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More children seeking help after being trafficked in East Tennessee

Knoxville WVLT-TV logo Knoxville WVLT-TV 1/17/2020
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn (WVLT) Almost half the people rescued from human trafficking in East Tennessee are children. The Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking works tirelessly to help them.

That's Lisa Bolton's full time mission, pulling them from the darkness.

"If I'm getting in the car, it's going to take me at least an hour to go see a kid," Botlon said. "This is literally my office."

She travels from Chattanooga to Johnson City, and everywhere in between.

"The person that made the referral will say, 'I know you probably can't go out that far', and I say 'yes, I can'," Bolton said.

She travels deep into the eastern part of the state and often for dark cases.

"They are very isolated, so when I come into the home there is a lot of sadness and loneliness in the air," Bolton said.

Bolton is the director of youth services for the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking. A position created last year because so many kids needed help.

"We had so many kids experiencing trafficking that were falling though the cracks, nobody really knew what to do with them," Bolton said.

In many cases, parents or family members are selling children for sex to feed addictions, pay rent, and even buy groceries.

"I definitely get cases where I think I can't believe that happened," Bolton said.

In 2019, the coalition received nearly 80 referrals for kids needing help.

Forty of those referrals accepted help, and Bolton was the one to provide it, through counseling and connecting them to other services

"I bring that hope back to them that they can trust an adult to always be there for them," Bolton said.

Even though Bolton's case load has nearly doubled in the last year, it's not because the problem is getting worse. It's because East Tennesseans are recognizing trouble and reporting it.

"It's quite amazing how people in our community have stepped up and said no more," Bolton said. "We're not going to let traffickers run rampant in our community. We're not going to let family members do this to our children. We're going to stand up and help children in our community."

While Tennessee experiences problems with human trafficking, it's also fighting to stop it. The Volunteer State was recently rated number one in the country for fighting trafficking.

If you or someone you know is in trouble, please call the national or state human trafficking hotline number:

National Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888

TN Hotline: 1 (855) 558-6484

Be Free Textline: Text HELP to 233733 (BEFREE)

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