After listening to state Attorney General Sam Olens last week, Rockdale County Rotarians learned it is going to take more than being startled by sex trafficking statistics in order to stamp it out.
Olens was the guest speaker at the club's Sept. 25 morning meeting. He presented the harsh realities around sex trafficking.
"I know that's not a great discussion for ten of eight in the morning, but it's a big problem we have," Olens said, identifying Georgia as being on the FBI's top 14 list of locations for sex trafficking.
According to Olens, an arrest or an indictment involving sex trafficking is happening every two weeks. And the children caught up in sex trafficking average 12 to 14 years old. Some are as young as nine years old. Victims are typically girls, but some boys are trafficked, as well. Most are American citizens.
"We're seeing runaways, kids who run from foster homes, kids who have troubled families, kids through DFCS," Olens said.
He described how traffickers find these children and offer them shelter and a sense of security while forcing them in to sex trafficking by drugging them or threatening the safety of their families. Olens called it a "gang mentality."
"Then, as soon as they're in there, they find they no longer have the ability to get out," Olens told the group. "They are, in essence, kidnapped."
Olens explained sex trafficking is often confused with prostitution. But the difference between a pimp working with prostitutes and a sex trafficker forcing minors is it is involuntary. These children are victims, Olens said.
In response to the problem, Olens said the state passed House Bill 200 a couple years ago and held various training sessions with several state and local law enforcement agencies. Olens pointed to a few specific examples where girls were rescued from the sex trafficking ring because of vigilant law enforcement.
"One of the parts of the bill that I really like...was training for law enforcement because whenever the DAs get training and the investigators get training, they look at these cases differently," Olens said. "And part of the process is knowing what to look for in the first place."
Aside from law enforcement and government officials, Olens stressed the importance of general public awareness.
Key to fighting Georgia's unwanted reputation as a hub for sex trafficking is attacking demand and cracking down on purchasers.
The typical purchaser is a middle class or affluent suburban white male, said Olens, and the volume of child sex trafficking often goes up during large sporting events.
A public advertising campaign and training for taxi drivers and hoteliers on what signs to look for has already started producing results, said Olens.
Olens showed the group of Rotarians a video public service announcement that feature Georgia's Not Buying It campaign and encouraged viewers to go to www.notbuyingit.org.
He also encouraged churches and other non-profit groups to get involved in the issue.
"We have to get the message across that No. 1 these girls need to be treated differently. These girls are victims," Olens said. "And No. 2, both the traffickers and the purchasers need to be treated differently, where they spend a long, long time in jail."
He pointed to Georgia Care Connection, a 24-hour hotline that offers information on safe houses and rehabilitation counseling for sex trafficking victims, and other non-profits that needed donations to operate effectively.
Olens concluded his talk by answering specific questions from the group.