When most of us think about sex trafficking, we assume it only happens to young women in foreign countries. However, that perception is far from the truth. Even though we may not see it, the reality is human trafficking and sex trafficking are happening right before our eyes – and right here in Atlanta.
According to a report recently released from the FBI, the City of Atlanta ranks number two in the country in sex trafficking crime. Why? Atlanta has the busiest airport in the world and an interstate highway system second to none. As a result, trafficking is easier. But don’t let this mislead you. Sex trafficking is not just an inner-city issue, it’s an issue that includes the entire metropolitan area. In April, Georgia passed a new law to strengthen the state’s anti-trafficking. Senate Bill 42 increases penalties for hotels and conference centers that do not display the human trafficking hotline number in their facilities.
Understanding how sex trafficking works can help us recognize vulnerable people – oftentimes before they become victims. Everyone needs to understand, victims of sex trafficking are not exclusively young women. Boys, particularly LGBTQ+ boys, and most often young children – are seen as prey to sex traffickers.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, people can be vulnerable to trafficking if they:
- Have an unstable living situation
- Have run away from home
- Are undocumented immigrants
- Are living in poverty
- Have a substance use issue or live with somebody who does
- Are or have been victims of other violent crime
Victims of sex trafficking include all races, sexual orientations, citizenship status and socioeconomic backgrounds. The most common situations that sex traffickers use to lure would-be victims involve using psychological manipulation to gain trust, isolate the victim from friends and family, and then manipulate and threaten the victim. Another common situation to lure sex trafficking victims is using false job advertisements. These fake jobs lure victims out of their communities and away from their safety nets – often to other countries. Traffickers then take control of a victim’s identity documents like a passport and use blackmail and threats to gain control over the victim.
Oftentimes human-trafficking victims and sex-trafficking victims end up as captives at hotels, motels and extended stay facilities. The operators of these facilities share at least some of the responsibility for the harm caused to these victims – and area hotels have been sued in the past over sex trafficking. Similar to the responsibility of bars and restaurants over-serving patrons, these hospitality business owners and their employees should be trained to recognize the signs of human and sex trafficking predators and their victims. Appropriate training and policies, procedures, guidelines and mandates need to be in place to ensure awareness among hospitality employees.
Predators also look for employment at facilities that provide access to vulnerable people. To do their due diligence in preventing sex trafficking, employers should conduct thorough background checks on prospective employees; install and ensure reasonable and appropriate surveillance systems; and ensure proper lighting are present.
Still, scores of young women and children are being sold for sex on a nightly basis, not only in Atlanta, but across this country. So, what can we do to help?
Know some of the telltale signs of sex trafficking. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a sex trafficking victim may:
- Be transported by guards between home and their workplace
- Have a controlling guardian, romantic partner, etc. who limits who they speak to, what they say, where they go, their spending or their identity documents
- Live where they work
- Work in an industry that makes it easy to be pressured into performing sex acts for money
- Have traveled for a specific job but is employed in a different job than expected
There are many online resources to learn about sex trafficking. FEMA, for example, publishes a number of ways we can work together to prevent human trafficking. Among the FEMA suggestions are understanding risk factors, knowing what to do and who to contact when you suspect a human trafficking situation, and educating yourself and others to understand and recognize human trafficking.
Law enforcement personnel, first responders, victim advocates, faith-based organizations, and federal, state and local emergency management organizations all have information available. We urge everyone to visit the Department of Homeland Security’s website and familiarize themselves with the Blue Campaign and training resources available at https://www.dhs.gov/topics/ human-trafficking.
At Isenberg & Hewitt, we have successfully prosecuted cases of sexual abuse, rape, and child molestation and are well versed in representing and advocating for victims of sex trafficking. If you or someone you know is a victim of sex trafficking or other sex crimes, first reach out to law enforcement, then contact Isenberg & Hewitt. We are here to help!