KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- The state of Tennessee has been listed as the No. 1 state in the country in the fight against human trafficking.
Shared Hope International released its ninth annual “Protected Innocence Challenge Report,” which grades states based on their laws and efforts to combat human trafficking.
According to the report, Tennessee received an ‘A’ grade with 98 points, which is the highest amount of points compared to all other states.
It’s the third year in a row for Tennessee to be ranked the highest.
David Rausch, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said in a statement that he appreciates the recognition for the state’s hard work, but there is more to be done because there are more victims out there.
Shared Hope International factors six categories for the report card:
- Criminalization of domestic minor sex trafficking (10 points)
- Criminal provisions for demand (25 points)
- Criminal provisions for traffickers (15 points)
- Criminal provisions for facilitators (10 points)
- Protective provisions for child victims (27.5 points)
- Criminal justice tools used for investigation and prosecution (15 points)
Tennessee received the highest points in all categories but the last three: Criminal provisions for facilitators, protective provisions for child victims and criminal justice tools used for investigation and prosecution.
The same year that Shared Hope started grading states, Tennessee lawmakers started making changes to help combat the fight against human trafficking.
According to the Tennessee General Assembly records, three bills were passed in 2011 to “attack the growing problem of child prostitution and human trafficking.”
The first law increased the penalties for those promoting or patronizing the act, another was creating the Anti-human Trafficking Fund and the last was required the posting of a Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline in places where victims are more likely to be found so they can access help earlier.
A year before Shared Hope started issuing state report cards, the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking was created in East Tennessee.
Natalie Ivy, director of advocacy and outreach for the group, agreed with the TBI director’s statement regarding the teamwork it takes to make progress in the fight.
“I’m proud to say that Tennessee is approaching this issue in a very intentional way. We do it from a statewide kind of response. We meet regularly with our partners in Nashville and Memphis, we’re talking with our legislature regularly and always partnering with TBI and local law enforcement to try to address this issue on a systemic level,” Ivy said.
Ivy said she hopes the high ranking sends a message to victims that the state is not only recognizing their experience, but that the state is working hard to improve their lives.
In her opinion, one of the biggest changes to state law regarding human trafficking was increasing the penalties for those who use the victims.
She said another big change was prohibiting minors from being charged with prostitution.
Although many laws have changed, Ivy said more needs to be done.
“We are going to have to continue to improve on our ability to recognize victims when they are in our criminal justice victims, and we got to find an approach or outlet or resource for them so that we aren’t contributing to the cycle (of victimization) through our system,” Ivy said.
She said that victims are often not recognized as victims and receive criminal convictions, including and other than prostitution, that can be debilitating in their journey to safety.
Ivy said though that because human trafficking is becoming more known, more people are wanting to help.
She said just within the last year, the number of businesses or groups reaching out to CCAHT for training has doubled, and the number of victims they served has more than tripled.
Learn more online
For the full Shared Hope report card, click here.
For Tennessee’s report card, click here.
For those looking for victim resources for human trafficking, click here.
If you are a victim or believe someone might be a human trafficking victim, call 1-855-55-TN-HTH, or text ‘BeFree’ to 233733.
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