Tennessee human trafficking numbers on the rise, growing need for help

Numbers have shown human trafficking in every Tennessee county.
Human trafficking numbers are on the rise in Tennessee and so is the need to help support trafficking survivors.
Published: Sep. 22, 2023 at 4:58 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 22, 2023 at 6:20 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Human trafficking numbers are on the rise in Tennessee and so is the need to help support trafficking survivors.

The latest numbers from AncoraTN show human trafficking referrals for minors are up by more than 60% since 2021.

“Human trafficking is taking place everywhere in Tennessee. In every zip code, every county, it’s on the rise,” said AncoraTN CEO Kelli Cary.

The nonprofit is part of the Tennessee Counter-Trafficking Alliance, managing human trafficking referrals for all of Middle Tennessee. The organization provides emergency and long-term, comprehensive aftercare services to survivors, helping both children and adults.

Recent numbers from AncoraTN show overall trafficking numbers across the state on pace to be 30% higher than one year ago.

“I just would write down everything,” said human trafficking survivor Galia Meira.

She explained that writing in her 24 journals has been part of her healing.

It helped her escape a life where she says she was groomed, starting at age three, and sex trafficked by her own family, eventually even her own husband.

“Looking back on it was crushing,” said Meira. “Because I loved and trusted that person so much.”

Her moment of escape came down to one startling realization.

“Either I’m going to do something about this and get out of it, or I’m gonna die,” said Meira.

She found Rest Stop Ministries – a nonprofit that provides a long-term comprehensive residential trauma recovery program as well as job training for sex trafficking survivors.

“We say we’re just going to lock arms with these women. We are going to live in an authentic community together and help them walk out their journey,” said Rondy Smith, Rest Stop Ministries founder and executive director.

“They are broken- body, mind, emotions, soul, spirit. They need medical care, they need mental health care, they need their emotions to heal. To be living in a loving, supportive community, that’s why we’re 24/7, 365 days a year. You come and you just live in an authentic community with us. We’re going to give you comprehensive case management and help you take care of everything,” said Smith.

Numbers have shown human trafficking in every Tennessee county.

In Middle Tennessee, information from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation shows that Davidson, Rutherford and Sumner Counties had the greatest number of reported trafficking cases over the last three years (2020 through 2022).

While the rise in numbers of human trafficking may sound alarming, Cary said the cause of the increase is encouraging.

“Victims are just being identified more frequently because of increased initiatives around training and awareness throughout our state.”

Tennessee has a Human Trafficking Hotline (855) 558-6484 or text “BeFree” to 233733.

Cary explained, “It’s critical because it responds 24/7 and is also a law enforcement and social service response.”

“Donate and invest in survivors’ futures. Come link arms with us, volunteer with us, provide your gifts and resources with us,” said Cary. “We can’t do this alone, and we can’t do this without the community.”

Survivor Meira said her two-year journey with Rest Stop Ministries saved her life- a life she said is now filled with joy, love, and hope.

Her message for others is, “There is hope and healing and just an amazing life on the other side.”