KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Human trafficking is the second fastest-growing criminal industry behind drug trafficking, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The frequency of cases can be seen in East Tennessee as one nonprofit organization is on track to break a record in the number of cases they are seeing this year.
TBI shared that human trafficking occurs in both the rural and urban areas of Tennessee.
“There’s a lot of vulnerabilities that individuals might have and that’s what traffickers are great at, identifying someone’s vulnerability and knowing how to exploit that,” said Kate Trudell of the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking.
The Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking is a nonprofit organization in Knoxville that offers education and training on human trafficking as well as offers services to survivors. C.C.A.H.T has seen an increase in cases this year compared to last.
“We have actually seen from last year to this year a pretty significant increase in referrals for services,” Trudell said. “Last year we had 408 referrals. This year just in January and February we hit the total number of referrals we received from January to June last year, so we are kind of on track to break a record.”
Trudell believes part of the reason they are seeing an increase in cases is that people are becoming more aware.
“We have communities and individuals that are doing training, they are engaged in conversations you know with their friends and families around trafficking,” Trudell said. “I think that creates a community of folks that are aware.”
Trudell says in East Tennessee specifically, most people are trafficked by family members.
There are several signs to look for if you believe someone is being trafficked.
“They’re generally anxious, fearful. They tend to be very submissive. The person who is trying to victimize them generally controls things such as their cellphones, documents or anything like that,” Anderson County Sheriff Russell Barker said. “Another telltale sign that we see particularly if they traveling is they brand them, they put tattoos on them.”
Social media also plays a role in human trafficking as it makes juveniles more accessible to traffickers.
If you suspect someone may be a victim of human trafficking, call the Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-855-55-TNHTH.