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When I hear about human trafficking, I think Cambodia. I think Rome, Italy. I think big urban cities in America. I do not think Tennessee, or Nashville or any of the smaller towns around. But, here’s the thing, it’s going on here in wealthy areas, in big cities and in small rural towns. It’s happening in “safe” areas. In fact, follow the money and you can follow human trafficking as that’s where the buyer is. Today’s post is broken up into two sections: 1) explaining the problem and what to look for and 2) how to talk to your kids so that they don’t fall into the trafficking trap.

Human Trafficking photo

I asked Derri Smith, of End Slavery Tennessee (ESTN), to educate me for this article. What she’s seen … Bless all of you who dedicate your lives to helping people in harm’s way — this post is dedicated to you. How thankful we are for the important work you do!

Human and Sex Trafficking in Nashville

On average, 94 minors each month are sex trafficked in the state of Tennessee (as of publication, 2014) and the majority of them are girls who, on average, were pulled into this seedy world between the ages of 12-14. Nashville has the sick badge of being the third highest city in the South dealing with this issue, behind Atlanta and New Orleans. Why is this a StyleBlueprint issue? Because it’s something we all need to be aware of and know what to look for as these girls, once trapped, have an average life expectancy of just seven more years. These are our kids and it’s our responsibility to 1) be aware 2) to be on the look out 3) do our part to educate.

Let’s start with some misconceptions. For starters, the vast majority of the minors trafficked through our state are Tennessee girls, raised right here. These are not girls being shipped here from somewhere else. As stated before, these girls are not being trafficked just in known crime riddled areas. These girls are being trafficked equally in rural communities, suburban neighborhoods and wealthy areas of larger cities. ESTN has worked to rescue girls who grew up in Franklin, Brentwood, Nashville and more. The vast majority of these girls were simply looking for acceptance and love, and traffickers are master manipulators and know how to spot and prey on these girls. Some traffickers fill a “daddy” role, where others target girls with dreams of love and marriage and then slowly turn this dream into a nightmare with manipulation and fear. In fact, the brainwashing techniques used are nearly identical as those taught in the military. The difference, of course, is that these are minor children, not terrorists.

During my conversation, I had some questions for which I felt foolish, but you may have them too. I needed to know the difference between prostitution, human trafficking and sex trafficking. To be considered human trafficking, the use of force, fraud and/or coercion must be involved and an exchange of goods must occur (payment of some type). So, this could be slave labor. If the exchange is sex, it’s considered sex trafficking. And how is this different from prostitution? For it to be sex trafficking, the victim must either be a minor (under 18) or be in the situation as a result of force, fraud or coercion. Of course, many who are older started out younger, thus being trafficked. So an uncle who molests a 12 year-old girl is an awful person, who is breaking the law. BUT, it is only “sex trafficking” if someone else received some benefit of payment for allowing him to do this to the girl (free rent, actual dollars, a job … ).


image via ESTN

Trafficking is a growing problem. It’s the second fastest growing crime on the planet, as it’s more lucrative than selling drugs and weapons, it doesn’t require a storefront and it’s hard to get caught. Think about it: you only receive funds for drugs and weapons once. The girls or boys being trafficked bring you money every day for years. And, if the police pull a car over with two scared girls in the back who aren’t talking, it’s a far different situation than a stash of cocaine or weapons. Another thing to consider: as marijuana laws change, there is a line of criminals who are being cut off from their money supply. What do you think they are going to turn to in an attempt to make up for that lost revenue stream? With the Internet, the ability to justify being a trafficker, to think it’s normal, is surprisingly easy–it’s the dark side of the Internet, to be sure. (Update: This is not an opinion in one way or another about marijuana laws … simply reporting what experts interviewed on human trafficking say is an additional worry they have.)

That brings me back to Green Hills. Was that just a headline to grab your attention? No, there really is sex trafficking in Green Hills. One example falls outside the norm of sex trafficking in Tennessee, as the girls were mainly non-American. You may remember the case involving the shut down of the Golden Massage parlor right there next to Nordstrom. Yep, right next to middle Tennessee’s most expensive mall.

Some of the best hair salons in our city have had girls brought to them from traffickers. When I say “the best salons” I really mean You know, where you may get your hair cut and colored. Traffickers are very willing to spend money on hair and nails for their girls, as it makes their product better. Red flags are girls who come into salons and say that their boyfriend will be coming in a bit to pay for them. Police and agencies like ESTN are working hard to make hair and nail salons aware of suspicious activity that may go unnoticed unless you know the red flags.

It’s not just hair salons that need to be on the lookout. You do, too. Know the red flags and then, if you see suspicious activity, call the ESTN hotline. This is important.

From the ESTN website:

Some indicators raise a red flag that a person may be a victim of human trafficking. Take notice in situations where a person:

  • Carries hotel keys/key cards
  • Inconsistencies when describing and recounting events
  • Unable or unwilling to give local address or information about parent(s)/guardian
  • Presence or fear of another person (often an older male or boyfriend who seems controlling)
  • Talks about an older boyfriend or sex with an older man/boyfriend
  • Has a prepaid cell phone
  • Has an unexplained sudden increase in money, clothing or other goods
  • Many more. For full listing, click here.

Through education, we’ll all be all be able to spot human trafficking more and, therefore, the numbers for known sex trafficking will go actually go up, as it’s being better identified. But, from here, hopefully, we can continue to join together and see those numbers shrink.

If you see suspicious activity, please do not do anything to put yourself in harm’s way. Call the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation hotline, which is manned 24 hours a day: 1-855-558-6484.

image via ESTN

image via ESTN

How to Talk to Your Kids About Human/Sex Trafficking And How They Can Avoid It

So, now that you are scared to death for your own kids and all the children you know, what can you do?

*This list is adapted from a list sent by Derri Smith:

  1. The desire for love, acceptance and a sense of belonging is the #1 lure. Make sure you are meeting those needs in healthy ways.
  2. Be leery of “too good to be true” offers. Approaches are likely to be for a modeling, acting, a nanny job, etc., that feeds a child’s desire. One local girl thought she was meeting with a record producer and it was actually a trafficker.
  3. Teach your teens party safety. Simply telling them “don’t drink alcohol and don’t do drugs” doesn’t cut it. Do not set drinks down and leave them because they might be drugged. Drinks (with or without alcohol) can also be drugged before they are poured or the glass may have a coating of powder. Your teen needs to go to all parties with a trusted friend and they need to look out for each other.
  4. Traffickers troll social network sites. Be a parent and be involved with your child’s social media life. Talk to your child about not “friending” people he/she doesn’t know and then follow through and make sure your child isn’t. You need to know your child’s passwords and change them routinely. Part of your day should be dedicated to being aware of what your child is posting and the comments that follow. Comments about conflict at home or a suggestive pose in a photo can make a child a target. Keep computers in common areas. Beyond social media, look at your child’s texts and IMs.
  5. Assure your child that no matter what happens, you will love them. Too many youth are drugged, raped repeatedly (with these acts videotaped) or the young person is told that their parents wouldn’t take them back if they knew. They also will threaten family members saying that the family will be harmed if they tell anyone. Make sure your children know they can talk to you about anything and you will believe them and be on their side.
  6. Use the ESTN youth website to teach common tactics. (Note: ESTN is currently redoing the videos and notes especially that the one on “too good to be true offers” is out of date.)
  7. Ask ESTN to come speak to a group of parents and their youth with a presentation designed to empower youth to avoid falling for a trafficker’s traps. The tactics used by traffickers are pretty much the same across the board and being aware of them can make that red light of caution go off for a child.
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