The growing sex trafficking problem in Georgia

WTOC continues its investigation into sex crimes with minors by exploring sex trafficking

WTOC Investigates: Sex trafficking in Georgia

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - In our ongoing investigation into sex crimes involving minors in Georgia, WTOC is now turning the attention to sex trafficking.

It happens statewide, but recently, the number of arrests spiked because of the Super Bowl. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says the Super Bowl is a huge event that attracts all kinds of people, including those who want to buy and sell sex from minors.

In the air and on the ground, law enforcement was fully prepared to protect Superbowl 53 and all events associated with it in Atlanta. They also geared up to execute stings to rescue minors involved in sex trafficking.

"The fact that this sporting event has a disgusting underbelly of sex trafficking and that people are coming to the city to do that. That’s why it’s a big deal right? Because all of these people are coming and thinking 'I’m going to go to the football game and have sex with a 14-year-old,” says Julie Wade, Executive Director of Park Place Outreach.

During Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta, the FBI says it arrested 169 people over 11 days. That includes 23 traffickers and 34 people attempting to engage in sex acts with minors. As for the victims, nine teenage sex trafficking victims were rescued. The youngest victim was 14-years-old. Newly sworn in Governor Brian Kemp says state leaders know that sex trafficking is an issue.

“In this city, Atlanta has become a hub for human trafficking. Innocent children are simply being sold for sex. Evil people committing evil deeds all to turn a profit,” Kemp said.

Street Grace, a Georgia nonprofit working to stop sex trafficking, says 3,600 minors are sold into sex slavery every year in the state of Georgia. That’s enough to fill 72 school buses with children.

GBI Special Agent in charge of the Child Exploitation and Cyber Crimes Unit, Debbie Garner tells WTOC sex trafficking can range from a large ring of pimps to a one-one-one operation.

“It’s not uncommon to have one trafficker and one child and that trafficker is selling that child for sex and that can be anywhere in the state,” Garner said.

Local minors who escape or are rescued from sex trafficking often end up at Park Place Outreach in downtown Savannah. Pamela Perkins is a case manager at Park Place Outreach and says many of the minors they serve initially ran away from home, then get caught up in sex trafficking.

“Needing somewhere to stay, they meet up with that person on the street who says ‘Hey, I can put you in a room and I can help you for a little while you know to get on your feet,' and that’s how some of the young girls wind up getting enticed by those people.

Park Place Outreach says to make a difference three things need to happen. Parents need to talk with their children to make sure they understand the very real danger of being trafficked for sex, all adults need to be trained to spot a sex trafficking victim, and vigorous prosecution of offenders.

We know it’s a growing problem and when we encounter our youth who are engaged in this activity, our goal is to stop it and to place that child in an environment where she is not as susceptible and vulnerable to this," Wade said.

If you’re wondering why sex trafficking is growing in Georgia, it’s because its profitable. The FBI estimates the underground sex trafficking industry makes $290 million a year.

Copyright 2019 WTOC. All rights reserved.