker,” added Ivey.

Advocates say in other cases traffickers disguise their victims as a sex worker.

“The community, we’re not responding to those victims because we see them as willing participants but in reality the coercion that’s behind it, is difficult to detect,” added Ivey.

Human trafficking exists in our community simply because there’s a demand.

“The first thing you can do to recognize human trafficking in your community is accept that it’s happening in your community,” explained Ivey.

There are a number of warning signs and Ivey says listen to your instincts, be observant and listen to what’s happening around you, “Some really common indicators a lot of times might be controlled speech or controlled behavior. If you see an individual who has another person with them that’s basically acting like a shadow.”

If you see something worrisome, advocates say do not intervene.

“The likelihood that you’re going to help is probably pretty low but the likelihood that you’re going to cause harm to yourself or others is probably pretty high,” said Ivey.

Instead, the Coalition suggests you share everything you saw with the state’s human trafficking hot line, 1-855-55-TNHTH, for a TBI agent to look into.

“There is hope. There is a change and it’s happening here in East Tennessee but we have to continue working to spread that word,” said Ivey.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation explains human trafficking as modern-day slavery. State laws define human trafficking as the sale of an adult for the purposes of commercial sex by force, fraud or coercion.

If you’re in trouble and need help, you can call the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking’s 24-hour crisis line at (865) 292-0285 or Tennessee’s crisis line at 855-558-6484.

There are training tools available for parents, teachers, even kids to help prevent sexual exploitation before it happens. If you’d like to request a speaker or training session with the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking, you can click here.

For more information about the problem of human trafficking in Tennessee, click here.

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