January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. A Tri-Cities woman provides help and resources for survivors and aims to educate others about a problem that is right here in East Tennessee.

As the community care liaison for the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Gabi Smith works directly with all ages to educate and help survivors of human trafficking. She says the number of victims reported is rising, but it’s not necessarily a bad sign.

“So every year when the numbers come out, they go up and I like to be optimistic and think that our communities are just getting smarter and, you know, they’re there knowing what to look for,” she said. “They’re being able to catch it and they’re reporting it and getting people to help. But, you know, just in the last year, 2022, our numbers just came out for our impact report and we received 408 new referrals just in our 33 counties in our region.”

She says those who have trouble come from vulnerable backgrounds, and solving those problems can help avoid trafficking.

“So if we take care of those vulnerabilities, we take care of those in our communities, you know, help out those who are having trouble finding housing, finding food, childcare, those things. If we address the vulnerabilities of the general population, then we can prevent people from falling into that life,” she said.

It’s a tough job, but a fight Smith is determined to continue, to make a safer community for everyone.

“I really try to be hopeful,” she said.

Smith says staying positive is crucial to avoiding burnout. But, she says the rewards are sweet when helping survivors find a way to a better life.

“I just know that this is something that’s probably never going to go away,” Smith said. “It’s been happening since the dawn of time, and this is just a fight we have to keep on fighting. And every time one of my kids that I work with or one of the adults that I work with have a little one, that just pushes me forward.”