Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal industries, second only to drug-related crimes.

On Wednesday, Feb. 1st, the Baker Center hosted a panel discussion on human trafficking and its possible prevention. The panelists were Kate Trudell, executive director of Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking (CCAHT), Jamesena Walker, special agent with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and Anita Voorhees, president of UT chapter International Justice Mission (IJM). The speakers shared their insights and experiences in human trafficking, and later transitioned to a Q&A session.

According to Walker, the stereotype of human trafficking is much different than what is observed in Upper East Tennessee.

“I know everybody has a specific image of what they think human trafficking looks like,” Walker said. “A carload of foreign nationals in a van … That, I know, comes to people's mind, and that is a form of trafficking as well, but it’s not what we see here in the Upper East Tennessee area.”

The type of human trafficking Walker has mostly seen is gang-related crimes and prostitution, especially with young women. Other kinds of investigations include human trafficking sites, forced labor, mail-order brides and domestic servitude. Social media also plays an important role in human trafficking.

A major issue Walker has experienced in law enforcement is struggling to shift blame from the victims to the traffickers and customers.

“I think we’re beginning to realize that the prostitute is not actually the problem,” Walker said. “We’ve got to shift our mindset and arrest these traffickers and also arrest the johns.”

Trudell’s organization works to raise awareness and education about human trafficking. They also provide survivors with long-term, personalized support that emphasizes peer relationships and giving control back to these survivors.

“Experiencing that level of trauma, in an essence, for the duration of your life, is not going to be undone in a 28-day program or a three-month program or a six-month program. It’s going to take a long time, and so what our organization strives to do is to stick it out,” Trudell said. “It’s about creating a relationship and helping them relearn what healthy relationship dynamics are.”

Students who want to help stop human trafficking can support CCAHT through volunteering or join IJM. The panelists emphasized that it is most important for people to address issues in their own interests that can help perpetuate human trafficking.

“Ultimately, trafficking is a demand-driven crime,” Trudell said. “But on the whole, if we don’t start curbing the demand, if we don’t start holding perpetrators more accountable ... and also looking at and addressing, what are these indicators, what is it that’s providing the space for men to think it’s fine to buy a child for sex.”

Trudell blames much of it on the socialization of young adults and unrealistic portrayals of relationships in the media.

“I think we also have to start talking about sex in a healthy way to younger people," Trudell said. "I think in our community where there’s really not a robust sexual education component to our education system, I think we’re leaving the space for young people to learn about sex through pornography.”

Walker believes educating not only young people but also law enforcement about human trafficking is key.

“I feel like what we’re doing tonight, obviously training for our law enforcement officers, our partners, our social services, judges, DA’s offices, everyone has to be up on this type of crime. We have to understand what we’re looking at, and understand everyone has to work together.”

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