Human trafficking, defined by Jerry Redman of Street Grace as “the use of force, fraud or coercion in order to commercially exploit someone, or sex involving a minor,” is a horrifying multi-billion-dollar business in the United States. While the crime can be found in every town and city in Tennessee, the executive director of the anti-trafficking faith-based non-profit said there is no way of knowing how many traffickers exist within the population.
“Unfortunately, we don’t even have a way to estimate,” said Mr. Redman after his presentation to the Rotary Club. “One of the thing we desperately need is better research around everything, and so what we have is a scale of economic factors and the number of children potentially exploited. In this way, it’s roughly some 300,000 children, and the economic scale is roughly $30 billion.”
Mr. Redman told the Rotarians there were several ways to tell if someone was possibly being trafficked. He used a couple of examples, each one in a different setting. His first was the signs to look for if they encountered a possible victim and trafficker in a hotel.
“Do they appear to be under the control of someone else,” asked the speaker. “When there is a couple checking in to a hotel, is there an age disparity? Is one person doing all of the talking? Is that person dressed appropriately not only for the situation, but appropriately for the weather if it’s raining or snowing? Has that person looked up once? Has that person said anything?”
Another scenario he mentioned was at a school, where trafficking can look far less nefarious than it actually is. One sign of a child being trapped in human trafficking is a once-star student suddenly experiencing slipping grades while being consistently absent, and then looking tired when they do go to class. But sometimes, the complete opposite can also be a sign of a child being trafficked.
“Or the flipside to that is a student whose family economic situation is not going well, but she’s showing up, as a 13-year-old with shoes, bags and jewelry that are all on point,” said Mr. Redman, “and word has gotten around that she has this wonderful and mysterious older boyfriend that she can’t tell her parents about because, well, he’s 19. He’s not 19, he’s 27, and he’s likely already sexualizing the child. And if he hasn’t already begun selling the child, he’s getting ready to.”
Of course, not every child whose situation displays these traits is being trafficked. Despite this, Mr. Redman implored people not to hesitate in contacting the police, even if nothing turns out to be wrong.
“Law enforcement has always told me they would rather hear from people who are wrong, than not hear from people who are right,” said Mr. Redman. “And nobody is going to get in trouble for the fact that you just misread the situation. There’s a big difference between that and purposefully filing a false report. Law enforcement wants to hear from you, be it from 911 or the Human Trafficking hotline at the TBI.”
Trafficking has recently been in the spotlight, as more details of Jeffrey Epstein’s trafficking come into the public consciousness after his controversial suicide. Mr. Redman said, “It has more people talking about it. What it has also done is, in some people’s minds, it has changed their inner narrative about the crime. Because here you have a person of high position, wealth, and connection who allegedly involved other people of high position, wealth, and connection into this activity.”
While Street Grace and other anti-trafficking organizations have done a sizable amount of work to fight human trafficking, Mr. Redman told the Rotarians that the crime would, most likely, not be eliminated in their lifetime. Despite this, he remained optimistic that human trafficking could be eradicated in the future.
“I realize it’s going to take us at least the rest of this century to significantly turn the tide and win on this front,” said Mr. Redman, “But we have been given the chance to make sure the groundwork has been laid, so that by the last quarter of this century, people are talking about how the eradication of this crime is well within sight.”