Chatham Co. ranks 4th in state for human trafficking, Tharros Place teaching parents signs to look for

City of Savannah
City of Savannah(WTOC)
Published: May. 17, 2023 at 6:12 AM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - When you hear the words “human trafficking,” you might picture people being kidnapped or taken from public places.

But one local organization says that’s not how it usually happens.

Tharros Place is an organization in Savannah that helps survivors of human trafficking - specifically, teenagers. The signs of a teenager being trafficked can be subtle, but it’s something people should know to be on the lookout for.

Kate Templeton, the outreach coordinator at Tharros Place, says it’s especially important in Chatham County.

“Out of 159 counties, we rank fourth for highest rates of minor victims of human trafficking,” Templeton said.

That could be for a number of reasons. Templeton says one of them being Savannah’s tourism industry.

Templeton says for teenagers, however, online grooming is a particular risk.

“Online recruitment actually increased 22 percent during COVID, and it continues to go up just because everyone’s online. Every student has some type of Instagram, TikTok, or something like that.”

Sometimes, the risk of trafficking doesn’t come from strangers online, but people potential victims know and trust.

“Parents, uncles, you know, aunts, other types of family members trafficking children in their lives for house payments, car payments, drug money, things like that. So it’s kind of a variety of things we’re seeing in Chatham County.”

Templeton adds that sometimes, teenagers are trafficked without their parents even knowing something is wrong. That’s why it’s important, she says, for adults to pay close attention to the kids in their lives.

Some signs to look out for include kids suddenly having expensive phones or clothes with no explanation for where they came from, showing signs of malnourishment or having unexplained injuries.

Another sign could also be an adult speaking on behalf of a child in seemingly inconsequential situations.

If you suspect someone you know it being trafficked, Templeton says it’s important to know what resources are available, including a Georgia specific hotline, 1-866-END-HTGA, by the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Georgia, and, of course, 911.

And if you’re in doubt:

“If you have any concern at all, even if you think it’s a small concern, it’s always best to report.”

According to Tharros Place, Chatham County ranks 4th in the state for highest rates of child victims. That’s why it’s important, they say, to learn about the signs someone you know might be being trafficked.

It’s part of Tharros Place’ ‘Lunch and Learn’ programs. Each week this month, they, along with the Chatham County Juvenile Court, are putting on lunchtime Zoom meetings for people to learn more about human trafficking.

Each week is targeted towards a different group of people. There have already been lunches for people in the tourism industry and healthcare workers.

Kate Templeton says that parents are a very important group that need to be educated about the dangers of human trafficking.

She says Tharros Place has seen cases of teenagers being trafficked, right under their parents’ noses.

But knowing what to look out for, could make all the difference.

“Traffickers really turn to the Internet to find their victims. During COVID, obviously there was an uptick in online recruitment because people weren’t out in the community as much. So we really want to create awareness among the parents that online safety, not sharing personal information online, things like that, are so vital.”

Wednesday’s meeting will take place from noon to 1 p.m. Registration is recommended, but not required.

And, if you want to attend one of these meetings, but you’re not a parent, there is one for the general public a week from Wednesday.