Written by Elizabeth Warren, Second Life of Chattanooga Volunteer
Backyards are where the family gathers for celebrations like the Fourth of July or someone’s birthday. They’re where the family dog spends its day playing, and snoozing. Some backyards have gardens, others big in ground pools. Some are small, fenced in areas; others are acres and acres wide. Backyards are connected to backyards, and we never assume bad things are happening next door. Unfortunately, the rise of a violent, heinous crime in the United States has dissolved this idea that something so horrible couldn’t possibly happen in the U.S., our own backyard The rapid growth of girls being forced into sex trafficking within the U.S. and Tennessee has been exacerbated by technology like social media and money-for-service websites.
First, I’ll give you some definitions and abbreviations to help with the reading.
What is sex trafficking and why should I care about it at all?
- Sex trafficking, as defined by the federal government in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, means “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.” Note! This above statement is meant for only those individuals who are over 18 years of age.
- Children, or those who are under the age of 18, have a whole different experience and distinction
- Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person who is under the age of 18 for a sexual act
- In the case of DMST, force, fraud, or coercion don’t have to be proven because of the victims’ age.
Now that you know what DMST is, you’re ready for some statistics on its prevalence in the U.S., Tennessee, and Hamilton County.
- Annually, over 1 million girls are forced into sex trafficking worldwide;
- In that same time, 50,000 women and girls are trafficked into the U.S. for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
- Yearly, 100,000 children are sex trafficked within the borders of the U.S.
- After 24 months, 68 out of the 95 counties in the state reported at least one instance of DMST reported.
- Four counties saw over 100 reported cases:
- Coffee County
- Davidson County
- Knox County
- Shelby County
In the same study, Hamilton County and Chattanooga law enforcements reported 26-50 cases within the time period.
DMST is spreading at the same time that technology is also steadily becoming apart of our daily lives and routines. This is especially true for teenagers through social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In one study, from a group of 12-17 year olds surveyed, 95% were online through social media websites. Girls made up 38% of those surveyed who owned smart phones while boys made up 36%. Girls are connected to multiple social sites, and they are constantly using them.
Traffickers will use Facebook, Myspace, or Instagram in order to make contact with girls. They’ll invite the girls to go to parties or to the mall, and kidnap them once they’re alone. They send out hundreds of these messages to as many girls as they can find because they know they will at least get a few messages back.
Social media sites make it easy for traffickers to find girls who emotionally vulnerable, easy prey. These sites encourage users to talk about how they’re feeling with the rest of the world. It’s all about creating a personality online, and traffickers scan for those personalities that are easily malleable. Those who are desperate for attention – those who have been sexually abused at home or with a bad home life – looking for someone to take them out of their situation.
Girls are at risk, but that doesn’t mean that social media sites or the victims should be blamed. They most definitely should not be punished. Parents shouldn’t try to bar their children and teens from social media. It’s a necessary part of our culture that is only becoming more common by the day. Instead, parents should talk to their children about the dangers of sex trafficking through social media sites and warn them of the signs. These signs and education shouldn’t just be taught to adolescents. People of all ages need to know.
The most important and beneficial way to help alleviate, and eventually eradicate DMST is through education and advocacy of our communities. Nationally, there are many organizations and departments that collaborate on specific training, enforcement, egislation, and education involved with DMST. This is true on a state level too.
In our own state, there are multiple organizations that work to spread the word about human trafficking:
- Nashville (Middle Tennessee) – End Slavery Tennessee
- Memphis – A Bridge to Hope
- Knoxville – Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking
- Chattanooga – Second Life, Women’s Fund of Greater Chattanooga (WFGC)
The WFGC has been working on a marketing campaign for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) sex trafficking hotline and email address. They’ve created fliers and posters to send out to organization across the state as promotional tools. These tools offer lists of what signs to look for, and who to contact if there is a case of sex trafficking.
If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please feel free to email me at email@example.com. I will do my best to answer as soon as possible