It’s a difficult subject to talk about, human trafficking, and you may be surprised at how common it is in Middle Tennessee, in your very own backyard. At the inaugural benefit luncheon for End Slavery Tennessee, guests gathered at the Richland Country Club in order to eradicate this evil from our community, creating a slave-free Tennessee and restoration for survivors of human trafficking.
The room was packed with supporters, many of whom were learning about the shocking statistics impacting our community, such as the average age of entry into sex trafficking (12-14 years old), or the number of children trafficked in Tennessee every month (94+).
As guests enjoyed a light chicken salad and an indulgent chocolate mousse dessert, the FBI’s Steve Fogarty addressed the crowd, explaining why we’re seeing so much trafficking in Nashville. Unfortunately, some of the very things that attract corporations and creatives to our city are also attracting criminals: Nashville is a good place for business. Additionally, human trafficking can occur at alarming levels as much of the business is conducted online.
Derri Smith, executive director of End Slavery Tennessee, has traveled the world in her mission to end human trafficking, bringing back the necessary insight and experience to build relationships locally with medical professionals and the court system in order to combat trafficking on a local level. Derri shared the story of a young girl, a former victim of trafficking, who told her that when they first met, her heart was in a million pieces, and that she stitched it back up.
And that’s what End Slavery Tennessee does: stiches hearts back up. A touching testimonial from Shelia McCain, an intervention specialist and former victim of trafficking, drew a standing ovation from the crowd for her brave recollection of her road to recovery after years of suffering. A more stirring call to action could not have been offered. We know how generous Nashville can be, and we know we won’t stand for this in our community—though a long, hard road may lie ahead, consider the call to arms answered.
Photographs by Sinclair Kelly