Jerry Redman remembers the day when "sex trafficking" became part of his everyday vocabulary.
He was sitting through a presentation on another topic when he heard the phrase "sex trafficking in the United States." Those five words stopped time for Redman, who has since worked to generate awareness about and create collaborations that will help end sex trafficking in the Chattanooga region through the Greater Chattanooga Coalition Against Human Trafficking and the nonprofit organization Second Life Chattanooga.
"Originally we set out to create awareness about the issue and the fact that it's a United States problem, it's a Southern problem, it's a Tennessee problem and it's a Southeast Tennessee problem," he said. "Awareness is necessary and it's an entry point into all of this, but it can't be an end. We are working toward awareness that creates collaborative action."
As the managing senior partner of Second Life Chattanooga, Redman works with the organization's other senior partner, Terri Self, to provide communities within 15 North Georgia and Tennessee counties with awareness programs and opportunities for collaboration that include law enforcement, other nonprofit organizations, faith-based groups and other non-governmental agencies to help tackle the problem of sex trafficking in all aspects.
"We are not a service provider," said Redman. "We are a group that convenes service providers and works to meet needs through a network."
Through the collaborations Second Life facilitates, Redman said the organization has brought groups and people together who can meet the needs of sex trafficking victims when they arise.
According to him, local residents might be surprised to know that sex trafficking has expressed itself in every form in Hamilton County in recent years. Those forms include people being brought here from another country and sold, sex trafficking involving locals, people being transported through the county for sex trafficking purposes and children being used for sexual purposes and profit. He said specific numbers of incidents vary depending on who reports them and what different groups constitute as sex trafficking, but one study suggests there were more than 100 sex trafficking cases reported across the state in a two-year period from 2009-2010. Another independent study shows that an average 94 minors a month are involved in sex trafficking in Tennessee, he said.
"This is the fastest growing type of organized crime in the world," said Redman. "Everyone is having to play catch-up on this."
As his organization continues to grow and expand, Redman said one of the main focuses will be increasing awareness efforts throughout all of the 15 counties Second Life Chattanooga works to serve. He also eventually hopes to open a full-service recovery center through the nonprofit that will be able to help victims with all aspects of recovery, from legal issues to mental health problems, he said.
A former pastor, Redman said he is also in the process of working to involve more faith-based institutions in Second Life Chattanooga's partnerships.
"The pulpit is a place where this should be talked about," he said. "It's an outlet we would like to connect with more."