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Human trafficking is big business in coastal Georgia | local news

Human trafficking is big business in coastal Georgia | local news

Joe Leek couldn't believe his ears as he listened to Susan Norris speak at a recent conference of the Rotary Club of District 6920.

Norris, founder and CEO of Rescuing Hope and author of “Rescuing Hope: A Story of in America,” spoke about the proliferation of human trafficking for labor and sex slavery and the horrifying effects it is having.

“Honestly, she scared us to death,” said Leek, immediate past president of the Rotary Club of St. Simons Island.

Sitting at a table with other club presidents from the area, together they came up with an idea that would not only raise local awareness of the problem in Coastal Georgia, but also serve as an educational tool. Using grants from Rotary Club District 6920, local clubs host an educational and training event for local law enforcement, clergy, medical professionals, the hospitality industry, and the general public called Sex and Human Trafficking in the Golden Isles. Taking place on March 28th and 29th, the event will provide specialized training for professionals in these fields and the general public to help people recognize the signs of human and sex trafficking and take action when they do.

The labor and sex slave trade isn't just a big city problem, Leek has learned. It's happening everywhere, right under our noses, he said, citing statistics that the Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National outside of the Super Bowl ranks as the second largest human trafficking event.

“What strikes you is that this is a rich guy thing,” Leek said.

Coastal Georgia is certainly not immune. The Interstate 95 corridor is a thoroughfare for activity, according to statistics compiled by Georgia's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC). Human trafficking, such as for labor, increased by 380% in Georgia from 2017 to 2022 based on the number of victims the CJCC served during that time.

In coastal Georgia, human trafficking specifically for sex purposes increased by 40% in counties Glynn, Camden and Chatham from 2015 to 2022, council figures show.

Digging a little further down, three coastal counties — Glynn, Chatham, and Liberty — ranked in the top 10% sex trafficking indicators six times in the six years from 2015 to 2021. These indicators, according to the CJCC, are child priming and sex trafficking charges, the number of victims served, street gang charges, forensic and medical examinations, and the gap between arrests for human and sex trafficking and the number of victims served.

Those numbers are why Leek said the Rotary clubs of St. Simons Island, Brunswick, and Kings Bay are doing more than just allowing speakers like Norris and Amy Hutsell from the Coordinating Council to come to the event. During the two-day conference, these guests and others will lead the sessions. Law Enforcement Training is a certified Peace Officer Standards and Training or POST course, meaning officers can apply what they learn on the job.

Day one concludes with a 6:00 p.m. public event at the College of Coastal Georgia with Norris, Dorcey Jones, a human trafficking survivor, and Keith Higgins, District Attorney, Brunswick Judicial Circuit, at the College of Coastal Georgia.

The conference will conclude at the CCGA Conference Center with an open forum for the public with Norris and members of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

“We're hoping it has some staying power,” Leek said. “We want as many people as possible to participate”

Hutsell, program director for the CJCC's , and Human Trafficking Unit, hopes so too. She and her team will lead sessions during the event and provide valuable tools and knowledge to help local people fight human trafficking.

Georgia has agencies like the CJCC, the Georgia Coalition to Combat Human Trafficking, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's HEAT unit, and attorneys like Marty Kemp, Gov. Brian Kemp's wife, who are leading the fight, but that doesn't make it easy . said Hutsel.

“I think we're doing a pretty good job in Georgia,” Hutsell said. “But because it's an underground, often organized network, it's hard to identify, so there's still a lot to do.”

They know that highways like I-95, major airports like Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, and places where tourism and agriculture are important industries are human and sex trafficking hubs. is rampant in the tourism industry, making Coastal Georgia a likely location for the practice.

Tourism hotbeds also attract sex trafficking. According to Hutsell, there have been 86 referrals and reports of possible through the Council's Trafficking in Minors hotline since 2021. These relate only to cases where children may be involved. There are many more that go unnoticed because it is difficult to determine when a person is being trafficked for either work or sex.

Some of the signs that suggest human trafficking for either work or sex are people who are in a controlling or dominating relationship, people who do not have access to their own funding and income, or people who are excessively working long hours or seeming to be abused name a few. Some signs can be as simple as someone not making eye contact during the interaction, Hutsell said.

“It's important to remember that human trafficking is an industry,” she said. “It occurs because it is highly profitable. It's an industry that brings in $150 billion a year.”

Hannah Brown, a child advocate and social worker at the House of Hope Refuge of Love, a home for human trafficking survivors, sees firsthand the impact of sex trafficking on young people. The home serves 12-18 year olds who have been trafficked for sex and begins expanding to include independent living rooms for survivors aged 18-21. Young people cared for by House of Hope often have trouble figuring out what to do after the age of 18. This can be a trigger to get back into the life they want to leave behind.

“So many of our girls after 18 really don't know where to go,” Brown said.

The independent residential aspect of House of Hope is intended to build a bridge between them.

It may seem counterintuitive, but not all people who are trafficked are forced into life, she said.

“There's this idea that you're walking down the street and someone puts a bag on your head and you get grabbed,” Brown said.

While this can happen, many people, especially children, are trafficked in a variety of ways. Parents may start pimping their daughters to make money. Predators can find her through channels and turn her into a sexual slave.

Some people think they can make their own money and start providing sexual services themselves. Regardless of how they got in, Brown said there were some telltale signs.

Does a teenage girl show up at home or school with new and expensive gifts that a teenager wouldn't normally have? Do they run away or do they fall into a cycle of drug abuse? Do you have multiple phones?

“These can all be signs that predators are them,” Brown said. “It's a worldwide problem, and we're no different here in Georgia.”

ABOUT PBJ LEARNING

PBJ Learning is a leading provider of online human trafficking training, focusing on awareness and prevention education. Their interactive Human Trafficking Essentials is used worldwide to educate professionals and individuals how to recognize human trafficking and how to respond to potential victims. Learn on any web browser (even your mobile phone) at any time.

More stories like this can be found in your PBJ Learning Knowledge Vault.

 

This “Eyes on Trafficking” story is reprinted from its original online location.

ABOUT PBJ LEARNING

PBJ Learning is a leading provider of online human trafficking training, focusing on awareness and prevention education. Their interactive Human Trafficking Essentials online course is used worldwide to educate professionals and individuals how to recognize human trafficking and how to respond to potential victims. Learn on any web browser (even your mobile phone) at any time.

More stories like this can be found in your PBJ Learning Knowledge Vault.