I cannot remember a time in my life when I prayed for NO snow. Watching beautiful flakes fall and cover the earth is one of my favorite pastimes. I’ve pressed my small nose against a cold window pane on more than one occasion to relish the sight. So, when the weather forecasters told us we had a possibility of 1″ to 2″ of snow on the way, my heart sank. How would I ever get our Press Conference rescheduled on a date that everyone would be available for before Christmas? I reluctantly released my child-like expectation of the white stuff floating through the air in order for the event to proceed — and it did proceed.
Two days ago 5 speakers, 7 press agencies, and 55 guests comprised of concerned citizens from across the state and non-government organizations (NGO’s) working to end human trafficking gathered in room LP30 at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville, TN in order to gain greater insight into the growing crime and how we have been (and will be) addressing the issue as a state.
As I stood and delivered my Welcome speech, the magnitude of what we were experiencing at that moment as a State came over me. Not one to write and read a prepared speech, I knew that I must if I were going to stay on topic. I knew that there was too much inside of me that may come out and not be appropriate for this gathering, none-the-less, I wish I had let some of it come out. Panel Speakers Director Mark Gwyn, Tennessee Bureau of Investigations; Commissioner Bill Gibbons, Director of Safety and Homeland Security; Representative Deborah Maggart, sponsor of human trafficking legislation; Derri Smith, Founder of EndSlaveryTN; and Christi Wigle, Director of Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking (Knoxville), presented data from their respective areas of focus to a hungry audience wanting to understand the depths of what the State is dealing with.
When planning the event, I struggled with asking a survivor to attend and tell her/his story. My final decision was a negative. There were some I could have asked to participate and they would have graciously agreed, however, it just didn’t feel appropriate this time. So, in lieu of one of these precious souls, we were told the story of a rescue of a 9-year-old girl by a gentleman that I invited who was in the audience. I liked this approach — it touched on the other side of the coin — what a regular citizen did to rescue a victim he “happened upon” while researching poverty in his own back yard in North Nashville. Van Hohe (Van Allen Productions and Management) presented a shocking detailed account of how he discovered a young girl, on her 9th birthday, that had been trafficked for about 2 years.
“She kept saying, No men on my birthday. No men on my birthday.” When Hohe was asked by one of those who accompanied him to the home, obviously poverty ridden to repeat what the young girl said, it was then that he realized what she had been experiencing. He contacted authorities the next day to investigate and the girl was rescued from a life of forced sex by men.
An hour of questions and answers from press and other guests presented some challenges that the State will look at in order to really end human trafficking in Tennessee. Representative Mike Sparks, co-sponsor of the conference, asked the most probing question of the panel members, “Has there been any research conducted to see if fathers absent from the homes is affecting this issue?” I was glad to hear that question and presented the statistics I had available. 95% of runaways in America are from fatherless homes and over 50% of trafficked victims are runaways. Indeed the breakdown of the family unit is affecting the rise of human trafficking. I’m convinced that the Q & A would have continued another hour if we’d have had the time to continue.
All in all, the event was well worth it. It was the first time that we had gathered the primary agencies together to address why Tennessee has seen 4,000 reported victims in the past 24 months, a statistic obtained through the General Assembly ordered program to find out how our State is being affected by human trafficking this past May. We found out — now we know — and now we are responsible to address it. And we will address it. It will take courage and truth, spoken factually, with simplicity and compassion, if we are going to expose the problems we need to solve that surround why trafficking of humans has become this goliath in our country. Tennessee is here to make a statement that we are up for this challenge.
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