By Emma Hurst
Artwork by Hallie Anderson
Jeffrey Epstein, financier and convicted sex offender, died by suicide on August 10, 2019.
Epstein was arrested for the alleged sex trafficking of dozens of minors in Florida and New York between 2002 and 2005. Additionally, he would have been charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking with minors. Epstein sexually abused these young women and encouraged them to put others at risk as well. Although Epstein’s death has somewhat ended the criminal case, a few of his alleged victims have begun to sue his estate.
After hearing about Epstein in the news, I decided to learn more about the horrendous industry of human trafficking. Although it may not be apparent in our day to day lives, human trafficking is a major issue in the U.S. I was shocked to find out that every month in Tennessee alone an average of 94 minors are trafficked. The average age of an individual that enters sex trafficking is 13 years old.
I asked the school counselor, Ms. Parker, how much she thought we should worry about trafficking. “I think a lot of times we think we’re insulated because we’re a private girls school and we ‘don’t know anyone who would do that,’” high school counselor Ms. Parker says, “but it is imperative that we know what’s going on and know that we could be vulnerable too.” At St. Mary’s, we can expand the discussion on this and be cognizant of this topic. “It’s real. And it’s not just people that we don’t know. It’s all around us.”
Trafficking looks different depending on the case. Traffickers will often contact minors through social media or the internet. Some traffickers are family members or close friends of the victim’s family. However, it could also simply be a trafficker offering the victim a ride home. We should be cognizant of these gateways to trafficking and protect ourselves.
While certain cities and areas have a higher likelihood of human trafficking, seemingly safe cities like Nashville are known to have many cases of trafficking a year. Nashville’s trucking industry is where the majority of trafficking takes place. The city’s three major highway systems make it a popular point for transit. Additionally, cities with large tourism and sporting industries (such as Nashville and Memphis) can be popular for human trafficking due to the large influxes of people.
Tennessee is currently one of the leading states regarding legislation and action related to fighting human trafficking. For example, a law made effective in 2018 provides relocation options for victims to prevent their abusers from finding them; they receive a government-managed substitute address for themselves and their children. Another law put into effect the same year allows victims who are minors to have their criminal records (for charges such as prostitution) expunged.
Sex trafficking is also fought through independent organizations such as End Slavery Tennessee and It Has To Stop.Local organizations such as Restore Corps are targeting the issue in Shelby County and Memphis. We could pursue opportunities to help these organizations through St. Mary’s. The sex trafficking industry is not limited to third world countries. It happens everywhere, even in our beloved Tennessee.
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