The Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking

Rabbi Alon C Ferency
July 8, 2014
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Sadly, modern-day slavery is a pressing and growing problem even in East Tennessee.  By most accounts, labor-slavery predominates over sexual-exploitation here, and most slaves are trafficked domestically, rather than imported from abroad.  I would like to tell you briefly about an organization with which I work: I recently joined the board of the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking (CCAHT).  When I first encountered the CCAHT, it was in a process of re-structuring, and seeking new members.  I was initially approached to recruit board members, but through that process, I joined the board myself.

Previously, the CCAHT had been growing from the bottom up, bubbling up as a response to a felt and demonstrated need in our community.  Modern-day slavery is a networked problem, and requires a networked solution, in order to bring multiple stakeholders together to combat Human Trafficking.  Although there are many talented people and agencies in East Tennessee devoted to the problem (e.g., Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Family Justice Center), there was simply no “clearinghouse,” no central address to plan approaches, mobilize resources, coordinate actions, and ensure adequate and efficient response to a problem of this scale.

After asset mapping and analysis, the new board realized that the CCAHT had reached a crossroads, and in order to succeed, grow, and thrive, it needed to transition from its grassroots beginnings as a volunteer-driven organization into a talented, staff-driven organization.  In conversation with colleagues and counterparts, we learned that a staffed network model has worked elsewhere (e.g., CAASE, Chab Dai), and we believe that it is time for East Tennessee to pursue this model, in order to eliminate modern-day slavery in our own backyard.  We are seeking professional leadership to ensure that one central institution can marshal for-profit, non-profit, and governmental agencies in a concerted effort to end slavery in Knoxville. What’s the alternative?  The counter-trafficking movement in Knox County could continue to operate in silos, but there would be no unified front to fight this inhuman injustice in our city.

Simply put, at The Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking we envision a community united and equipped to end modern day slavery – a place where everyone is free from injustice and exploitation.

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Rabbi Alon C Ferency pursued Israeli-Palestinian economic integration in the 1990’s at Harvard University. After a bicycle trip from Seattle to Boston, he entered the Peace Corps in Cameroon as a Community Health organizer. Then, he worked in the music industry, before receiving a Master’s Degree in Informal Jewish Education from J.T.S., and rabbinical ordination from the Ziegler School in 2010. Today, Alon is the rabbi of Heska Amuna Synagogue in Knoxville, Tennessee. There, he serves as a board member of the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking, and served on the Community Health Council, Together! Healthy Knox, and the ethics committee of the University of Tennessee Medical Center. He is also a regular contributor to Conservative Judaism quarterly, and an alumnus of Leadership Knoxville and the Tikvah Fellowship. His sermons are available at heskaamuna.org/sermons.html; and, you may follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/EclecticCleric) and Twitter (@EclecticCleric).

2 Comments

  1. This is very informative, and interesting given my daughters’ return from trafficking (2 years tortured, held captive, and sold) to Tennessee brought a “light” on trafficking in the area, many never heard of this, no counselor would touch this specific topic, and there were zero services to help rebuild a lost soul, and assist in the return to normalcy. There were many that wanted to send her away to states with programs, but no one willing to take on this task. So together with the Partnership court advocate we united to find means to address the concerns of a victim losing her soul to who she is today. The agencies that claim to help, take in millions to give out phone numbers of other agencies that may assist with one aspect like a broken tooth – only to get denied for “color”. In East Tennessee the TBI had this same list of telephone numbers – without having to get drilled each time a new service is needed as happens with Polaris, and the TN group claiming to have connections to assist victims. We found there are NO human rights for adult victims – they are held responsible for all actions occurring under torture and threat of death. We found no lawyer that would take only the litigation for free except to make a victim out a criminal to have her confess, and drop charges for time “served”. Although there are now meetings at our federation addressing the slavery of women, trafficking it is often met with more questions than answers, and focus is on preventing children from becoming a victim then sending them off to live apart from their families again, once found. Chattanooga is working towards a program for domestic violence which includes trafficking but there is not much for these victims aside from group counseling, and federal access to food stamps, but NOT healthcare in Tennessee (NONE – turned down for Affordable Care Act and Tenncare) so you can see the need for assistance – all medications are out of pocket, and all counselors must donate time or take what little we have to offer. There was no help for the ruptured cyst, broken tooth, burns, cuts, bites, and root damage caused by her captors except out of our own pocket – and after spending two years begging CA to act to rescue her, and later find her from these beasts, search and rescue the recovery costs mounted to take all my family and friends savings. The man holding her the most often is free – jailed for days, and released is telling his bail bondsman he “will find Satara, and bring her back”. The US Marshalls believe he is the type of person that will act on this, and wait until we let go and move forward in life. The FBI is sure the DA has involvement with this organized crime group, and thus will not act in the victims’ defense. The secret service is positive, and was there to see the torture but could not intervene due to the DA refusing to assist. Yet, here she sits working to recover from many atrocities – slavery, captivity, and torture while these people are free with state housing, Medicaid/Affordable Care Act, Stipends, and Food Stamps proven by investigators. It took two years to get food stamps (and they drop it often requiring proof of ill health), and no other assistance. Tennessee needs to take action – not just talk, and Tennessee needs to aid victims – not just tell the news they have many services, and Tennessee needs to help people recover by offering more incentives. Thankfully our Mayor is making a leap forward in the Justice Center, and helping one victim but where will the state go when the victims start speaking up!!!!!? Who will provide highly skilled, expert counseling (not just a counselor), doctor and treatment for these injuries. My daughter came out of this with an overdose of heroin – dropped at an ER door, broken tooth, hair yanked out at roots, bites, burns, cuts, lacerations, no glasses to see, and no shoes on foot. Following extensive rape, and sale, and worse. She came out of the hospital to the news calling her an addict for having drugs as weapons, and thus no one caring….who will help these victims?

    Posted by
    Sharon Stratton
  2. Dear Ms. Stratton,

    Thank you for taking time to read and respond to my work. Your daughter’s experience is horrific, and no doubt representative of victims’ experiences world-wide. It is the lack of coordinated response that we at CCAHT seek to address. In fact, we’ve recently received our first major grant, and hope to hire an Executive Director shortly (http://www.ccaht.org/were-hiring.html). With your help, we can change the dire situation in our own community.

    Sincerely,
    -Rabbi Ferency

    Posted by
    Rabbi Alon C Ferency
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