Approximately 100 girls are trafficked every night in Georgia, causing civilian awareness and action to be a necessity. Special Agent Sarah Thomas spoke to a group of students and faculty at the University of West Georgia on Feb.19.
“I am in the child exploitation and computer crimes unit,” said Thomas, explaining her job as part of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation [GBI] Human Trafficking field. “The cases I normally work on are child exploitation, or human trafficking cases involving children.” Thomas went on to explain that a child is classified as any person under the age of 18. Exploitation is the use of force, fraud or coercion to make a child do something.
Thomas quickly shattered the common assumption that trafficking is something that happens in other countries.
“It is a big problem in the United States as well,” said Thomas. “Five years ago, Atlanta was number five in the nation [for human trafficking], and one of 14 cities with the highest incidents in child exploitation. Homeland Security recently came out with a study that listed Atlanta as being in the top five for [trafficking in] every nationality.”
Thomas informed her audience that there were several details that contributed to making Atlanta such a hot spot for trafficking.
Not only is Atlanta home to a large international airport, it has a thriving social calendar. Events that draw large crowds are the perfect cover for abductors.
“With any big event, you are going to have trafficking,” said Thomas. “The Final Four was huge for Atlanta. We had more cases during that week than we had the rest of the year combined.”
Although not as large or busy as Atlanta, Carrollton, Ga. is not exempt from human trafficking either. Thomas warned that as long as there are runaways in a city, there is trafficking and child exploitation.
“The majority of our victims are runaways,” said Thomas. “The most common age is twelve years old, although the youngest victim that I’ve ever had was eight years old.”
With this happening so close to home, Thomas’s main goal was to educate the audience on the warning signs. The most obvious signs of a child involved in the sex industry are tattoos and signs of physical or sexual violence.
“Unlike domestic [violence] cases, where they typically abuse on the torso or hidden areas to avoid detection, pimps aim for the neck, face or legs,” said Thomas. “They want to show not only that victim, but other victims as well what happens when a victim disobeys them.”
Thomas informed the crowd that the GBI is different from both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the local police department. With 15 offices in the state of Georgia, the GBI is a requested agency. This means that the GBI can only help out if a victim, witness or another organization requests aide.
Thomas wrapped up by giving the number of a hot line to report any suspicious activity. If you see suspicious activity or know anyone who you believe might be a victim of trafficking, call the GBI tip line at 1-800-567-6477.