Human trafficking is going on in Tennessee, and now authorities say it's becoming an epidemic, as 85 percent of Tennessee counties report at least one case of human trafficking in the last 24 months.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reports numbers in local counties that are staggeringly high, and it's a problem that affects children and adults. In Carter County, the TBI reports as many as 100 cases. In Washington County, there are a possible 150 cases.
Now, the TBI tells News 5 they are beginning an initiative to raise awareness about human trafficking in the state, considering the $32 billion industry is growing in Tennessee.
Josh DeVine, TBI's public information officer, says trafficking is becoming a bigger problem in the state because of its proximity to a major metropolitan area. "Because we share a border with Atlanta, those traffickers that are taking children from the south to the north will probably have to make their way through Tennessee," he says.
That's why the TBI, along with the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development placed posters in welcome centers and rest stops in the Volunteer State, where traffickers commonly stop.
DeVine says if they can just educate people, there's a way everyone in the community can help put a stop to this problem. "Typically, victims of sex trafficking or human trafficking might just look out of place. They might not be wearing clothing that is appropriate for the season, they might have bruises, they might be afraid of authority, they might be in a situation where they don't really trust the adult that they might be with," he says.
DeVine is asking people to report anything if you suspect human trafficking, and he's hoping the signs may just save a life. "It's our hope that if they see that sign in the welcome center or a rest stop, and they see the phone number that they can call to get out of it, that they might just have an ounce of courage and make that important phone call," he says.
There is good news. DeVine says Tennessee is leading the way nationally in talking about the issue and providing resources for victims of human trafficking. As of November 2013, Tennessee is ranked the toughest state in the nation regarding legislation protecting children from commercial sex exploitation crimes.
The number to call is 1-855-558-6484.