I received my master’s degree in Criminal Justice and Criminology in the winter of 2019. I remember feeling so fired up and ready to put my knowledge to use. Human trafficking was not at all a foreign concept to me, as it had been discussed extensively in a number of my courses. I knew about the buyers, the trade, and to what extent traffickers would go in order to avoid law enforcement. I had learned of policing tactics, correctional strategies, and criminological theories that explained what would influence an individual to engage in an illegitimate business.
I entered the world of victim services thinking I was fully equipped with the knowledge to make a difference. I thought I was done learning – but I was wrong.
You can’t learn empathy in a classroom. You can’t understand the grief you feel when you lose someone you’ve worked with. There is nothing that can be taught to prepare you for the heartache of watching an individual who has worked so hard toward safety and recovery get pulled back into the life.
I now understand how human trafficking thrives in this country. A huge portion of my academic career centered around the shortcomings of the current criminal justice system and encouraged us to think creatively about solutions to these problems. I feel as if this is almost impossible to do unless you spend some time with the individuals in the field who are putting these ideas into practice. I was never taught about the dangerous misconceptions of human trafficking that prevents victims from seeking help. I never could have understood how the lack of specialized training in rural law enforcement agencies could increase the likelihood that a victim in need of help could be mistaken for a criminal. These are all realities that became clear with firsthand exposure to the things I had spent years reading about.
I encourage anyone, regardless of their profession, to learn a little about victim service agencies. There is so much that can be accomplished through community involvement. Whether it’s scheduling a free training at your place of business to help your coworkers identify victims or volunteering your time to collect donations, your knowledge and actions make an impact on the progress of this work in helping survivors and changing the system. If you’re interested in volunteering, want to learn more about human trafficking in East Tennessee, or would like to make a donation to our agency, explore our website at growfreetn.org.
-Gabi Smith, CCAHT Community Liaison-