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Sex trafficking happens in small towns too

By Crystal Burns


Sex trafficking isn’t just a big-city problem.

It’s happening in small towns across West Tennessee.

Julanne Stone, executive director of Scarlet Rope Project in Jackson, shared how the Jackson non-profit is working to educate the public about commercial sexual exploitation while providing a safe place of healing and restoration for survivors of sex trafficking at a lunch presentation sponsored by the Greater Gibson County Area Chamber of Commerce March 3. Dyersburg State Community College Gibson County Center in Trenton hosted the event, and Tate’s Kwik Stop in Dyer provided lunch for a minimal cost.

Stone co-founded Scarlet Hope in 2015. A Registered Nurse by trade, Stone worked about 20 years at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital and another eight years as a hospice nurse. Scarlet Rope started when two Jackson Police Department investigators invited Stone and other volunteers to go on stings to try to help sex workers get out of “the game.”

Scarlet Rope was able to offer the women clean clothes, free lunch, and four months in transitional housing, but only about 35% of the women took investigators up on the offer. The others spent two days in jail, paid their fines, and went back to their pimps.

Stone said Scarlet Rope volunteers began burying themselves in education to learn why women were hesitant to leave such a dangerous lifestyle.

Human trafficking

Human trafficking encompasses labor and sex trafficking. Two new terms have been coined to help the law enforcement, health care, and relief communities as well as the general public better understand sex trafficking – Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC).

The difference between CSE and prostitution is that prostitution involves two people, while CSE can be understood as a triangle. The pimp is the top point, and the victim and buyer are the bottom points. Stone said sex trafficking is a high-reward, low-risk crime, and pimps are often savvy entrepreneurs.

Types of sex trafficking

There are four types of sex trafficking – gang, pimp, familiar, and survival. While Stone said that traffickers and victims are men and women, she spoke of female victims because Scarlet Rope ministers to women.

Stone said the most common type of sex trafficking seen in small towns is familiar – the victim is being sold for sex by a family member, sometimes for rent money, groceries, or even a new pair of shoes.

“This is what we see around here,” Stone said.

Victims’ commonalities

Stone said sex traffickers look for victims with neglect, abuse, and addiction in their backgrounds and families.

“When you start talking to these victims and survivors, you start hearing about trauma,” she said.

Pimps look for those vulnerabilities and build relationships with their victims. Once the victims are under the pimp’s care, he/she upends the relationship, throwing the victim’s world into chaos through physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, constantly moving from city to city, and withholding basic medical care and other necessities.

Helping victims

Scarlet Rope opened a safe house, which has served 29 women (two from Gibson County) in December 2017, but Stone said the organization helps many more victims by providing resources.

“There are a lot of women we speak to weekly that don’t want help at this time,” Stone said. “They have trauma in their background, and there is no trust.”

When a woman is ready for help, Scarlet Rope provides housing, food, clothing, medical and dental care, AA/NA meetings, counseling, 24-hour care, Bible studies, employment, educational assistance, and more.

Women can stay in the house for up to two years. The end goal is that they leave with a bank account, a community of support, a safe living place, and a plan to maintain their new lives.

“We do not rescue these women,” Stone said. “If they’re brave enough to walk out [on their pimp], they’re their own hero.”

What to look for

Stone said anyone in the public can be a safe person for a sex trafficking victim by being aware of signs like a person who avoids eye contact, doesn’t have identification, doesn’t know where he/she is, has inconsistencies in his/her story, isn’t able to speak for himself/herself, shows signs of physical trauma, or is inappropriately dressed for the season.

If you notice anything suspicious, call the Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or the TBI at 855-558-6486 and give as much information as you can – license plate number, description of victim(s), description of person in control, etc.

For more information on Scarlet Rope Project, visit Donations may be made online via PayPal at, or mailed to P.O. Box 7037, Jackson, TN 38302. Scarlet Rope Project is also on Facebook and Instagram.

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