Nashville organization fights human trafficking, 128 rescues last year

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – This is a crime that happens every day and is often overlooked or unacknowledged. Authorities say the number of human trafficking crimes is startling, although the true scale of the actual number of victims is unknown.

“Most people, I think because of some of the movies that have come out, expect it to be that kind of kidnapping, snatching and grabbing experience, when unfortunately most of the time a trafficker is a trusted friend the moment the girl realizes what is going on,” said Mary Trapnell, founder and executive director of the Nashville Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition.

Trapnell’s job is to really look and see the problem in order to step in and lend a hand to those who have that glimmer of hope to get out of a trafficking situation.

“We performed 128 rescues and interventions last year,” Trapnell explained, and she’s not just talking locally.

The Nashville Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition helps families in Tennessee. The organization even goes so far as to travel to another state to help a family in need. For example, Trapnell explained that it’s common for a family in Tennessee to want to get their loved one out of a human trafficking situation in another state. In these cases, a team will travel there and, based on the cell phone’s GPS provided by the family, can locate a loved one, in hopes of bringing them home safely.

Trapnell has seen women and teenagers in all aspects of the trafficking industry, but says the problem, unfortunately, is not getting better.

“The great thing about Nashville is we have an economic boom in that area, in that part of the country really, but unfortunately with the money comes the traffic because it’s a business,” Trapnell explained.

She explained that it is becoming particularly difficult to keep up with the growing demand, with the internet serving as another medium for these illegal transactions to occur. Web addresses can easily become a hunting ground for predators.

“This industry is growing and partly because of the internet, it’s easy to book girls and it’s easy for girls and traffickers to book and make girls available, which drives up the demand for services” , Trapnell said.

Last year, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Human Trafficking Unit completed 13 sting operations across the state. So far this year, the TBI has made 26 arrests in connection with human trafficking operations.

“We are seeing a growing trend of girls growing up in well-to-do homes, and perhaps in a private school situation, or in the pews of the church who, unfortunately, through divorce, through sexual abuse and through some vulnerabilities are open and subject to an attract traffickers,” Trapnell explained.

However, the organization has a not-so-secret weapon against human trafficking. They are called ‘Thrivers’ and are used to describe women who are now thriving in life after being trafficked. Now they use their experience to meet others face to face in their reality and serve as a beacon of hope for what life could be like.

“It’s a big company and they’re a commodity,” Trapnell said. “It’s a reality check of saying ‘I’ve been there, I’ve been through this, I know what you’re going through and there’s hope.'”

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There are several ways to report human trafficking if you witness it. You can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 888-373-7888. You can also call your local FBI office or e-mail tips anonymously to TIPS.FBI.gov.