KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Two men are behind bars in Knox County, accused of human trafficking.
It's the result of an undercover sting operation by the TBI and the Knox County Sheriff's Office to catch people trying to lure in young girls.
The latest Knoxville arrests have a local non-profit urging people to help end these crimes.
It's often said that cities sitting on major interstates foster a bigger sex trafficking problem.
But the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking (CCAHT) in Knoxville said most of East Tennessee's victims are trafficked by people they know.
According to the TBI, human trafficking is the second fastest growing crime nationwide, behind only drug trafficking.
The average age of a child sold for sex is 13, and the US, every two minutes a child is bought or sold for sex.
"Raising awareness is the first step. Communities can't solve problems they don't know exist," said Kate Trudell, Executive Director of CCAHT.
This non-profit trains people to spot and report human trafficking crimes, and helps victims start normal lives.
"Our safe shelter for adult women is actually the first of its kind in upper East Tennessee," said Trudell.
That shelter opened in 2018 and is expanding to house more women.
"I think our youngest referral has been three [years old] and our oldest client that we've worked with has been about 59," said Trudell.
She said human trafficking is a major problem in our community.
"We're not immune to it here," said Trudell. "And the more that we can come to terms with that, the better our community will be about responding to it."
Trudell said many people in East Tennessee are victimized by someone they know and trust.
"Family members, pastors, coaches, neighbors," she said. "In many ways it's a cyclical thing. It's happened to grandmother, it's happened to mom, now it's happening to daughter and so it's normalized within that family. This is just what we do to get by, this is how we make end's meet."
She said the opioid epidemic also plays into this problem.
"Where there's rampant drug use, people get unfortunately creative in the wrong ways of how to get access to the drugs that they need," said Trudell.
But none of this means the problem can't be stopped.
If you notice people in your life start to act differently, lose their personality, or have trouble making eye contact, those are just a few signs they could be suffering this type of abuse.
Trudell said it all comes down to stopping the demand for victims.
"As long as there are men who are going to shell out a couple hundred dollars for an hour of time for cheap sex or cheap labor, there's always going to be victims," she said.
For help or to report a potential tracking situation, there are several numbers to reach out to.
CCAHT 24 Hour Crisis Line: (865) 292-0285
Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline: (855) 558-6484
National Human Trafficking Hotline: (888) 373-7888