KINGSPORT — An estimated 40.3 million people are being trafficked worldwide — living in forced marriages and labor, in slavery or for sexual exploitation. In Tennessee, there were 180 cases of human trafficking last year.
It’s too great a number and an issue most people probably aren’t aware of. However, through the efforts of state and local officials, and a national nonprofit organization, you can educate yourself on the issue and work to make a difference.
The Sullivan County Regional Health Department and the Tennessee Department of Health held a Red Sand Project event at four locations across Sullivan County on Thursday.
The project, which was started in 2014 by Molly Gochman (a New York City-based artist and activist), utilizes red sand that participants can pour in the sidewalk cracks to represent the victims of human trafficking who have “fallen through the cracks” of the social, economic and political systems.
“Our message is to bring awareness to human trafficking,” said Chastyn Webster, health educator at the Sullivan County Regional Health Department. “It’s to start a conversation of what human trafficking is and what we can do collectively to end trafficking and support the survivors.”
THE RED SAND PROJECT
Gochman first launched the Red Sand Project in 2014, after realizing the depths to which slavery continues to be a contemporary reality.
The first Red Sand Project took place in Miami, where Gochman filled the cracks of sidewalks in and around the Art Basel Miami Beach pavilion with red sand.
Red Sand installations and events have taken place in all 50 states and in more than 70 countries around the world. The project has engaged more than 1.5 million people of diverse backgrounds — from students to educators, businesses to outreach organizations and concerned citizens to celebrities.
Locally, events were held at the Tennessee Welcome Centers on I-26 and I-81, the YWCA in Bristol and the Sullivan County Regional Health Department in Blountville.
“You can come out and participate in (the events) and you can educate yourself on the issue,” Webster said. “We’re encouraging people to work with local organizations. Those are really going to be the people who support survivors and provide them some stability to alleviate the vulnerability these people might experience.”
The Sullivan County Regional Health Department is hosting a virtual training session about human trafficking on Aug. 3 at 10 a.m. Webster said the session is for people who are interested in getting involved, to learn the signs of human trafficking and understand the resources available.
If you wish to participate, you can register at www.eventbrite.com/e/113392700620.
If you want to set up a private training session for you or your organization, then visit growfreetn.org/programs/#training.
Finally, if you participated in Thursday’s event, feel free to share your photos on social media with the hashtags #redsandtn and #ithastostop.