Interview with an Expert: Human Trafficking in Tennessee

By Chandra Allen

Human trafficking is the second largest crime worldwide and its growing. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by the business of human trafficking. It is staggering to learn that the average life expectancy for someone involved in trafficking is only seven years. This is not a crime that is happening “over there”. It is happening in Nashville, in Tennessee – in our backyard. In fact, Nashville is the third largest center of human trafficking in the south (after Atlanta and New Orleans). Do you know the warning signs of someone who may be involved in human trafficking? Do you know where to go for help or to report a crime? What can you do to help stop human trafficking in Tennessee? If you want answers to the questions above and many more, we encourage you to join the conversation and learn more about the complexities of human trafficking. A recent study from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reports that human trafficking is difficult to stop because it is often a hidden crime. We cannot afford to turn our backs and close our eyes to the trafficking crimes that are happening in our communities. Join us at Scarritt-Bennett Center as we increase awareness about human trafficking and learn what we can all do to help end this modern day slavery.

On November 5, we will welcome an expert panel to highlight the multi-dimensional aspects of human trafficking. Attendees will learn about statistics, legislation, warning signs, and ways to get involved to stop human trafficking in our area.

Panelist Karen Karpinski, Director of Education and Volunteer Management for End Slavery Tennessee joined us to talk about her involvement in the fight to end human slavery and to offer a glimpse of what you can expect from the upcoming event.

“The only way you can defeat a problem is to understand it.” End Slavery Tennessee

Scarritt Bennett Center: How did you get involved with End Slavery Tennessee?

Karen Karpinski: In 1998 Derri Smith spoke to Soroptimist International of which I am a member.  Her passion for this problem and my awakening to the extent of the problem in TN was my initial reason for involvement.  However, I also felt that God had been directing me to this problem for many years.

SBC: Why do you feel it is important to raise awareness about human trafficking in Tennessee?

KK: Human Trafficking is one of the greatest humanitarian crimes throughout the globe.  Next to drugs it is the greatest crime.  In Tennessee there are 94 victims of human trafficking each month according to the TBI.  That’s bigger than the problem with gangs, and a large number are minors under the age of 18.  Every victim is someone’s daughter, sister or brother. The next victim could be your daughter or sister or brother.

SBC: What are some of the challenges that you face in your work to end human trafficking?

KK: There is never enough financial support, good residential placement for the survivors, enough employers willing to take a chance on a survivor who may have had past felony convictions, enough trained law enforcement or social services personnel who are knowledgeable about the red flags of victim identification or trained therapists who are trained to work with victims.  Laws are changing to protect the victims and adequately punish the perpetrators, but there is still so little understanding about human trafficking in general.

SBC: What can participants expect to take away from the “Human Trafficking in our Backyard” event at Scarritt Bennett on Nov. 5?

KK: Participants will have a much better understanding of human trafficking in our state.  They should also be able to communicate and share the dangers, as well as what our community is doing to halt this crime.  Our hope is that each member of the audience will leave with a desire to educate those around them and seek ways they can become involved in the fight to create a slave free state.

Karen Karpinski is the Director of Education and Volunteer Manager for End Slavery Tennessee, a non-profit organization that works toward Training, Aftercare for survivors and Prevention Programs for youth (TAP). She has been with the organization for six years and is passionate about bringing awareness of human trafficking to the community through face-to-face presentations, speaking on panels, or addressing the media. She has spoken to hundreds of people in churches, professional organizations, social and civic organizations and college classes. Under her leadership, nearly 9,000 individuals in the community were trained in 2013. Karen provides the screening, training and supervision for all the volunteers, as well as the Volunteer Group Leaders of ESTN throughout Middle TN to educate, engage and motivate existing volunteers as well as continually recruiting new people in the fight against human trafficking.

Karen retired from Skyline Medical Center where she was Director of Volunteer and Spiritual Care on two campuses for over 10 years. She is a nationally certified Volunteer Management Professional with more than 35 years of experience in for-profit and not-for-profit businesses and organizations. Education has been an integral part of all her positions. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications.

Learn more about human trafficking from an expert panel at Scarritt-Bennett Center on Wednesday, November 5th, 2014 from 6:30pm-9pm.  


– Karen Karpinski, End Slavery TN Director of Education

– Jill Robinson, Vanderbilt University

– Dawn Gerhart, Attorney

– Antoinette Welch, District Attorney’s Office

– Matt Dixon, Metro Police Department

– Lizedny De la Rosa, End Slavery TN Survivor Services Coordinator

– Sheila McClain, End Slavery TN Intervention Specialist

Location: Harambee Auditorium, 1st floor Fondren Hall

Cost: $5 (scholarships available)