Officials are finally taking a stand against human trafficking

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest airport in the country, is one of the major contributing factors allowing sex trafficking to operate rampant in Atlanta. Photo Illustration by Vanessa Johnson | The Signal

Atlanta is no stranger to human trafficking. The city has become one of the greatest hubs across the nation for the commercial use of younger women that often involves sexual exploitation. So it’s no wonder the student body is hyper-vigilant when roaming the streets of Downtown.

Two weeks ago, Georgia State’s campus was shaken up by students alleging being approached by two suspicious women claiming to be a part of a religious group that many suspected were behind a human trafficking ring. Similar reports had been popping up around the University of Georgia, Kennesaw State University and Georgia Tech campuses as well. Following the report, the Georgia Tech police department released a statement confirming that they had no criminal activity on their campus.

“After numerous Georgia Tech students have come to us with concerns about this organization, and after seeing news stories from other places echoing these concerns, our investigators began looking into the situation,” the statement read. “At this time we have found no criminal activity surrounding this group, and have seen no missing persons reports related to them either.”

Similar findings were echoed by Georgia State’s police chief Joseph Spillane who, alongside the department, had looked into Georgia State students’ allegations. The department came in contact with religious affiliates who were roaming the streets but could only prevent them from being on university grounds, like the Library Plaza.

“We can’t do much about them being on the street,“ Spillane said.

As far as students, Spillane said the student body should always be using caution, and informing the police when something looks or feels suspicious.

Home to the country’s busiest airport and a rapidly growing entertainment industry, Atlanta is a prime location for human and sex trafficking. And according to Rescuing Hope founder and executive director Susan Norris, it’s a crime that’s often hidden in plain sight. Rescuing Hope is a Marietta-based organization that raises awareness on the issue.

In a Jan. 31 panel on sex trafficking, Norris said predators are often hard to spot as well, as they look so ordinary.

“It’s very difficult to see if you don’t know what you’re looking for,” she said.

In October, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested 60 people and rescued four juveniles in Georgia as part of a nationwide human trafficking operation. Proof that no matter how quiet, the problem in Atlanta continues to be growing.

TAKING A STAND

Sex trafficking is an issue finally starting to be addressed by Atlanta’s leadership, with the recently elected mayor launching a new media campaign to raise awareness around the issue.

According to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport press release, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms reaffirmed her commitment to the issue by launching a new media campaign titled “See Something, Say Something.”

But according to Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols, a media campaign isn’t enough.

“A media campaign is not enough by itself, but I commend the mayor for taking quick action and making sure this is a priority,” Echols said. “I am sure she is doing other things behind the scene to make sure the police have what they need to.”

Echols started the Unholy Tours, hosting the latest one on Jan. 29, 2018. The tours take legislators and media around areas susceptible to sex trafficking and aim to educate them on the severity of what has come to be known as “modern day slavery.” The two-hour hour runs through Atlanta’s most vicious human trafficking hub sites, and has even visited Savannah in the past.

“Unfortunately, any area where large contingents of men gather, a demand for paid sex follows,” he said. “The traffickers seize these opportunities and often minors are sold over and over again.

Echols said that, while it’s important for law enforcement to keep tagging at the issue, it’s often difficult to track. The way to combat human trafficking should include reducing the demand that is so high in the city, and also, targeting the key areas where it’s a problem.

“I would love to see the city take extraordinary action in areas like Cheshire Bridge Road and Buford Highway to reduce activity,” Echols said. “It is a challenge for everyone, though, and we need more folks engaging in ways where they are able to help.”

A huge step towards change, according to Echols, would also come by improving the foster care system.

“I am told that 90 [percent] of prostitutes have come through the foster care system,” he said.

And as for Georgia State students, Echols said there’s nothing wrong with being hyper-vigilant.

“Hyper-vigilance is a good thing, because it results in more scrutiny of people loitering or doing suspicious things,” he said. “I am glad to see Georgia State students concerned.”

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