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Red Sand Project brings attention to human trafficking

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Have you found yourself wondering why cracks in numerous sidewalks around Franklin seem to be highlighted in red? 

It’s the work of local church and community leaders and members of civic organizations that have been participating in the annual worldwide, weeklong Red Sand Project, spearheaded by End Slavery Tennessee. 

Because of the coronavirus, the second annual event (July 27 through Aug. 2) has gone virtual with about a dozen participants “doing their own thing” and posting videos and photos on social media.

“Red Sand is the theme, but people are using red chalk or red sprinkles and creatively expressing our message that together we can stop human trafficking,” said Stacey Elliott, the community engagement coordinator at End Slavery Tennessee.

People have been filling sidewalk cracks with crushed nontoxic feldspathic rock to bring attention to the ugly issue of human trafficking, which has infected the nations around world.

The project is a way to bring attention to victims who have “fallen through the cracks” of society and landed in the lair of sex traffickers. 

“The Red Sand Project started in Houston, the biggest human trafficking hub in the U.S.,” said Dr. Dana Hardy, a member of End Slavery's Franklin branch. “Now it’s a global issue.”

In her video, which will be posted with the hashtags #RedSandProject and #ItHasToStopTN, Mary Sellers Shaw, the associate pastor of First Presbyterian, prayed for the 27 million trapped in the dark underworld of sex trafficking.

Rusty McCown, rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, said recent statistics show that 83% of confirmed sex trafficking victims are U.S. citizens.

In his video, Franklin Mayor Ken Moore said, “In Tennessee, between 65 and 110 minors are trafficked each month.”

Gaming websites and social media are where 76% of minors who become enslaved for human sex trafficking are first approached.

Middle Tennessee is a hotspot for human trafficking. Some of the factors that draw new residents and development to this area are also factors that make it a magnet for sex traffickers. A strong economy, the convergence of three major interstate highways and a thriving tourism industry combine to create the right atmosphere for both greatness and evil. 

In 2015, seven people were arrested and five rescued when Franklin police officers discovered a massage parlor was a front for a prostitution ring. 

In 2017, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, working with the Brentwood Police Department and Department of Homeland Security, arrested 22 men in a sting operation involving what the men thought were 14- and 16-year-old females. 

In April 2019, a Memphis woman was arrested in a Brentwood hotel and charged with trafficking juveniles for the purpose of illicit sex. She had three children “working” for her. 

“Since 2011, Tennessee has passed 41 pieces of legislation to help fight human trafficking in Tennessee,” said state Rep. Sam Whitson as he filled cracks in the sidewalk in front of his home with the red sand. “We are proud to join the Tennessee Department of Health promoting awareness to help fight the scourge in our state.” 

The 110th General Assembly recently passed House Bill 1701/Senate Bill 1763, which charges a $2 tax for each customer who enters an "adult performance" business. That tax provides revenue allocated to the state's sex trafficking victims fund.

Anna’s story

How can trafficking happen? For Anna it started with a boy crush. 

When Anna was 15 years old, she enjoyed spending time at the library. One day, she met an older boy who appeared to take an interest in her and soon began making plans to marry Anna. 

During a party they attended, Anna blacked out. She woke up in the basement while being assaulted by several men. Later, she was sold to a gang that used her as a commodity to make money. 

One day, Anna seized an opportunity to escape her bondage and ended up with End Slavery Tennessee. She was traumatized and struggled with her mental health, but over time and with help from End Slavery, she began to heal.

She painted a mug for the End Slavery team featuring the words: “When I came here, my heart was in a million pieces. You helped stitch it back together.”

For more information about human trafficking, red flags to watch for and volunteer opportunities with End Slavery, visit www.endslaverytn.org. 

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