The Realities of Human Trafficking
“There’s someone here! Oh my God! They got Amanda!”
It is every parent’s nightmare—their child snatched by kidnappers while they are powerless to stop them. It was also the plot of 2008’s Hollywood thriller, Taken. Brian Mills, played by Liam Neeson, listened helplessly over the phone as an international sex trafficking ring abducted his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and her friend during their girls’ trip to France. Mills, a retired special operative for the United States government, naturally hopped the first plane to Paris and opened up a can of whup-derriere on the monsters set on selling his daughter into sexual slavery.
While it makes for a dramatic plot point for an action flick, sex trafficking victims are rarely kidnapped by a stranger beforehand. In fact, it almost never happens, yet it looms large in the public’s imagination when they think of child sex trafficking.
In reality, kids at risk for becoming sex trafficking victims often know the people who lure them into sexual exploitation. Their trafficker might be a boyfriend, someone they know from school, or even a family member. Sometimes kids are groomed for exploitation by a person they met over the internet.
Sex trafficking, as defined by federal statute, is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion.” In addition, child sex trafficking is defined as the performance of a sexual act in exchange for anything of value—shelter, food, clothing, money, etc.—with a person under the age of 18. Force, fraud, or coercion does not have to be present to meet the legal definition of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC). Anyone involved in the sexual exploitation of a minor is guilty of child sex trafficking. This includes the trafficker (pimp), the buyer (john), and the person who drove the child to the “date.”
All children are at some level of risk for exploitation, but we know what the profiles of those kids most at risk look like. Many of these are kids who are already in the system in some form, either the foster care system or the juvenile justice system. Runaways are particularly vulnerable and can be exploited in exchange for shelter, food, or protection. In Georgia, as many as 9 out of 10 kids rescued from trafficking situations were sexually abused before they were trafficked, so we know kids who have experienced sexual abuse are particularly vulnerable.
Here is what we know about CSEC victims in Georgia, according to 2018 data compiled by Georgia Cares. They are very young. Victims were an average of 14.9 years old when referred to Georgia Cares for treatment, and they had been “in the life” an average of 11.1 months before their referral. Ninety-seven percent of victims were female, and 70 percent of them were African-American. Nearly half of victims reported experiencing trauma, violence, and coercion from their trafficker, and 77 percent reported substance abuse, a common means for traffickers to control their victims. Three quarters of victims were under the control of a trafficker, and 96.2 percent reported running away before being trafficked. Georgia Cares served 596 youth in 2017.
Georgia is at the forefront of attacking the human trafficking issue head-on. International anti-human trafficking advocacy group Shared Hope International gave Georgia a score of 96—or a grade of A—for its efforts in eradicating human trafficking in the state. As they noted on their report card, “Georgia has comprehensive human trafficking and CSEC laws that can be used to combat demand. Further, state law prohibits the criminalization of minors for prostitution offenses and provides juvenile sex trafficking victims with a statutory avenue to specialized services.”
Georgia is also in the process of revamping its statewide human trafficking service delivery plan to include both children and adults, sex trafficking and labor trafficking. On October 1, 2020, the state launched a new hotline number, 1-866-END-HTGA (1-866-363-4842). The hotline will be managed by the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Georgia and will cover both child and adult victims of sex trafficking as well as victims of labor trafficking. The state also opened the Receiving Hope Center earlier this year as a short-term residential intake facility for youth aged 12-17. The center provides medical care and mental health services as well as a school for residents to continue their educations.
It’s important that we understand who composes our most vulnerable populations so we can take measures to prevent child sex trafficking. Wild storylines of international trafficking rings complete with car chases and fight scenes are entertaining at the movie theater, but we must understand that trafficking looks much different in our local communities so we can effectively identify it and combat it on the ground.
Karla Jacobs is a Commissioner on the GCW.