“This is an issue that knows no boundaries. It doesn’t matter where you live, what you look like, your background,” said Nekia Hackworth, assistant U.S. attorney for Georgia’s northern district.
Human traffickers run rampant throughout all areas of Atlanta, according to a panel of six who spoke Tuesday for Say-So, a conversational salon, at The Link Counseling Center’s National Resource Center in Sandy Springs.
“I had a 15-year-old girl that lived in Sandy Springs,” said Richard Randolph, investigator with the Fulton County District Attorney’s office. “This young lady skipped school and rode the MARTA train with her friends. She was picked up by a 42-year-old man that had a nice [car] with some rims. He said he wanted to take her on a date.”
Randolph said the man changed the girls’ identity by giving her a new birth certificate and Social Security card, and told her to remember everything.
“He got her an I.D. at the department of motor vehicles. … He recruited her and got a hotel in her name and forced her to have unprotected sex,” Randolph said.
Although the girl ended up getting herself out of the situation safely, it is more common for girls to get sucked into lives of prostitution, and the average age range is 12 to 14, according to Camilla Wright, head of the human trafficking unit for the Fulton County District Attorney’s office.
“Atlanta is one of the hubs for trafficking in the U.S. … Within the first 48 hours, one third of runaways encounter a trafficker,” Wright said. “These girls tell me time after time, they left home because something bad happened. They have to eat and need somewhere to stay. Whether they offer it as a father or a boyfriend, [traffickers] say they’ll take care of them.”
Human trafficking is the third largest moneymaking business in the U.S., according to Jennifer Swain, program manager of STOP CSEC [Commercially Sexually Exploited Children].
“It makes more money than McDonald’s, Google and Walmart together,” Swain said. “7,200 men purchase sex with adolescent girls in Georgia each month.”
As a result of sexually transmitted diseases and violence, most victims do not make it to their 30s, said Dalia Racine, assistant district attorney at the DeKalb County District Attorney’s office.
“These girls and boys need such intensive services because their minds have been completely warped as to their self-value,” said Racine, who works in the Crimes Against Children Unit. “They only think their bodies are something to make money from and they have no other value than that.”
And Wright said most of metro Atlanta’s district attorney’s offices have sex crime units, and penalties to traffickers have been increased recently.She also said the caseload has increased by four times within the last year.
“It’s not that trafficking has increased but awareness has increased,” Wright said. “We are seeing a lot more cases and a lot more people being prosecuted.”
Additionally, Hackworth said exploitation occurs online often on www.backpage.com, and right under the public’s nose. People can help by being the eyes and ears, and becoming more educated on the issue.
“If you see a very young girl with a way older guy, and she’s wearing short shorts and a tank top in cold weather, … you call 911 [or (404) 577-TIPS],” said Hackworth. “It’s a small thing that you can do that might potentially save a young girl’s life. If things don’t look quite right, it may not be right.”