Illuminating the Fight Against Sex Trafficking

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by Kate B. Trudell,
executive director, Grow Free Tennessee, powered by CCAHT

We are writing to you to say thank you.

In your Nov. 10  issue, you published an article entitled “Unchained: Inside the Struggle Against Sex Trafficking in Knoxville,” in which you provided an in-depth look at human trafficking in the Knoxville community [cover story by S. Heather Duncan]. You included information about the work of our organization, and in particular, you shared the story of one of the clients we serve: Destiny.

You may have received feedback from various folks in the community telling you how this story affected them. Perhaps they didn’t know that this was happening right here in East Tennessee; or perhaps they did know, but they weren’t sure how the state was responding to this crime.

But we want to tell you the story of one woman in particular who was greatly affected by your story. We want to share with you how your story helped one woman in our community feel like she wasn’t alone.

One of the other clients we serve heard about Grow Free Tennessee’s feature in your November issue. In fact, she saw the link to the story on our Facebook page. She clicked the link, and she read.

She read the story, and she called us.

In order for us to tell you why this story so deeply affected her, we must first share with you a little bit about her interaction with law enforcement. Like almost every survivor of human trafficking who has had contact with the criminal justice system, this survivor in particular had been targeted and harassed by law enforcement officials. She had been treated and categorized as a criminal: a lifetime experience of deaf ears, turned heads, closed hearts.

As we know from your article, and from the stories of many survivors, the nature of “the life” can make it easy to criminalize victims from an outsider’s point of view. Oftentimes, drugs and other criminal offenses are involved, and many law enforcement agents unfortunately may not take the time to try to understand the difference between the criminal and the victim: On the surface, they both look guilty. At first glance, they both might look like criminals. And it would be easy to look at this survivor—and others—and assume that’s what they are.

From this client’s point of view, because she didn’t know anyone else in the life or have any understanding of the nuances of trafficking or how victims typically interact with law enforcement, she felt like she was the only one who couldn’t seem to catch a break before she came to us. She felt hopeless and alone, like she was the only one who couldn’t get someone to listen to her or offer her the help she needed instead of putting her in jail.

So when she read your article, it gave her hope. It gave her healing, because it helped her realize why life had been so hard for her, that she wasn’t the only one, and that the way she had been wrongly treated by law enforcement wasn’t her fault.

We want to thank you. Thank you for raising awareness. Thank you for putting much time and effort into unpacking this incredibly complex crime to help educate and equip our community to understand and respond. And thank you for laying bare the many gaps and flaws that still exist in the system so that we can better understand how to fix them. Thank you for illuminating the work that’s being done and the work that needs to be done in order to mitigate this crime.

It’s taking this conversation and awareness that will help us all, as a community, to look at survivors as fellow members of our community that need a listening ear and a helping hand instead of time in a jail cell. And it’s this conversation, and this awareness, that is crucial to showing all survivors they are not alone. They have a community standing behind them, paving the way for them, and supporting their journey toward restoration regardless of the circumstances that led them to the starting line.

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