Tennessee named best in US at fighting human trafficking

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) — The State of Tennessee received the highest grade in the country when it comes to fighting human trafficking.

Shared Hope Internationalreleased its yearly state report cards on the fight against human trafficking. The grades take state laws and efforts to combat human trafficking into consideration.

2019 marks the third year that Tennessee came out on top, according to the Tennesee Bureau of Investigation.

"Tennessee made that critical change this year that allows prosecutors to bring a case of child sex trafficking at almost any time," said Sarah Bendtsen, who is on the policy counsel with Shared Hope International.

That means there's no longer a statute of limitations for a child sex trafficking survivor to come forward and file a case.

Tennessee is also doing better to protect victims' identities.

The Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking is part of the effort to make laws tougher in Tennessee.

"State of Tennessee has this legislation because trafficking is real here in this state," said Tara Davis who works with Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

But Shared Hope said there's still work to b done--mainly throwing out charges against child sex trafficking they received because of their victimization.

TBI director and former Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch said, "More than a decade of partnership, from stakeholders across the state, has helped Tennessee make the progress we have in the fight against human trafficking. We're thankful for Shared Hope International's recognition of being a national leader in this work, but we have more to do because there are more victims out there right now. That's why we remain committed to identifying and rescuing them and connecting them to vital survivor services. Trafficking is a demand-driven crime, and that's why we also will keep working to hold buyers and traffickers accountable under some of the toughest laws in the country, to send a strong message that we will not tolerate this kind of injustice in Tennessee."

WVLT News Anchor Amanda Hara recently worked with the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking to expose one of East Tennessee's darkest secrets: children, some as young as toddlers, are sold for sex by their own parents and relatives. The coalition explained what's fueling the epidemic.

“When Shared Hope first issued the report in 2011, 26 states earned failing grades and many did not make it a crime to buy sex with a child; today every state in the country considers sex trafficking a punishable crime,” said Linda Smith, founder and president of Shared Hope. “Analyzing state laws for nearly a decade enables us to understand where progress is concentrated and where gaps remain. The 2019 analysis shows that states are still struggling to provide adequate protections to sex trafficking victims, essentially leaving the women and children behind.”

According to the report:

- "D.C. and nine states – Colorado, Georgia, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Utah and Wyoming – raised their grades in the last year."

- "Nevada, the most improved state, earned an “A” for the first time after passing a new non-criminalization law that protects all minors from being prosecuted for the crime of prostitution and provides access to specialized services. The law also allows juvenile adjudications for prostitution and some non-prostitution offenses resulting from trafficking victimization to be vacated and sealed."

- "Nebraska became just the sixth to raise its grade four levels, achieving an “A” in 2019 after earning an “F” in 2011. This year, the state clarified that a specialized child welfare intervention and service response is required in response to all domestic minor sex-trafficking case referrals regardless of the offender’s relationship to the child."

- "Tennessee, the highest-ranking state since 2017, again earned the top grade. It extended civil statutes of limitations and removed criminal statutes of limitations, allowing survivors time to recognize their victimization before seeking justice through the court system."

- "The number of states that now prohibit the criminalization of child sex trafficking victims for prostitution offenses is 30 plus D.C., compared to just five in 2011."

- "There are 19 states that still require “third-party control”, which means a trafficker must be involved to consider the child a victim of domestic minor sex trafficking. When the definition is limited in this way, many survivors are at risk of being misidentified and denied the services they need to restore their lives."

To read more and see the full list of grades visit the Shared Hope website.

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