It's Wednesday night in Cleveland, Tenn., and million-dollar churches and their pristine parking lots fill up with men under the influence of unholy spirits that use, abuse, rape, beat and sometimes kill the bodies and minds of teen girls. Wendy Brown stands up for those girls and if you don’t care what happens to them, God help you.
Brown, who is co-director of Ellilta, a multi-national organization that helps women-at-risk, will speak about sex trafficking at 6 p.m. on Sunday, March 11, at Ridgedale Baptist Church in Chattanooga, located at 1831 Hickory Valley Road. Her topic is “In Our Own Backyard.”
An impassioned Brown doesn’t spare too many feelings when she describes the horrors of sex trafficking. She first learned about the sexual abuses females suffer when she served as a missionary in Ethiopia. Some girls there become prostitutes to help feed their families. But Brown brings the horror home when she points out that Cleveland, recently branded as “The City With Spirit,” is a corridor for sex trafficking because of its proximity to Interstates 75 and 24.
A controlled but righteous fury passes across Brown’s face when she talks about how the tragic plight of abused girls and women often gets ignored or minimized. Brown says such willful ignorance happens especially in the religious circles of Cleveland. Factors that drive some males out of church and onto convenient highways to track down vulnerable females include problems with pornography as well as problems from their own wounds. Brown offers explanations but not excuses, especially for her hometown.
“Open your eyes!” Brown pleads. “It’s right here!”
Statistics at the Protected Innocence Initiative reveal that Tennessee law defines sex trafficking as: “A minor under 18 used in a commercial sex act without regard to force, fraud or coercion.”
A 2011 study conducted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Vanderbilt Center for Community Studies, shows that 72 percent of Tennessee counties (68 counties) reported at least one case of domestic minor sex trafficking. Shelby, Davidson, Coffee and Knox counties reported more than 100 cases.
Again, Brown notes that Cleveland’s I-75 and I-24 corridor provides easy traveling for males who see females as sexual commodities they can buy, sell or trade on their way to business or sporting events in Nashville or Atlanta.
Sexual servitude is apparently as routinely-tolerated in Cleveland as it is throughout the world, Brown explains, visibly shaken as she describes the use and abuse of women.
“In Our Own Backyard” is an event designed to bring awareness of the issue of human trafficking as it exists on a local level. Although a hideous crime, Brown emphasizes the positive side as well.
“Hope is what drives us,” she says. “Rescue and life change can happen, but first we must open our eyes and choose to get involved.”