KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Victim advocates say that Tennessee is getting better when it comes to addressing human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault.

In the last few years, we have seen an increase in reported attacks, but advocacy groups say these crimes are not happening more often instead these incidents are simply being reported more often. They say it is because of increased awareness of the issue and a better understanding of how programs can help fight violent crimes.

One way Tennessee has improved efforts to keep victims safe is through the Safe at Home program. Launched in 2019 by the Secretary of State and expanded in 2022, the program helps victims set up a confidential address, so their physical location can’t be easily tracked down. Advocates say it’s just one piece of the puzzle to give victims a sense of security and self-sufficiency.

“You think about yourself as a resident of Tennessee as you go about your daily life, all of the things that you do that require you to disclose your home address where you live. For victims, they do not want this information made public because it makes it easy for offenders to locate them and to do them harm,” said Stacy Scruggs, the coordinator of the Safe at Home program.

“You want to feel safe where you’re living and sometimes that is difficult for survivors of trafficking or other similar crimes. So being able to register to vote or enroll your child at school or sign up for utilities, utilizing a confidential address is really critical because oftentimes those avenues, utilizing your regular physical address puts you on the map for someone who might look to find you and it gives them that added security of knowing that their address and physical location is kept confidential,” said Kate Trudell, the executive director of the Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

In Tennessee, most state and local government records are available for public review. According to the Secretary of State’s office, the records, which include home addresses and other identifying information, can make it easy for abusers to find their victims.

The Safe at Home program gives participants a substitute address they can use as an official address to keep their private address from entering public records. The substitute address can be used by anyone in the household, including children, elderly parents and new spouses.

“Safe at Home helps protect victims and their families from abusers by protecting their address from public record,” Hargett said. “This program is free for victims of any age or gender who have been a victim of stalking, human trafficking, domestic abuse or any sexual offense.”

In the nearly four years since the program was launched in Tennessee, more than 700 victims have been helped across 52 counties. If you or someone you know would benefit from this service, visit safeathometn.com to find the nearest partner agency to help you apply.

The first two people to enter the program were helped by the Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

“Our staff quickly worked to help enroll those first two participants and gave them kind of that added level of safety and comfort of knowing that they were living in a home that was not listed publicly somewhere,” Trudell said.

She adds that the program is one of many ways to help victims of trafficking.

“Survivors of trafficking have gone through some pretty complex traumatic experiences, and so a path forward, a path toward feeling safe and feeling like you have self-sufficiency and you’re working on healing. All of that takes a real wide scope of services and support. And there’s not one clear thing that says this is the problem, that solves it all. And so, it’s all of those bits and pieces together that kind of make that path forward, and so the Safe at Home program is just another one of those things that we can to the list,” Trudell said.

National Human Trafficking Awareness Day is on Jan. 11. Victim advocates said the awareness day is an important part of educating the community on the prevalence of these violent crimes and how to support victims.

“There’s no community that’s immune to it. Trafficking thrives when people aren’t paying attention or they think it happens to someone else so this opportunity to take a pause and have a conversation and acknowledge that trafficking is happening in our community just fosters that space for collaboration to happen,” Trudell said.

For anyone who is a victim of human trafficking, domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, there is help available. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. Tennessee also has a number of hotlines available 24-7 for victims of crime, including the human trafficking hotline (1-855-558-6484) and the domestic violence hotline (1-800-356-6767).