KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT)--Many don't even realize this is an issue in the United States, let alone in our back yard. And those working to stop it say the problem isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Christi Wigle runs the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking. She said,"parents are trading off their children's sex in exchange for drug money, in exchange for cash, in exchange for other profits. And when you do that, especially with minors, it is human trafficking."
And it's happening everywhere. But we don't hear much about it. Wigle said, "when you look at what actually has been reported in terms of human trafficking versus the reality of how many cases are out there, it's hard to pinpoint that exact number, because its more than what's been reported."
East Tennessee District Attorney William Killian said fear plays a major role. "The people that are committing the human trafficking violations are threatening the witnesses with deportation or some other legal action."
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett sponsored a law against human trafficking while in the state legislature, and agrees with Killian. He said, "they're in the country illegally, and they're afraid they're going to be deported and they've heard all these horror stories."
Horror stories that Christi Wigle has been hearing since 2009. She said, "these victims are being raped every day by different men. 10, 20, 30 times a day, not even by the same man, but different men. Most of the time 6 days a week. A lot of these trafficking victims have been trafficked for 1, 3, 5, some 10 years. Just add that up how awful that is."
So how can we put a stop to it? Wigle says training law enforcement to identify victims is key. "Without the proper training, law enforcement will not be able to identify whether that's a human trafficking victim, or if it's just a prostitute that's willing."
And from there she said "collaboration and networking within different agencies, volunteers getting involved."
But Mayor Burchett said nothing will happen without cold hard cash. "If you don't put the money in it, the dollars aren't there, it's not funded and it never happens." And not without your help. He said, "until the public says, we've got a problem, let's do something about it, I don't think you're ever going to see it resolved."
To seek help, victims can call a national hot line at (888) 373-7888.