Hope for Justice is proud to celebrate the award of a prestigious grant from the Office of Victims of Crime (OVC) that will help to increase the reach of our services to the populations who need it most.
In the United States, there are estimated to be more than 1 million people trapped in human trafficking. This figure has tripled in the last six years, showing an increasing need to act. Even this staggering figure may not paint the true picture, because the covert nature of this crime and the way victims are controlled and rarely self-identify makes it so tough to get accurate numbers.
Why focus on Tennessee?
In Tennessee specifically, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported that every county in Tennessee had a human trafficking case in 2020. In 2021, the National Human Trafficking Hotline had 115 reports of sex trafficking cases in Tennessee, plus a further 13 labor trafficking cases and six involving both sex and labor trafficking.
In Tennessee and across the U.S., most law enforcement training focuses on sex trafficking and prostitution, overlooking labor trafficking. This is also reflected in the number of prosecutions. In the past 20 years, U.S. federal prosecutors concentrated 93% of prosecutions on sex trafficking and only 7% on forced labor, yet experts estimate 70% of trafficking in Tennessee is for forced labor.
Homelessness and food instability are two extreme vulnerabilities that lead to labor trafficking and/or survival sex. In Nashville, over 900 young adults (18 to 24) do not have a safe place to sleep at night, a permanent address, or a place they can call “home.” According to the 2017 Nashville Community Coordinated Plan (Oasis Center), 20-25% of these young adults have experienced sex or labor trafficking. Few victims are willing to self-identify due to fear of deportation (where survivors may still owe money to those who brought them to the U.S., impacting their own safety and security and that of their families).
One reason survivors lack access to services is because they are unaware that services exist for free or at low cost that meet their needs. Victims exist within vulnerable communities and without outreach, they remain hidden from view and do not take up services.
In Middle Tennessee, victim advocates are associated with either the prosecution of a trafficker, involvement in the criminal justice system, or with a housing provider. Nothing is available for survivors, particularly young adults, who do not meet these criteria and are looking for community-based advocacy. Specifically, when young adults age out of foster care or government services, the lack of connection to additional services leaves this population vulnerable to trafficking or re-trafficking.
This shows a clear need for human trafficking prevention, training and trauma-informed services in Tennessee.
What does this grant mean for those served by Hope for Justice?
What is lacking in Middle Tennessee is the capacity to identify victims and support survivors as they navigate existing services. Hope for Justice will primarily support 18 to 24 year olds. We have identified that young adults who leave foster care or government services tend to then lack any connection with other services, making them particularly vulnerable to (re)trafficking. We will also be supporting people outside of this age bracket who have been trafficked for labor.
With this grant expanding our ability to aid survivors, we will work diligently to reduce the issue of human trafficking in Tennessee. We will do so through training law enforcement and other key stakeholders on how to spot the signs of labor trafficking, providing essential outreach services to the community and ensuring survivor care and advocacy for the survivors of human trafficking that we work with.
Survivor advocacy is essential for survivors of human trafficking, particularly when their case is complex. An advocate helps a victim to understand their rights and entitlements, supporting them to make informed choices about what they want to happen, and how to access the services they need.
One of our survivors described it like this: “They work with me for what I am fighting for; without advocacy, there are lots of dead-ends.”
By taking a trauma-informed and survivor-centered approach, the advocate walks alongside the victim in an empowering way and can also step in as required to advocate directly to stakeholders including service providers, law enforcement, and the judicial system.
Although our survivor services program is new, Hope for Justice has had a long-term presence in Tennessee and we are well aware of the landscape. In 2022, Hope for Justice in Tennessee recovered 16 victims, received 89 investigation referrals, supported 101 survivors through outbound referrals, and trained 2,512 individuals, including law enforcement. Through our existing training program and networks in Middle Tennessee, we already have a strong network and relationships with service partners.
Over the next three years, our Training, Outreach and Advocacy Program will contribute to the increased safety, well-being, and self-sufficiency of people experiencing labor and other forms of trafficking in under-served vulnerable young adult populations (ages 18 to 24) in Middle Tennessee, through a holistic advocacy program aiming to meet the following three objectives:
- Improve the quality of service provision through collaboration and training of key stakeholders and community partners to better identify and serve people experiencing labor and other forms of trafficking.
- Improve collaboration with law enforcement and partners to identify young people experiencing labor and other forms of trafficking through a trauma-informed approach to outreach.
- Increase the well-being, safety and ability to navigate institutions, systems of care, and community resources (enhanced self-sufficiency) of young adults experiencing labor and other forms of trafficking through the provision of trauma-informed victim advocacy services.
Hope for Justice will provide basic training for first responders, service providers, and community stakeholders on victim identification, and all forms of trafficking through a bespoke Learning Management System. Additionally, they will provide higher-level training on specialized topics including training geared towards law enforcement, medical professionals and others. The survivor advocacy program will address emergency supportive services for survivors who recently left exploitation. Personal advocacy will be offered for survivors to ensure they can access resources in the community and exercise their rights (including access to justice, life skills training, mentoring, and family reunification support).
Who will lead the new program?
This essential work in Tennessee will be led by our Nashville-based U.S. Program Director, Sarah Butler, and our U.S. Team Leader for Investigations & Training, Dr. Richard Schoeberl.
Sarah Butler is an acknowledged subject matter expert on human trafficking in Middle Tennessee, where she worked as a human trafficking prosecutor in the Nashville Office of the District Attorney General for five years before coming to Hope for Justice. She has excellent links into the ecosystem providing services to victims of trafficking, and currently serves on the boards of Recovery Foundation, Operation Rose, and the Wings Court Foundation.
Dr. Richard Schoeberl is U.S. Team Leader for Investigations & Training at Hope for Justice. Following an extensive career in law enforcement, including with the FBI, he is now a research professor of Criminology and Homeland Security at the University of Tennessee Southern and a subject matter expert on human trafficking with more than eight years of experience developing training content and delivering it to service providers and other stakeholders. He often collaborates with subject matter experts from other disciplines, such as training for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners that he co-developed and delivered with Dr. Kelly Cloonan and Dr. Jody Flynn from Chamberlain University. Dr. Schoeberl has also contributed extensively to the wider contextual literature on human trafficking in the U.S. He is based in Nashville, Tennessee and has excellent relationships and networks with service providers and law enforcement agencies in Tennessee.
With this grant, Hope for Justice’s Training, Outreach and Advocacy will contribute to the increased safety, well-being, and self-sufficiency of people experiencing labor and other forms of trafficking in underserved, vulnerable young adult populations in Middle Tennessee.