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Here's what human trafficking actually looks like and how to spot, stop it

Victim advocates say human trafficking doesn't start with someone snatching you in the grocery store parking lot.

In the last decade authorities said they've recorded more than 22,000 cases of sex trafficking.

The numbers come from the National Trafficking Hotline. 87 percent of the victims are under the age of 25. 

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, but this is a problem happening every day all across Tennessee.

"Oftentimes they're blending in, they're living right next to us. They're working next to us they go to school or church with us," said Natalie Ivey, Executive Director of the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

RELATED: Tips into TN's human trafficking hotline more than double since 2017

When it comes to identifying and helping victims, Ivey said there are a lot of misconceptions about what trafficking looks like.

"The lurking monster, scary character in the background who's gonna snatch and grab your children or you while you're shopping or in a parking lot," said Ivey.

It's a lot more subtle than that.

Ivey said most victims know their traffickers, and the most common type in Tennessee is familial trafficking.

"Which means a family member is the trafficker. It is not uncommon for us to see mom as the trafficker," said Ivey.

RELATED: Social media posts prompt organization to warn community how to spot fake human trafficking tactics

That can make it hard to realize a child is a victim.

"You have to be kind of critically paying attention to the way folks are interacting with each other," said Ivey.

Here are some signs Ivey and the TBI say to look for in possible victims:

  • Defer to the trafficker in conversation
  • Looking down, not making contact with anyone
  • Looking to trafficker for approval before answering questions
  • Speech may sound scripted
  • Doesn't have control of their ID, money
  • Dress provocatively OR always wearing the same outfit
  • Has a prepaid cell phone

There are a lot more warning signs that can be found here.

RELATED: How to spot and report human trafficking

Ivey said the first step to solving the issue of trafficking is to recognize and accept that it's happening in our communities.

"The idea that a mom could be trafficking their kid is much, much more difficult for people to talk about than this idea, premise of a Liam Neeson movie," said Ivey.

Check in with the people in your life who you think may need help.

If you ever suspect someone is a trafficking victim, call the Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-855-55-86484.

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