Sex Trafficking increasing during the COVID-19 Pandemic


CLEVELAND, Tenn (WDEF) – Willowbend Farms in Cleveland, TN is an anti trafficking organization fighting to help rescue women from sex trafficking. 

Co-founder of the organization says the sex trafficking numbers are up during the pandemic and the virus is making it harder to get to the women.

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“The opportunities for them to get to safety is actually lower and it has created a challenge in our response. Also being able to find placement for them because just like many other medical facilities and shelters, they are overrun right now and not accepting new individuals for their own safety,” says Sarah Mckinnis, Co – Founder of Willowbend Farms

Sarah Mckinnis says the fact that much of the public is  wearing masks, also makes things more difficult.

“We have received phone calls where someone has said I see someone and they are saying help me. They mouth it because they are not able to speak the words or write it. So it creates a more challenging environment with the mask on, all you have is your eyes,” says Mckinnis.

The women that have been rescued by the organization feel that they have to wear an invisible mask just to survive in that world. 

Now they are creating actual masks during the pandemic and say that for them, the masks symbolize something much greater. 

“One of the girls recognized that ‘We have had to wear masks for so long, just to survive. What if we are creating masks to actually help people? We are able to take ours off to heal but now we can make masks in order to help others survive,” says Mckinnis.

If you would like to purchase a mask, you may contact the Willowbend Farms Office. There is no cost for a mask, but the organization does welcome any donations.

If you or someone you know may be a victim of sex trafficking call the national sex trafficking hot line 1 (888) 373-7888  or SMS: 233733 (Text “HELP” or “INFO”).

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Joeli Poole joined the WDEF News 12 Team in April 2019 as a Reporter and Producer. You can find her reporting during the week and when not on camera; she's producing the 6 and 11 shows. Joeli grew up with a love for reporting, starting in middle school. She has been the anchor for her middle and high school TV stations, along with the Sports Anchor for her College TV Station. Joeli grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and moved to Tennessee when she 10 years old. She went to Cleveland Middle school and Walker Valley High School. She graduated in May of 2019 from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a bachelor's degree in Communications. Being from the area, Joeli loves being able to help tell the stories of her community. In her spare time, Joeli enjoys watching her LSU Tigers, hiking, and playing with her dog. Feel free to email any story ideas at