Editor’s Note: Sex trafficking is a serious and dangerous reality within our society today. As such, parts of this article may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised.
Community leaders rallied to support Sen. Bob Corker’s legislation on behalf of the 27 million enslaved worldwide and kick-start the END IT Movement’s Shine a Light on Slavery Day at Belmont University Monday.
“We’re here to show our support for this bold, bipartisan and game-changing anti-slavery effort Senator Corker is leading,” said Belmont International Justice Mission Chapter President Breanna Adams.
Corker is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and his current connection to the anti-trafficking movement is his push for the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act which was introduced in February of 2015. In November and December of 2015, Congress allocated $25 million for a nonprofit coalition with the government and the private sector in Washington D.C., but Congress still has not authorized the legislation, he said.
“Instead of just doing something incremental, what we’re attempting to do is to forge a worldwide effort to end this,” said Corker.
Corker’s firsthand experience and the advocacy of groups like IJM inspired his push in legislation.
“And so what you have, which we’ve seen firsthand, young women and young girls who may live in a rural area in the Philippines. Some man comes through and asks them if they’d like to live in the big city in Manila and see it for a day, and they find themselves in Malaysia or some other place in sexual servitude,” he said, fighting tears as he spoke.
“There are young boys and men who want to support their families and end up in brick kilns for life or fishing in Ghana. By the way, when they’re productive time is over, they’re thrown overboard,” he said. “This happens today.”
Despite the ban against slavery in all countries in the world, 165 countries have instances of slavery. Even law enforcement in Tennessee has taken strides in combatting the trafficking within the state with organizations like the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Corker said.
Tennessee has thousands of sexually trafficked victims within its borders, said Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent Margie Quin.
When the TBI posts ads in attempts to catch traffickers on sites like backpage.com, hundreds respond.
“Demand is at the crux of this epidemic. If there was not a demand for women and children to have sex with, there would be no supply,” said Quin.
Only five years ago, selling a 14-year-old girl for sex in Tennessee was classified as a misdemeanor. Today it’s classified as a Class A felony.
This change in law among 36 others have been passed to end human trafficking in the state of Tennessee.
Since the summer of 2015, TBI has held eight undercover operations, passed new laws requiring victim identification training for all law enforcement officers, made 60 arrests and recovered more than 25 women and three juveniles, said Quin.
“To all the traffickers, the TBI has a message for you: you are in our crosshairs, and we are coming for you. To all the victims out there, we have another message: help is on the way. And for all the young people here today, my message to you is this: the winds of change are blowing in Tennessee. Let your generation be the generation to end it,” she said.
The TBI’s work is not finished, and Quin said she looks to improve the organization’s direct services for juveniles.
As well as public servants taking a stand against trafficking, local music industry artists participated in the event. Country artist Holly Williams performed her song “Without Jesus Here with Me,” and contemporary Christian artist Natalie Grant spoke about her organization Hope for Justice.
Grant’s Hope for Justice reach spans across the globe with six offices in four countries and three continents, said Barker.
Hope for Justice rescued 204 girls in the last six months, and every victim rescued goes through the restoration home there. Not only is the organization doing work in Colombia, it also has three investigation headquarters in the UK and educated 125 juveniles in collaboration with the court system in Davidson County, said Grant.
The organization spawned after Grant saw a “Law and Order” episode where traffickers sold children in the U.S., and her curiosity caused her to google human trafficking, she said.
“Three months later, I found myself in the redlight district in Mumbai, India. I saw twin 5-year-old girls for sale on the street. I looked up at a second story window, saw a little girl that couldn’t have been more than 6 years of age, and she was in a cage. Because they thought my husband was a potential client, during the daytime hours, they allowed us to tour a brothel where we walked through cubicle after cubicle, one with one little bed with a rope tied to a bedpost. They said a 14-year-old girl was forced to work, but because there was no child care available, her 18-month-old would be tethered to that bed while she was raped repeatedly day after day after day.”
To the audience, Grant provided an inspirational message of action and hope despite the overwhelming number of people enslaved.
“You don’t have to be qualified,” she said. “You just have to have a heart beating on the inside of you. If you are a human being, this issue is for you. The most innocent among us is being ravaged day in and day out. It’s time for every single one of us to say ‘not on our watch, not in our generation.’”
Belmont University President Bob Fisher recognized the ability and responsibility of each person in attendance to act against this injustice, referencing a piece of advice Colin Powell once gave to him.
“The greatest privilege in life is to be in a position where you’re strong enough and you’re smart enough and you have the resources and you have the health and you have the education so that you can help somebody. That’s privilege,” Fisher said.
Students, activists and legislators can all participate in the END IT Movement’s Shine a Light on Slavery Day on Thursday by wearing a red X on their hand and bringing awareness to the cause.