NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and for the second year, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is rolling out its “It Has to Stop” billboard campaign to help combat sex trafficking.
It’s an illegal business that the TBI wants to put an end to. Sex trafficking can happen in small towns, and it can happen in big cities.
“I think a lot of people think it doesn’t happen here, and indeed it does, but also we’re doing something about it,” said Susan Niland with the TBI.
Niland told News 2 victims often don’t even realize they’re victims, or they don’t know how to escape.
She said officers are more aware of the problem than they were years ago, and they’re being trained to look for signs that anyone can keep an eye out for.
“Somebody who doesn’t have control of their own money. They might have hotel keys that they use instead of an actual home. They might have inappropriate attire for their situation. They might refer to a boyfriend or someone who is in control of their destiny,” said Niland.
Many victims get pulled into sex trafficking at a young age.
“Often times you’ll see someone who befriends a girl who might be a runaway who might be at odds with her family, and kind of takes on the role of a boyfriend, then kind of grooms her. We also have instances where perhaps a mother can’t pay her rent so she sends her daughter to the landlord to do a trade,” said Niland.
Traffickers aren’t as obvious as you might think.
“You’ll see everything from day laborers, to educators, to pastors, to the guy literally next door. There’s not a typical demographic. It ranges from anybody you can imagine, most of them homegrown,” said Niland.
As you’re driving along Tennessee interstates, look for “It Has to Stop” billboards. They’re here to remind you that sex trafficking does exist right here where you live, and you can do something about it.
Look for the signs, and if you suspect someone is a victim, let them know there are people who want to help them.
Here are a few places to get additional information: