Almost 100 children each month in Tennessee become enslaved to human trafficking
That's why the Red Sand Project is raising awareness about the issue.
Several people spent the morning pouring sand in the cracks to represent the lives that fall between the cracks of human trafficking.
Some think it doesn't happen here in our community, but it could happen anywhere.
“Everyone thinks Human Trafficking is only relevant in areas next to a major interstate,” said Bash Merritt. “That happens to be Chattanooga. Of course, that can play a part, but 49% of cases that were reported in Tennessee happened in the rural counties.”
Almost 100 children each month in Tennessee become enslaved to human trafficking, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.
Bash Merritt with second life Tennessee says this crime completely demoralizes an individual.
“It's modern-day slavery,” said Merritt. “An individual's life is completely stripped of them, and they are left with no options. They think that this is now their life, and this is how they are valued.”
Traffickers prey upon those who have "fallen through the cracks" in society because they can be easily manipulated or coerced.
The most commonly trafficked victims are women and girls, and more specifically runaways, refugees and immigrants, the LGBT community, domestic violence victims, and substance abusers.
Merritt says it's not that easy for someone to just walk away.
“There is a grooming process that they use on them,” said Merritt. “It will make them think that they will have no life outside of this. A lot of times the traffic or will become their drug dealer.”
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger proclaimed August 2 through the 9th as human trafficking awareness week.
He says human trafficking is the second growing criminal industry just behind drug trafficking.
Merritt wants everyone to know the risk, red flags and resources to possibly save a life.
He says keep your eyes open for abnormal body language like someone not making eye contact.
“People that are being trafficked are around us,” said Merritt. “They are at Walmart is there a church. A lot of people think that they are being kept in the basement and being changed and that's not the case do you want.”
The message is if you see something, say something.
In those cases, people are urged to call the confidential National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 (TTY 711, or text 233733), or the Tennessee Hotline 1-855-558-6484, or the Georgia Hotline 1-844-842-3678.