When most of us hear the word “slavery,” we tend to think of underdeveloped countries, or even another time in history, such as the Civil War. But human trafficking is still a huge problem. It’s the second-fastest growing criminal industry just behind drug trafficking, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI). The TBI is working to bring an end to this criminal enterprise by increasing public awareness through the “It Has to Stop” social media channels and accompanying website during January, National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
According to Josh DeVine, TBI media spokesman, resources about the ongoing efforts to stop human trafficking are posted on the “It Has to Stop” Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram channels. Information on the definition of human trafficking, the warning signs, and common contributing factors which might leave someone vulnerable to a trafficker are just some of the topics included so far, he said.
“It Has to Stop” began in 2014 as an “effort to come out with a strong message that it (human trafficking) has to stop. It’s something we won’t stand for,” DeVine explained. The social media sites and website were built upon two extensive studies by the TBI.
Data revealed slavery was not a problem limited to big cities, but was also found in rural communities, he said. Due in part to traffickers taking advantage of the extensive interstate system in Tennessee, the majority of the state’s 95 counties reported some kind of sex trafficking. While Cheatham County did not have any reports of trafficking, surrounding counties such as Montgomery and Davidson did, according to the TBI’s studies.
Increased use of the internet means that human trafficking is happening more often now online than on street corners, DeVine said. What’s particularly disturbing is that research shows traffickers often target children using the internet, with a child bought or sold for sex every two minutes. “The youngest victims are 11 to 12 years old,” he said.
“By and large, parents need to have conversations with their children,” DeVine added. These important talks need to center on the dangers of human trafficking and how social media can play a role.
“Someone might strike up a conversation with a child online, which can then lead to a meeting face-to-face,” he said. “From there, the relationship can spiral out of control.”
While the work of education is far from over and will take some time, there are some encouraging signs, DeVine explained. “People are definitely more committed to raising awareness and saying something if they see something,” with calls to the Human Trafficking Hotline, 1-855-55-TNHTH, on the rise in recent months, he said.