KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- Human trafficking can happen all across the world, but organizations here in Tennessee are working together on cases that happen here in our state.
“When one hears trafficking a lot of times you think, being abducted out of the parking lot in a big white van and sold to some sex trafficking ring overseas somewhere,” said Jeremy Lofquest, Assistant Special Agent in charge for the Human Trafficking Unit with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
He said the most common cases can happen right in someone’s backyard.
“It’s usually at a hotel or a motel or usually it’s out of their own home,” Lofquest said.
Lisa Bolton, Director Of Youth Services at Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking, said those behind the trafficking are closer to home than many imagine. The Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking has an office in Knoxville and serves 33 East Tennessee counties. They work with organizations like the TBI.
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“They’re more likely to be trafficked by somebody that’s close to them such as an intimate partner or a family member.”
“How we get a lot of these referrals are going to be through community agencies. When it comes to adults, It’s mostly social services agencies and law enforcement, and when it comes to children it’s usually the Department of Children’s Services,” Bolton said.
The coalition helps train people what to do if they encounter a human trafficking situation and also provides help for victims.
“For someone that’s experienced trafficking for women at least, they can come to that shelter and seek safety, and work towards getting their own place and their own stability,” Bolton said, adding that across Tennessee, “in 2021 so far we have received over 200 referrals.”
She said in September they received 26 referrals for individuals who’ve experienced trafficking. Bolton said it’s not always easy to spot.
Bolton said for children and teens, “they’re on their phone more than normal, they start to act very differently, their grades start to drop, they start missing school, they start to stay out very late, or running away from home. they might start engaging in drugs or alcohol.”
“We’re really looking for vulnerability with adults. Are they living on the streets, is there somebody in their life that seems controlling, manipulative, always telling them where to go or where to be?” she said.
According to the FBI, victim recovery is the primary goal of trafficking investigations which is why the coalition’s doors are always open.
“For someone who’s experienced trafficking, we want to tell them that there is still hope,” stated Bolton. “Traffickers often tell them, no ones going to love them, that they’re never going to have peace, they’re never going to have anyone who actually cares for them and that’s just not true.”
If you or someone you know is in this type of situation you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.