‘This is a historic financial commitment for the state of Tennessee,’ human trafficking prevention advocates explain the impact of funding from the state

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Advocates who seek to help victims of human trafficking and end the abuse are speaking up about new funding from the state.

Last week Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced more than $5 million dollars from the state’s 2021-2022 budget will go toward several nonprofits to help victims. $300 thousand of that money will go to The Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking and Grow Free Tennessee. The organizations work alongside The Family Justice Center in Johnson City to combat and raise awareness of human trafficking in Northeast Tennessee.

“There is a lot that goes into dealing with survivors of trafficking, whether that’s housing, therapy, resources for independent living. We also work with children, there are a lot of curriculums we can purchase through this funding,” said Gabi Smith, Community Care Liaison CCAHT at The Family Justice Center.

“We here at the Family Justice Center can serve those going through a domestic violence or sexual violence situation, as well as human trafficking, and so having the human trafficking community liaison here on-site, she’s able to provide those human trafficking services while she’s here,” further explained Danielle Ostrander, Director Johnson City Family Justice Center.

The funding also comes with the promise of continued help for victims.

“They have been exploited, they’ve been used, and they’ve often times been discarded, and left abandoned. We don’t ever want to ever be in a position where 2 years from now, 5 years from now, 10 years from now we have to close our doors and they’re left with those same feelings of abandonment,” said Natalie Ivey, Executive Director Grow Free Tennessee.

CCAHT defines human trafficking as people being forced to work to have sex. What that actually looks like can depend on the location.

A big part of their mission also includes educating the public on identifying human trafficking. Advocates said the trafficking that happens right here in the Tri-Cities can look different than people may assume.

“In more rural areas, we see a lot more familial trafficking. Areas that are a little bit more impoverished see family members using other family members as a way to make money,” said Smith.

“We as a community cannot respond to it, we can’t tackle this issue unless we know what it looks like, and so we have a community educator who provides trainings free of charge,” said Ivey.

CCAHT provides education for both professionals and individuals both in-person and virtually.

Ivey says the timing of this funding is also important because she’s not sure how many cases were missed during the pandemic.

“We lost a lot of eyes on our community during quarantine and so helpers, they didn’t have the opportunity to identify individuals who might need help,” said Ivey.

To learn more about the CCAHT and Grow Free Tennessee, click here.

More information on The Family Justice Center and contact information can be found here.

If you or someone you know is in trouble, you can call the national or state human trafficking hotlines:

National Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888

TN Hotline: 1 (855) 558-6484

Be Free Textline: Text ‘HELP’ toe 233733 (BEFREE)

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