Human trafficking is not an unfamiliar problem in the nation or in North Georgia and Southeast Tennessee, authorities say.
"We are on the corridor that traffics children and adults in the Atlanta area," said Beverly Cosley, director of Chattanooga's Office of Multicultural Affairs.
About 375 young girls are trafficked each month in Georgia, with Atlanta being the focal point, according to Street Galvanizing Resources Against Child Exploitation, an Atlanta nonprofit.
From there, girls get trafficked all over, including Chattanooga, said Margie Quin, assistant special agent for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Cosley's office commemorated Human Rights Day on Friday with a program on trafficking that included a panel discussion and a film.
She said the event aimed "to open our eyes, to look out for each other and know what's happening in our city, our state and our nation."
"The Candy Shop" is a 30-minute film about child sex trafficking told through the story of a little boy who decided to do something about it and rescue children.
The average lifespan for a child after getting into prostitution is seven years, said Amy Walters, director of Street GRACE.
About 14,500 to 17,500 people, primarily women and children, are trafficked to the U.S. annually.
Federally funded task forces opened 2,515 suspected incidents of human trafficking for investigation between January 2008 and June 2010.
85 percent of Tennessee counties reported at least one case of human sex trafficking in the last 24 months.
Source: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and Governor's Office for Children and Families in Georgia
Though most people think human trafficking involves primarily foreigners, 81 percent of sex trafficking victims are U.S. citizens, said Scott Winne, with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
A TBI and Vanderbilt University study showed 85 percent of Tennessee counties reported at least one case of human sex trafficking in the last 24 months. That's compared to 72 percent of the counties affected by gangs, said Quin.
One study, "Tennessee Human Sex Trafficking and Its Impact on Children and Youth 2011," said Hamilton County had reported more than 100 adult sex trafficking cases. But that study's reliability has been questioned.
In November, TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said the TBI has never investigated any cases of sex trafficking in Hamilton County. Local police also said they've never been called to investigate trafficking allegations.
Southern Adventist University student Aimee Burchard, who attended Friday's event, was surprised to learn that Tennessee ranks seventh nationwide among states with comprehensive policies against human trafficking.
"I was glad to hear we are working on it as a state and a community," she said. "It's good to hear we are not last."
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...