Second Life Chattanooga CEO brings awareness of human trafficking to Sewanee community

By Taylor Lanier

Staff Writer

On November 15, The Bairnwick’s Women Center sponsored a Pinnacle Luncheon for students to engage with Jerry Redman, CEO of Second Life Chattanooga. The organization’s mission statement is to “Create awareness that drives action through collaborative relationships with like-minded organizations and individuals in order to end human sex trafficking in greater Chattanooga/ Southeast Tennessee.”

Second Life begins its mission by propagating “education and awareness” about the vicious demand-driven industry of human sex trafficking. Second Life’s main goals are to prompt legislative change informed by the gravity and urgency of the epidemic, as well as the recovery of trafficked individuals. This mission starts with informing citizens about the harsh realities of our contributions to the epidemic.

Redman emphasizes the importance of understanding the crime, which is constituted as the force, fraud, or coercion of people(s), not simply the illegal movement of people across borders. “The modern-day anti-slavery movement is about 10 to 15 years underway,” but, “we’re not done,” Redman stated.

Redman promised not to harp on statistics, but  mentioned the following: According to the Department of Homeland Security, the international human trafficking industry is a $150 billion operation annually, and the U.S. human trafficking industry accounts for 32 billion of these annual dollars. If 100 percent of immigration was legally regulated, only 17 percent of the human trafficking in the United States would go away, as 83 percent of trafficked individuals are natural-born U.S. Citizens. “This is a homegrown issue in the home of the brave.” Redman also states that, “Human trafficking is created at the community level.” Annually, there are 51 to 100 cases of minor human trafficking in Franklin County.

The human sex trafficking industry is something unassuming members of our society, especially men, contribute to daily. The main front of this crime exists online and on smartphones. Redman urges, “Ask, how do you know that this sex worker is willing? How can you know their age?” There are hard discussions we need to have about the normalization of pornography and online hook-up sites within our fast-paced and demand-driven society. Redman states, “The only way to get meta where men are concerned is to get small.” He was impressed to see even a few men in the crowd.

Peter Davis (C’ 17) was among the handful of Sewanee men who attended Redman’s lecture. Davis agrees that “A significant way to address the problem of human trafficking is to look honestly at the interests fueling it.” Davis also “Appreciated [Redman’s] candor in calling out how pornography has warped conceptions of sexuality and how men need to address this issue amongst ourselves.”

Davis is ‘getting small’ in Redman’s terms, as he understands the necessity of having these conversations among men and boys alike: “I think often we see these topics as taboo or being too sensitive to talk about in normal spheres of conversation. That needs to change if we, as men and as a culture, are to address the issues fueling the modern-day slave trade. While we may not see our actions as directly responsible for this appalling issue, Redman’s point concerning age in the pornography industry shows that you cannot be a passive bystander and that we need to actively seek out these conversations to increase understanding.”

Because the efforts of organizations such as Second Life are playing a constant game of catch-up in order to keep up with offenders and trafficked individuals, prevention is key. The industry’s dollar volume is trending to surpass that of the drug trade in the United States. Redman gives more examples of how the perpetuation of the epidemic is fueled by societal shame and unawareness.

One difficulty is the limitedness and regulation of sexual education in the United States. In the state of Tennessee. For example, the term ‘sexual assault’ can be used, whereas ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’ cannot. How is a child to know the institution before they can know the specifics? For these reasons, identifying unsafe situations becomes all the more elusive. A call to change is incumbent on men in the community especially.

Because of the ardent legislative advocates of organizations such as Second Life, Tennessee is a leading and especially responsive state in the war on human trafficking. In the past, all funding for the recovery of trafficked individuals has been private, but legislation in the early weeks of January 2017 will aim to provide public funding for minors who have been victimized by human trafficking. Working to first eradicate the crimes against minors is another testament to the necessity to end the systematic institution of human trafficking, which often leads to drug abuse and prostitution, among other coping mechanisms.

Nash Smith (C’ 19) “found the subject captivating and interesting because it is not frequently spoken about.” As a Tennessee native, Smith also “found the high statistic of trafficking in our state alarming, but was pleased to know that Tennessee was ranked one of the top three states in the nation for its progressive manner to find a solution to this crime.” Tennessee uniquely offers the TN Hotline to report human trafficking. Redman urges people to report any odd incidents or indications of human trafficking, as prompted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. A few of these signs include: strange tattoos depicting bar codes or names/addresses (typically found above the neck), if someone appears to be under the control of another, a new interest in drugs, and shady ‘modeling agencies’ that interact with the youth directly.

Towards the end of his lecture, Redman asked if the audience had been waiting for a dramatic or heartfelt story about the terrors of human trafficking. He then stated that the urgency of our action to end the industry should not have to be prompted by emotional appeals: “Nobody can be sold. We can all agree on that.” Smith deeply appreciated the lecture, stating, “I left this talk feeling more aware of this pressing problem and will definitely return to the Wick to congregate with others interested in such topics.”