Report shows improvement in fighting Tennessee sex trafficking

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A new report shows Tennessee, along with a majority of states, has made improvement when it comes to combating sex and labor trafficking.

The 2013 Polaris Project Annual Report on Human Trafficking released Wednesday shows Tennessee is among the leaders in establishing new legislation to fight the problem of sex trafficking.

Thirty-nine states passed anti- trafficking laws and 32 states are now ranked in Polaris Project's top Tier 1 category, including Tennessee.

"This is huge steps forward in the right direction," said Christi Wigle, former executive director for the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking. 

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation calls human sex trafficking a widespread problem in the state. Nearly every county is affected, including Knox County.

The average age of a sex trafficking victim is 13.

The Tennessee State Legislature passed 13 bills in 2013 to combat human sex trafficking. The laws were passed to increase the number of years offenders can serve in prison, as well as create a statewide human trafficking task force.

The laws went into effect on July 1.

"These new bills for Tennessee are literally insurmountable that are going to help anti- trafficking efforts in so many different ways," said Wigle.

"There's a lot happening in our state, we're making a difference by raising awareness by making people aware," said Robert Craig.

Craig is the creator of Firewall Ministries, a coalition made up of local churches in East Tennessee that mobilizes prayer sessions against human trafficking. He is also a board member on the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

"Partnering together with churches, the organizations, I believe we've made a difference in saving lives," said Craig.

The Polaris report also outlines that a majority of states, including Tennessee, lack laws to protect victims and help sex trafficking survivors rebuild their lives.

"I can say with certainty there needs to be stronger efforts towards victims once they're rescued," said Wigle.

The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, with hundreds of thousands of victims forced to provide commercial sex, labor, or services against their will here in the united states.