MEMPHIS, TN – It’s a dark side of childhood that more and more children are falling into.
Human trafficking is something children are being lured into and something they don`t understand.
Their stories are real and the circumstances are frightening.
“We were like a goods, something that was sold for profit,” says Sue, a human trafficking victim. “He would get me out and beat me afterwards until I agreed to have sex with them. ”
“Human trafficking is the second fastest growing crime in Tennessee,” says Micheal Jones, with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations. “About every 2 minutes, someone in the nation is entering into human trafficking. About 90 to 11 children in Tennessee are trafficked every month. ”
“You are trapped. You really are,” Sue tells us. She was trafficked for 8 years. She agreed to tell us about being forced into sex so someone else could get paid.
“What these men do in the beginning is they sell you this dream and make you think. They show you all these wonderful things they have. They are gonna give them to you and stay with you,” says Sue.
It’s the dream that starts at the most innocent places – a neighborhood or the mall -where human traffickers find prime bait.
The lure is something to draw young people in. A man or woman hones in a child, then approaches with an offer. They are with a modeling agency and want to talk to them about work or how about they are directing a video and looking for kids to be in it.
“They might approach this individual tell them they look pretty, how beautiful they are. Tell them you could be a model,” says Jones.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says the people behind human trafficking often prey on children wanting attention.
“You have individuals preying on people with vulnerable needs. They manipulate them, force them into performing sex acts for money, valuables etc,” says Jones.
Sue says her addiction to drugs made her a prime target.
“He started bringing men in the house. He would not give me drugs until I had sex with the men. He would lock me in the closet when I refused to do it,” said Sue.
Then, he would get me out and beat me afterwards until I agreed to have sex with them,” she said. “You are trapped. You really are. You are afraid to leave because they threaten you. You know. If you leave they will find you, they will kill you. They will hurt your family. ”
It’s how they become trapped and it’s become a growing trafficking business.
The internet is full of pages after pages of advertising for sex, many time underage. People are looking and traffickers are offering.
“They prey on their psychological state. They really manipulate them,” says Jones.
It`s why TBI is going after those looking to buy. Cut off the demand, you will dry up the supply.
“We post ads as underage, particularly females, and we seek out those who are coming to engage in commercial sex acts with these individuals. We see this as a demand driven crime. Without the demand there is no need for the supply,” says Jones.
Since 2011, the TBI has opened 196 human trafficking cases, with 97 opened last year alone. Now the TBI has four agents across the state that work specifically on human trafficking.
“We are there to champion her and be her advocate,” says Rachel Haaga, Executive Director of Restore Corps, one of several agencies helping human trafficking victims with counseling and advocacy. They have helped children as young as 11 years old..
“We have survivors approached on their way home from school, just walking from school, at malls, at grocery stores, at laundry mats and on Beale Street,” says Haaga.
The Community of St. Therese Lisieux, is another agency that provides a free place to stay for trafficking survivors, helping them to heal.
“We can’t fix anybody, but we can provide the space for them to do the program,” says Sandra Ferrell, Executive Director of Lisieux. “They are able to walk out in the world and have the skills they need to live on their own. The longer they are here, the more skills they have. ”
They work on skills like making a schedule, managing their day and even healthy cooking.
One trafficking victim told us the biggest hindrance is that many people don’t notice that trafficking is all around them and is pulling in some of the most innocent among us.
“A lot of people are trapped. They are in public places and people are watching them and they still can’t get out. I think awareness is our biggest issue,” one victim told us.
The State of Tennessee has become a model around the country for passing legislation to address human trafficking and having state-wide interconnected programs to help victims.
If you are a human trafficking victim or know someone who needs helps, call the Human Trafficking Hotline 1-855-558-6484.