Strange discovery at West Town Mall helps debunk trafficking myth

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn (WVLT) -- A picture of a cloth wrapped around the handle of a car door was posted to East Tennessee social media accounts on Sunday, October 13, prompting some to speculate that the marker represented targets placed by human traffickers.

West Town Mall. / Source: (WVLT)

The woman who posted the photo said her daughter, who works at West Town Mall, found the cloth tied to her car door handle and called mall security.

A representative with the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking told WVLT News they had not heard of or encountered any link between the practice and human trafficking.

On Monday, October 14, the Knoxville Police Department told WVLT News it was aware of the situation and that investigators were looking in to it.

KPD Spokesperson Scott Erland said three specific vulnerabilities lead to a great risk of victimization and exploitation.

Experts with the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking said most traffickers know their victims. They're family members, friends or romantic partners.

The CCAHT identifies the most vulnerable human trafficking victims as children in foster care or group homes, children or adults with a history of physical or sexual abuse, runaways, people with special needs, and anyone with a weakness or vulnerability that can be exposed.

The organization offers a variety of ways for East Tennesseans to identify the signs of human trafficking and helps them learn the tools to fight back.

"Those that have experienced past trauma, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, and social discrimination, are also vulnerable to human trafficking. Those past traumas may psychologically normalize feelings of shame or unworthiness that can make those victims predisposed to human trafficking," said Erland.

He said the many ways in which traffickers lure their victims include praying on the ideas of wealth.

"Traffickers promise a high-paying job, a loving relationship, or new and exciting opportunities and then use physical and psychological violence to control them," said the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Below are additional resources to learn more:

1. The Polaris Project
2. The National Human Trafficking Hotline

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