Human Trafficking Awareness Conference

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With January being Human Trafficking Awareness Month, Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson made an important proclamation to open the 2018 Williamson County Human Trafficking Awareness Day Conference at Franklin First United Methodist Church.

He proclaimed Jan. 11, 2018, as Williamson County Human Trafficking Awareness Day, acknowledging the day the conference was held.

“Williamson County is committed to protecting the vulnerable and ending human trafficking through continued prevention, education and awareness,” Anderson told attendees at the conference.

A staggering 94 teens are trafficked each month in Tennessee. The average age a juvenile enters into human trafficking is 13, some as young as 5 years. These are some of the statistics that approximately 115 conference participants heard at the comprehensive conference.

Keynote speaker Rick Stout, TBI Special Agent Retired, told attendees, “Drug trafficking is the No. 1 crime in Tennessee with human trafficking a close second.” He noted that the highest incidence of human trafficking occurs in larger metropolitan counties along interstate corridors like Davidson, Knox, and Shelby counties, as well as the rural areas of Coffee and Lake counties. “Atlanta is the hub for human trafficking in the Southeast, Stout said. “It does not take long to travel to Chattanooga and it is in Tennessee.”

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker sent a personal video to the group explaining legislative changes he is supporting at the national level. A YouTube video of Ashton Kutcher, when he passionately spoke on Feb. 15, 2017, before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on ending human trafficking, was also shown. “Human Trafficking takes away the victim’s right to pursue happiness,” Kutcher said in the video. He spoke about his foundation THORN that is fighting human trafficking. He pointed out, “The foster care program is an incubator for human trafficking.”

Steering committee member Ginger Manley presented a certificate to Tim Estes, founder, and CEO of Digital Reasoning, showing appreciation for his company’s work in developing software to fight human trafficking. Estes shared staggering statistics that “100,000 escort service ads are posted every day in the U.S. With 5,500 law enforcement officers using the software program, 20,000 cases have been identified with 12,000 adults and 5,791 juveniles involved in human trafficking, … and has resulted in a 65 percent investigative time savings.”

A panel discussion in the afternoon was geared more specifically to the issue of human trafficking in Williamson County. Sheriff Jeff Long reported, “Cases of human trafficking in Williamson County occur most often in motels along the I-65 corridor.” He noted drugs, car theft, and human trafficking are often related and most recently led by Cuban Nationals from South Florida.

The tough legislation in Tennessee was praised by Franklin Police Detective Cory Kroeger. He noted that victims are across all ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Kroger said, “Human trafficking also includes labor trafficking in Williamson County in the areas of construction, nail salons and restaurants.”

Franklin First Rev. Jason Brock shared the church’s work with persons of poverty — providing tutoring, Room in the Inn, assistance with housing, and dialogue due to the risk for human trafficking. He also discussed the work in Guatemala as they fight human trafficking there as well.

“The john is only a misdemeanor crime, and this needs to be a stiffer penalty,” stated Kelly Lawrence, Assistant District Attorney. She related the need “to change the public attitude and education before we can expect to make more legislative changes.”

Jill Rutter, director of Community Outreach for End Slavery Tennessee, conveyed, “The victim is often subjected to complex trauma due to physical abuse, emotional abuse, being of a vulnerable age when abuse started, and the abuse is from someone of trust. The victims are very often diagnosed with PTSD, mental disorders and druginduced addiction.” She noted that the younger the age when started being trafficked, the more difficult the rehabilitation.

Tim Estes closed his portion with a challenge: “We are a failed, broken society, and we are called to be knowledgeable, and to do something.”

After expenses, $1,000 was donated to End Slavery Tennessee in support of the human trafficking victims, in addition to the monetary donations and gift cards given to End Slavery Tennessee the day of the conference.

The conference sponsors were: Franklin First United Methodist Church, Franklin at Breakfast Rotary, School Facility Management LLC, Williamson County Association for Family and Community Education (WCA-fce), Fairview fce Club, Friendly Neighbors fce Club, Green Valley fce Club, United Methodist Women of Franklin FUMC, and UT Extension Williamson County.