Nonprofit shares sex trafficking trends during COVID-19 pandemic

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Many industries have adapted amid the ongoing pandemic, with sex trafficking being no exception.

“Despite all of us being on lockdown, traffickers are not stopping what they’re doing and they have just adjusted their business model like all of us have adjusted our business model,” said Gabrielle Thompson, Executive Director and CEO of Free for Life International.

At the start of stay at home orders in early March, the TBI arrested eight men in a human trafficking sting in East Tennessee.

Thompson said traffickers are continuing to work at hotels, street corners, homes, and truck stops. She added that there’s been a greater shift to online exploitation.

“There has been a significant increase in the number of graphic sexual imagery including the images of children being abused at home,” Thompson said. “There seems to be an increase in the number of online ads that sell live sex shows and this may mean that minors or human trafficking victims are being uploaded to pornography sites instead of the traditional in-person sex that traffickers use.”

Thompson said Free for Life International typically helps victims through referrals from various agencies, but the pandemic has changed that.

“Because a lot of those agencies are not fully operating at this time, we’re not getting any referrals from those organizations but interestingly enough, we’ve seen a rise in self-referrals from victims,” Thompson said.

She added that the community should also speak out if they see something concerning.

“You could be the person that opens the door into saving another person’s life, so please call the hotline.”

If you suspect someone may be a victim of human trafficking call the Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-855-55-TNHTH.

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