New shelter aims to rescue girls from human trafficking

Street Hope breaks ground on a new shelter opening Spring 2021.
Street Hope broke ground on a new shelter in East Tennessee to rescue girls from human trafficking.
Updated: Jun. 11, 2020 at 10:38 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - An ugly truth is happening right here in East Tennessee even though many choose to ignore it.

“It’s ugly and it’s heartbreaking,” Amy McAmis, with Street Hope, said. “It’s in plain sight. We don’t see it because as a community, because we don’t know the right red flags to look for,” Lisa Bolton, the youth coordinator for Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking, added.

They’re talking about children who fall victim to human trafficking.

“It’s hard to talk about. It’s hard to even recognize it. We don’t want to recognize it,” McAmis said.

It may be a dark reality, but Street Hope is working to bring light to the issue with a new shelter for girls. McAmis said there’s not many safe homes in the area for kids stuck in human trafficking. Their facility, called Garland Oaks, will provide 24-hour care for the children with counseling, schooling, and job training. It’s set to be built on 15 acres of land in a remote area of East Tennessee.

“To feel safe and secure. To begin walking a path of restoration and healing,” McAmis said.

The shelter is being built for children ages 12 to 17, and McAmis expects the average age will be 15.

At the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Bolton said youth cases continue to rise within that age group. Of the 84 total referrals so far this year, more than half are youth. Last year, CCAHT saw 90 total cases with 37 youth. However, Bolton said the problem isn’t necessarily getting worse. Instead, she said awareness is getting better.

Bolton said human trafficking is not like the well-known movie, ‘Taken’, makes it seem. “It’s not a creepy white van pulling up and taking a kid to a foreign country and trafficking them. What it really is, is a family member,” Bolton told WVLT News reporter Robert Grant. She said misconceptions are a major problem.

She said doctors and teachers will notice the signs most often. She said watch for:

  • Change in behavior
  • Children wearing the same outfit
  • Sleeping in class
  • Having extra money or more than one phone

It’s a sad truth, but McAmis said the drug epidemic isn’t helping. “Families are exchanging the children in their home for drugs.”

Street Hope looks to have the shelter completed by Spring of 2021. Next, they are looking to build a shelter for boys.

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