Cherisse Scott is founder/CEO of SisterReach in Memphis. Her youth ambassadors sent letters of support to Brown. In an email, Scott said the high-profile case sheds light on what is happening in various parts of the country around sex trafficking. For instance, Tennessee has some of the highest prevalence of the crime in the southeast U.S.Scott noted many Southern states have epidemic rates of abject poverty, youth homelessness, an uptick in policies impeding women’s reproductive rights, and lack of protections for victims of intimate partner violence. And she notes many states lack the type of sexual health education that addresses risky behavior, condom negotiation, and consent. “….This cocktail of oppression disproportionately impacts women, teens, and people of color and is what made Ms. Brown’s plight not only possible, but more likely,” she said. “We can see how the system failed her by looking at the social and safety conditions that can lead to trafficking….her case offers us an opportunity to look at the problem of human trafficking in more than a siloed way. We will only be spinning our wheels until there is a commitment to dismantling the systemic conditions that created Cyntoia Brown’s reality.” Sex trafficking falls under the broader umbrella of human trafficking, which the United Nations defines as “recruitment, transportation, harboring, transfer or receipt of persons by improper” means. It includes child labor, domestic servitude, forced marriage, and more–sometimes termed modern-day slavery. While numbers vary, it is estimated that anywhere from 20 to 30 million people are victimized both in the U.S. and globally. In 2018, more than 14,000 calls were made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which is administered by the Polaris Project for the federal government. But advocacy groups have indicated those numbers represent only a portion of the estimated victims impacted. Moreover, there’s evidence a high percentage of missing children of color are part of the sex/human trafficking trade. “Forty percent of all persons missing in America are of color – many are our young adults who are victims of sex trafficking,” says Natalie Wilson, co-founder with Derrica Wilson of the Black and Missing Foundation, Inc. (BAMFI). The national non-profit, one of several Black-led groups that partner with Courtney’s House, works to bring awareness to missing persons of color and provide vital resources to their families and friends. They offer a free clearinghouse which profiles missing persons of color from across the country. Wilson notes that the incessant demand for commercial sex is unable to be met so the “supply” must be forced and coerced. If a loved one is missing, especially a minor, she said, sex trafficking must be considered as soon as possible. “This crime is extremely lucrative and prevalent.” Many experts say the Internet and social media has fueled trafficking as predators can follow young people on their platforms and attempt to lure them in. Wilson agrees. She warned that parents and caring adults must look out for indicators in order to protect youth. They include going off with a “boyfriend” and unknown new “friends” and isolating friends and family. Or landing a job in say, modeling or performing, that seems exciting and too good to be true. New or increased drug use; controlled travel such as having a “driver” and constant cell phone /computer use are other signs. “Victims of trafficking cannot save themselves, they need their loved ones, law enforcement, and the community to make a safe place for victims and a hostile environment for traffickers. This will require a sustained effort from all of us,” says Wilson. Representative Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) is among the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who are pushing legislative solutions on Capitol Hill. They include two bills aimed at combating human trafficking on the nation’s highways. “Commercial drivers play a central role in the fight against human trafficking, often serving as the first line of defense,” said Lawrence. “By strengthening systems to recognize and report trafficking, and closing loopholes to traffickers who seek to exploit our transportation system for their personal gain, we are making progress towards combating human trafficking.” “This is an inexcusable crime,” the Congresswoman continued. “We simply cannot accept this as a new norm in our country.” Frundt noted in her experience that while many Black and Latina girls may be pimped by men (or women) of color in their communities, their buyers are often Caucasian so-called “johns.” “I’ve gone with the girls to the police station and they look at [arrest] photos and pick their customers out. Some of these men have wives and children at home.” Still, the issue of trafficking transcends race, ethnicity or background. Recently, a former Washington, D.C. police officer pleaded guilty to trafficking of two minors; and federal authorities recently announced dozens of arrests following a sex trafficking sting ahead of the Super Bowl in Atlanta; four victims were reportedly rescued. To protect the safety of girls, boys, and transgender youth and all potentially affected, Frundt says it’s time for a massive intervention. “We need Black churches to help, we need elected officials, everyone in the community to solve this problem. It’s happening in plain sight, and we can’t pretend or hide it anymore.” For help or information contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline. 888-373-7888. The 24-hour hotline for Courtney’s House is 202-423-0480.