published Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Attendants at Chattanooga awareness event hope to battle sex trafficking

  • photo
    Jerry Redman, executive director of Second Life Chattanooga
    Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

WHAT'S NEXT

What: Greater Chattanooga Coalition Against Human Trafficking meeting.

When: 11:30 a.m. Feb. 2, 2012

Where: Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, 300 Eighth St., Chattanooga.

Dozens of students and area residents wore white Wednesday as they crowded into a room at the Hamilton County Courts Buliding for Chattanooga's National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

The color was meant to raise awareness and solidarity for the estimated thousands of people nationwide who have been forced into modern slavery.

But during presentations at Wednesday's event, Second Life Chattanooga Executive Director Jerry Redman said awareness is only a starting point to end a national crisis that reaches into the local community.

"Awareness is not an end to [human trafficking] in itself," Redman told the audience. "This is not an issue we're preparing for. This is an issue we're catching up with."

President Barack Obama first declared January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in 2010. Later that year, Second Life and Partnership for Families, Children and Adults formed the Greater Chattanooga Coalition Against Human Trafficking, which now includes local law enforcement agencies and advocacy groups.

A recent statewide survey issued by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation showed that Hamilton County had numerous human sex trafficking cases reported by hospitals and victim advocacy groups.

But to date, no reports of human sex trafficking have been made to local law enforcement, officials say.

"Very few, if any, cases have been brought to the attention of law enforcement or been prosecuted," Hamilton County District Attorney Bill Cox said at Wednesday's meeting.

Resources and time needed to confirm a human trafficking case are extensive, he said.

"It's a clandestine kind of crime. It's not easily identifiable," Cox said.

Local law enforcement officers and nonprofit organizations received their first round of training on human sex trafficking from the TBI in October.

The Tennessee Legislature also authorized the creation of an anonymous hotline for victims to receive help and reach safety. The hotline was launched statewide on Oct. 1.

"We need the public to report these activities," U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Bill Killian told the audience. "If you see something -- say something."

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