Human trafficking on the rise in Savannah?

Human trafficking on the rise in Savannah?
Published: Oct. 12, 2015 at 10:12 PM EDT
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CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - If you thought human trafficking in Savannah ended with a multi-state crackdown called Operation Dark Knight two years ago, think again.

Fourteen prostitution related arrests in the last month alone, seven in Pooler and seven in Savannah. All of them linked to human trafficking.

September 25th, 31-year-old Norman "Panama Jack" Overton-Lane of Savannah arrested for human trafficking among other charges involving a 20 year old and 24 year old. Both women were arrested for prostitution.

All of this happened in a Pooler Econo Lodge.

The next night seven more people were arrested and charged with prostitution, and a man accused of human trafficking and child trafficking at hotels in West Chatham and Southside areas of Savannah.

And just a few weeks earlier, four people were busted in a prostitution ring on Abercorn Street.

"They are definitely red flags, absolutely, for sure," said Jessica Ghormley, Savannah Working Against Human Trafficking.

Ghormley knows the signs, and has seen the faces before. Maybe not the same people, but the same looks, she says of desperation and no way out.

"It's not a lifestyle you seek out. No one says I want to be a prostitute when I grow up," said Ghormley.

Working as co-founder of Savannah Working Against Human Trafficking, Ghormley watched Operation Dark Knight swoop in during 2012 and 2013, and make a dent in a huge Latino human trafficking ring. She sways SWAHT's efforts continued, but they saw the sex slave problem in Chatham County linger, and now seemingly spread.

"Just like drugs are an ongoing problem, human trafficking is an ongoing problem," said Ghormley.

While the victims cover all ages, ethnicities and sexes, the areas have shifted from the gateways of Savannah and outer fringes, to Pooler and Midtown Savannah. It's a huge sign this problem is not going away.

"There has become more boldness happening. It's such a hidden crime, you just don't know," said Ghormley.

Which is why Ghormley says authorities and her anti-human trafficking group need the help of hotel workers in what they call ground zero.

"They are our first line of defense, do you see any girls inappropriately dressed? Age inappropriate? Weather inappropriate? No luggage? Appearing with older men," said Ghormley.

She's hoping to see the number of John's arrested go up too.

"People think buying a prostitute is a victimless crime, and that is not true. It creates a demand and the more demand there is the more victims there will be," said Ghormley. "It's the number two crime in the world after drugs, and closely catching up."

Just last month, as we showed you on WTOC, Savannah-Chatham Metro Police and local authorities are preparing to tackle the human trafficking issue. They underwent special sex-crime training, which may have paid off in some of these recent arrests.

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