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Officials in Tennessee are working together to combat the issue of sex trafficking among Black and brown children throughout the state.

According to WKRN, on April 17, U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) and Tennessee Metro Police Chief John Drake met with the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), former NFL star Brad Hopkins and several organizations to strategize ways that will aim to save the lives of minority children at risk of being trafficked.

According to the latest TBI data, 500 to 600 children go missing each month in Tennessee, with over half of them being minorities. Currently, Black and brown girls make up a majority of the TBI missing children’s list.

At Wednesday’s conference, Tennessee leaders stressed the importance of raising awareness, educating parents on both physical and virtual threats to children. A 2021 study by Polaris found that 65% of sex trafficking victims were recruited online.

Contrary to common belief, victims of sex trafficking are not always abducted or coerced by strangers. Polaris also revealed that 45% of victims are trafficked by a family member while 40% are trafficked by an intimate partner of the victim. Traffickers often employ manipulation tactics, including abuse, threats, and withholding of basic needs, to control their victims.

To address the increasing dangers faced by Black and brown children, participants discussed the enactment of legislation aimed at bolstering local law enforcement’s anti-trafficking initiatives.

Houston Oilers alum Brad Hopkins discussed the NFL’s collaboration with the National Child ID Program, an initiative that encourages parents to document their children’s physical traits, fingerprints and DNA to help law enforcement swiftly locate missing children.

“It’s a blessing that we’re able to be here to talk, to create those resources. It’s unfortunate that we are under these circumstances. But this is progress,” Hopkins told WKRN following the meeting. 


Black women and girls face a greater risk of being trafficked.

Black women are at a disproportionately high risk of being targeted for trafficking at younger ages compared to their white counterparts. They were the third largest group to be trafficked for labor and sex in 2021, Polaris found. A 2020 report from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation revealed that 40% of identified sex trafficking victims were Black girls and women.

They also face higher rates of sexual and physical abuse than women of other racial backgrounds, with 36.9% trafficked by their partners. Shockingly, 1 in 5 Black women are survivors of rape, and 1 in 4 Black girls will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18, the National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community noted.

Although some intersecting vulnerabilities create a complex web of risk, various external factors compound the vulnerability of Black women and girls becoming vulnerable to sex trafficking. These include lower socioeconomic status, involvement in the child welfare or criminal justice system, disengagement from education, and a history of physical or sexual abuse and mental health issues. Runaway youth are also at risk. 

Statistics indicate that a significant portion of trafficking victims have been subject to discrimination and the resulting political, social and economic repercussions. Individuals residing in poverty, foster care, or experiencing addiction, trauma, abuse or unstable housing are particularly vulnerable to trafficking.

According to the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, Black women are disproportionately affected by the sexual abuse to prison pipeline, with a significant overrepresentation among sex trafficking victims and survivors. Limited data exacerbates their vulnerability to exploitation. Unfortunately, when Black girls who are victims or survivors of sex trafficking are identified, they are often arrested on prostitution charges and treated as offenders rather than receiving the support and assistance they need as victims. Traffickers have openly admitted that they believe trafficking Black women would result in less severe punishment compared to trafficking white women.


Systemic racism plays a part in the disparity.

The U.S. Department of Justice has also acknowledged the ways in which systemic racism has perpetuated sex trafficking “through discriminatory government policies and private practices that create disparities in access to economic means or opportunities, which traffickers exploit to compel victims in sex trafficking or forced labor.”

The organization stated that systemic practices that prey on and marginalize specific racial communities, hindering their ability to achieve financial security and pass down wealth from one generation to the next, create fertile ground for traffickers to exploit vulnerable individuals with enticing alternatives. These harmful practices encompass redlining, discriminatory lending practices, unequal allocation of government aid and services, limited access to higher-paying jobs or white-collar professions, and deliberate exclusions of certain occupations from labor protections.


How do we fix the issue?

To effectively combat the rise in sex trafficking among young Black girls and women, a comprehensive approach is essential. This includes raising awareness about the signs of trafficking and educating communities to recognize and report suspicious activities. Additionally, providing support and resources to vulnerable populations, such as runaway youth and individuals experiencing homelessness or domestic violence, is crucial. 

Strengthening laws and policies to prosecute traffickers and protect survivors, as well as enhancing victim services such as medical care, mental health support, and housing assistance, are vital components. Collaboration across sectors, including law enforcement, government agencies, NGOs, and community organizations, is essential to coordinate efforts and improve responses to trafficking. Preventing demand for commercial sex, empowering survivors, combating online exploitation, promoting international cooperation, and investing in prevention programs are also key strategies in the fight against sex trafficking. 

Furthermore, it is imperative to establish sex trafficking prevention programs in schools that prioritize the specific cultural requirements of Black women and girls. These initiatives aim to educate them about the hazards and vulnerabilities associated with sex trafficking.


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Sex Trafficking: Black Women And Girls Are At A Greater Risk, So What Can Be Done To Combat The Issue?  was originally published on