Human trafficking victims have support after a traumatic experience
We are learning more about the Human Trafficking Task Force in Bradley County.
Willowbend Farms is one of the organizations providing victim support.
While the task force has been up and running for almost a year, the organization offering this help has been helping several victims from the Tennessee Valley.
Right now, Willowbend Farms is working with about a dozen victims.
The goal is education, prevention, and raising awareness to rescue women who want a safe way out.
Sarah McKinnis says she's witnessed trafficking right here at home.
Six years ago, McKinnis had an eye-opening experience.
As she was having lunch one summer day, she watched a transfer take place in broad daylight in Cleveland.
At that time she didn't know what she was seeing was a reality in this area.
“I will never forget that day,” said Sarah McKinnis. “At that moment, I felt paralyzed. What do I do? Am I seeing what I'm seeing? Is this real?”
Four years after that transaction, she helped create Willowbend Farms.
It's the organization that partnered with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office, Cleveland Police, the district attorney, and the FBI during the most recent human trafficking sting.
She says she the operation, resulting in the arrest of four men, was a success.
“We're looking at their emotional mental physical spiritual and financially,” said McKinnis. “Everything to undergo them with support in our community.”
McKinnis says rescuing these victims can be more difficult than you think because they know what to expect in that environment.
“If they don't perform, they know what to expect there as well,” said McKinnis. “So they're walking into an unknown, and they get very skittish.”
Law enforcement suggests being on the lookout for people who may not have identification, wearing clothes that are not appropriate for the season, and people who won’t make eye contact.
McKinnis challenges everyone to be on the lookout for this illegal activity.
“We walk around a lot with our eyes in our phones, and not paying attention,” said McKinnis. “So let's be aware.”
McKinnis says being vigilant goes past the physical appearance.
She says most of the undercover activity of trafficking happens via social media.
She wants parents to be mindful, and aware of what their children are doing online.
McKinnis says be involved in your children's lives.
“Why are they friends with the friends of their friends that they don't know, and sharing locations, pictures,” said McKinnis. “What do those conversations look like? And what about the conversations that get deleted immediately.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, you are encouraged to call the police.
More information to get involved can be found here.