KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)–A report released this week found Upper East Tennessee is at severe risk for human trafficking.
The study, produced by Engage Together in partnership with organizations like the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Human Trafficking Task Force, used public data and survey responses from more than 200 organizations.
The study, which uses TBI’s geographical divisions, found work against human trafficking is well organized in Upper East Tennessee, but the region faces some of the highest risks.
“Upper East is at severe risk given just those super high rates of vulnerable populations,” said Engage Together Founder and CEO Ashleigh Chapman.
The study found three Northeast Tennessee counties – Sullivan, Hawkins and Greene – have a vulnerable population index score above 70%.
Researchers attribute that to traffickers seeking out people who face an additional vulnerability, like housing or food insecurity.
“They’re trying to meet a need with a promise, and then they use force, fraud and coercion to maintain control of that individual and force them into labor or sexual exploitation,” Chapman said.
It’s not just socioeconomic factors that create a high level of vulnerability in Northeast Tennessee populations.
“There is a prevalence of sexual assault, domestic violence, drug offenses and related crimes in the Upper East Region of the State,” Chapman said. “And these are crimes that are highly correlated with the presence of trafficking or can escalate to trafficking.”
Researchers found that organizations in the region should increase immediately available services like temporary shelters as well as longer-term programs to address survivors of trafficking experiences.
You can read the full report above.