ABN Member Spotlight: Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking

Most of us are aware that human trafficking still exists in the modern world, but you might be surprised to learn how prolific it is in the United States. You may be more alarmed to hear that it is an issue right here in East Tennessee. This surprise comes from a misunderstanding of how we define human trafficking. A large part of the culpability could be placed on Hollywood’s portrayal of the issue, with heroes like Liam Neeson’s character in Taken rushing in to save the day amongst a cluster of explosions and gunfire. This is obviously fiction. However, there are real-world heroes, and one of them is right here in East Tennessee: the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking (CCAHT)CCAHT is working to bring awareness to the community and dramatically change the lives of the people they serve. The work CCAHT has done to fight labor and sex trafficking may not be seen in movies or in the news, but their efforts are life-changing.

Hollywood has led us to believe that trafficking involves abduction or physical force, but the majority of victims are drawn in by psychological abuse, threats, and fraud. It is typically very difficult for victims of human trafficking to remove themselves from their situation, often due to terror, self-blame, a fear of trafficker retaliation, a distrust in authorities, or a simple lack of support or available resources. Oftentimes, human trafficking and smuggling are mistaken for the same thing; however, they are not interchangeable. Trafficking involves exploitation through force, fraud, or coercion, whereas smuggling refers to committing illegal transportation and usually involves a border violation. It is also believed that human trafficking typically involves immigrants or foreigners, but the data shows that victims of these crimes primarily represent the demographics of the region in which they take place.

Statistics reported by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation just five years ago help put things into perspective. Research shows that on any given month, 100 children are listed for sale online. In 2013, 85% of counties in Tennessee reported having at least one case of trafficking, and 71% of those reported cases involved a child. You may not be surprised to learn that 80% of sex trafficking victims in the U.S. are female, but it may shake you to the core to find out that 50% are children under the age of 18. In fact, the average age of entry into sex trafficking is between 12 and 14. In 2015, CCAHT provided assistance to 20 survivors, and by 2017 the number grew to 45. This year, they have already served 25 survivors, and they expect to see that number continue to climb. This does not necessarily mean that the problem is getting worse; rather, it is a testament to how an informed community can create positive change — especially when working together.

I sat down with Katie Little, CCAHT’s Director of Advancement, who described CCAHT’s efforts to raise awareness, train and equip primary responders, facilitate intervention, and provide shelter and assistance to victims. As the Tennessee Anti-Slavery Alliance (TASA) partner for the upper East Tennessee region, they are currently in the process of opening a safe house for survivors in Knoxville. They are also a huge proponent of community involvement, recognizing that the work they do would not be possible without the collaborative efforts of law enforcement, government agencies and NGOs, direct service agencies, faith and civic groups, volunteers, and more. Human trafficking is a complex crime, and CCAHT works to foster a collaborative and creative response while continuing to grow and develop new strategies for providing aftercare services in our community.

Generating awareness and correcting stereotypes is an important first step, but there are numerous steps involved and many ways to help make a difference. CCAHT’s Allies for Change program, for example, provides the opportunity for dedicated volunteers to offer relational and emotional support to CCAHT clients during and beyond the recovery process. Throughout the year, CCAHT also hosts special events that provide a number of ways to lend a helping hand. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Lisa Bolton, CCAHT Program Coordinator, at lisa@ccaht.org. The next upcoming event to benefit CCAHT is a production of “The Pall: In the Shadows of Human Trafficking,” which will be held on April 29 at the Flying Anvil Theater. Tickets are $40, and all proceeds will benefit the CCAHT safe house. You can purchase tickets HERE.

To learn more, offer financial support, volunteer, or attend special events, visit CCAHT at ccaht.org.