SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Human trafficking is a crime that law enforcement is battling across the country, including right here in Georgia.
Last year, 276 human trafficking cases were reported in our state, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says it's happening in Savannah.
"Anytime you have prostitution activity, you're going to have human trafficking," GBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Brian Johnston said. "When you have tourists, you're going to have that type of activity, so with Savannah having an airport, Savannah having a historic district, Savannah having all the good things that make it Savannah, you're going to have that type of activity."
The agency released an updated version of its human trafficking notice this month. Georgia law requires airports, train stations and emergency rooms to post the notice in public restrooms or near a public entrance with the hope a victim or someone who notices something is wrong will see it and report it.
"If one victim is able to notice that and call, you know, how cool is that," Johnston said. "Or if one person is able to see something and then have that resource, that's a really cool thing."
Jessy McMullan is a care coordinator and social worker with St. Joseph's/Candler. In her role there and as a member of the Coastal Georgia child sex trafficking task force, she knows human trafficking is a reality in our area.
"It's definitely something that goes on here in Savannah, not only in the form of sex trafficking but also in the form of labor trafficking and domestic servitude," she said.
Johnston said Savannah's highways and interstates are one factor making it easier to move people quickly to another city or another state.
"I do think because Savannah is a thriving economic center that you're going to have this type of activity," Johnston said. "Anytime you have a major metropolitan area like that, you're going to have an increase in this."
McMullan says the signs can be subtle, but there are some key things to look for.
"I think a lot of people don't realize how easy it is to miss," she said. "It doesn't necessarily happen the way it does in the movies where people are snatched and thrown into vans. There's a grooming process that takes place. If you've got an individual that has no form of identification, no documents or someone else is in control of those documents, that can kind of be a red flag. If you've got young people who are accompanied by older adults that aren't their parents and aren't related to them that's a red flag as well."
She said victims are often people who are already vulnerable, maybe from a lower socioeconomic class, with a past history of abuse or drug use or children who are not getting their needs met or the attention they want at home.
St. Joseph's/Candler enhancing employee education by implementing mandatory training for all staff to make sure they recognize the signs and know how to report human trafficking.
"That's a great thing," she said. "With physicians and social workers and nurses and patient care techs just every being on those front lines for people that seek medical services, it's really important to know what to look for and then know what to do."
McMullan said she already knows it works from a friend who works as an ER nurse in Atlanta and had similar training.
"Within two weeks of the training, she identified two child victims that came through the emergency room that she said without that training, that specialized training, and knowing exactly what to look for, she probably would have missed," McMullan said. "They were reunited with their families. It gives you chills."
If are someone who needs help or know someone who does, you can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1.888.373.7888 or the Statewide Georgia Hotline for Domestic Minor Trafficking at 1.844.842.3678.