Dougherty County law enforcement says Atlanta is the hub for teen sex trafficking on the east coast. Because of this fact, many believe teen trafficking isn TMt a Southwest Georgia issue.
It is here and we will work cases if we get information on it but it TMs hard for us to investigate them, says Detective Chad Kirkpatrick with the Dougherty County Police TMs Internet Crimes Against Children unit.
Local and national officials say rural cities are the spokes leading to Atlanta TMs hub.
I do think that people in rural or even some of the more urban areas of Georgia that are not Atlanta don TMt TM necessarily see that this is their problem, says Kaffie McCullough, Campaign Director for A Future Not A Past (AFNAP): A campaign focusing on building barriers against the demand of teen sex trafficking.
I think a lot of times we feel very lulled into a false sense of security in Southwest Georgia because we are a rural area. The problem is in Atlanta, however, a lot of times it TMs our children that are in Atlanta with these problems, says Firefly House Director Amy Boney at Lily Pad.
Amy Boney from Lily Pad has worked teen victims of sex trafficking. The facility is currently working three similar cases. She says runaways from Southwest Georgia are traveling to big cities like Atlanta, then picked up by a pimp to be trafficked.
They have a 12 year old mentality and they think they can do better if they TMre on their own. So they go out and don TMt realize the extent of their vulnerability at that point, says McCullough.
A lot of them are showing up on the Internet.
Demand research AFNAP completed shows 325 young girls are sexually exploited in Georgia every month via internet classifieds websites. That TMs 89 girls a day.
With websites like Craigslist that seem innocent, it makes it easy to get away with crime. McCullough says buyers can search Craigslist for the trafficked girls without their wives or girlfriends suspecting because Craigslist is known commonly for selling items like furniture.
Craigslist by far was the biggest internet site where these kids were bought and sold, McCullough says.
McCullough says the internet is a runaway train, and Craigslist is the engine.
It really normalized the behavior. You could buy a kid in the same site that you could, says McCullough.
In September, Craigslist shut down its adult services section. But with research showing 7,200 men are exploiting young girls every month, officials say the demand will go to other websites. McCullough also says while demand in escort services and on the streets has remained steady, demand on the internet has increased.
Backpage has also received heat for not strictly supervising the sex trafficking problem on their website.
The Women TMs Funding Network requested Village Voice Media, who operates Backpage, to stop ads sex trafficking minors. A call to action report released by the Women TMs Funding Network says the media organization argued that it was free speech.
Backpage did respond to the negative attention by temporarily shutting down parts of their adult services section for investigation.
Laws have become tighter since McCullough began campaigning against teen trafficking. In 2000, when the sex trafficking of minors began to surface in Georgia, it was a misdemeanor to pimp a teenager in the state.
The pimp would get a $50 fine and go back on the street and these 10 and 12 year old girls were coming through the Juvenile court with charges of prostitution, says McCullough.
Georgia now has a human trafficking law making it illegal for those under 18 to be bought and sold; pimps and traffickers can be arrested.
Boney says she would still like to see even stricter penalties for pimps and traffickers.
I think that until that message starts getting broadcasted loudly and frequently, these people have a pretty safe world to break our laws and to violate our children, says Boney.
McCullough says AFNAP has trained some law enforcement in the Southwest Georgia region on how to arrest, investigate and identify victims, but she will complete even more training throughout the state this year.
Law enforcement just needs to be a little bit more sensitized too. In order to at least have it sort of be something that they think about when they pick up a runaway. They think, ~Hm. Is there more to this than just this? TM and be more aware that there might be, says McCullough.
Those leading the fight against teen trafficking say the key is awareness.
It TMs present, it happens. A lot of our Southwest Georgia children are seeing the negative effects of that and the crime may not occur here. It may be in Atlanta but a lot of them are our children, says Boney.
Any victim of sex trafficking can find local resources by reaching out to the Georgia Care Connection at their website or at 404-602-0068.
The same day FOX 31 TMs special report Teen Trafficking aired, a song and music video featuring the rock band The Killers was released that raises awareness about sex trafficking. It has the possibility to reach 500 million households in 168 countries. The track Goodnight, Travel Well is from the album Day & Age.
The Goodnight, Travel Well music video is an exclusive collaboration between UNICEF, MTV EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) and the US Agency for International Development. It TMs the second in a series of music video collaborations launched last year that highlight the danger and impact of human trafficking.