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According to data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the sex and labor trafficking crisis in Atlanta is larger than in the major capital cities of Minneapolis, Boston, and Pittsburg combined.

Artwork by Hunter Buchheit, VOX Teen Staff

What Atlanta Teens Need to Know About Human Trafficking — And How to Keep Yourself Safe

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Your friends may make light-hearted jokes about white passenger vans with external locks. Conspiracy theories claiming Hillary Clinton was running a sex trafficking ring in the basement of a Washington D.C pizza restaurant —dubbed “pizzagate” —circulated during the 2016 presidential election. You may hear rumors that items listed for sale on popular online shopping websites with unusually high prices are a way to launder money when selling a trafficked person. These rumors, disproved by The Polaris Project, one of the leading national organizations working against trafficking, demonstrate the state of what our country’s human trafficking situation currently looks like.

When someone is constrained or forced to perform sexually without their consent, it is sex trafficking, which, like its counterpart, labor trafficking, is a type of subjugation. Contrary to popular opinion, trafficking does not always take place where, or how, you may expect it to. It can occur inside your own city, home, or school. It very well may be executed by a colleague, trusted peer, or even a relative or partner. If someone is younger than 18, it is unneeded to prove coercion in trafficking cases. 

Trafficking By The Numbers

Youth most prone to become victims of sex trafficking cases often have other related susceptibilities that mark them as targets of such horrid abuse. A 2014 study conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation claims that 56% of Georgia’s human trafficking victims are minors, with 35% of those being non-U.S citizens. Lack of citizenship documentation, along with other factors such as facing poverty, current or past involvement in the United States’ child welfare program, addiction to substances, being a victim of previous abuse, being a part of LGBTQ+ community, increase your statistical risk of being trafficked, as stated by Shared Hope International, an organization dedicated to bringing an end to sex trafficking . Many of these factors align with the minority-built demographic of Atlanta.  Still, anyone can become a victim, and it is never their fault. The responsibility falls solely on the abuser and perpetrator.

Georgia’s Human Trafficking Crime Unit

According to data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the sex and labor trafficking crisis in Atlanta is larger than in the major capital cities of Minneapolis, Boston, and Pittsburg combined. On October 8, 2021, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr announced that the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit’s office obtained two lengthy prison sentences for Keron Hamilton and Meyetta King-Brown, both 27, for trafficking a 16 year old girl back in 2017 for sexual servitude. The two transported the young girl to a hotel off of Interstate Parkway North of Cobb County for the purpose of sexual servitude. According to court documents, King-Brown arranged for the minor to perform numerous sex acts with a man they had been communicating with on an online chat application.

Unbeknownst to Hamilton and King-Brown, the individual on the online chat application was an undercover officer working as part of an operation with the Cobb County Police Department. Thankfully, the victim was recovered. The two suspects were found at a nearby gas station and reported to police that they were only giving the minor a ride and had no knowledge of her activities that night. Hamilton and King-Brown were taken into custody and their trial took place between 2019 and 2021. Hamilton was sentenced to 30 years to serve in prison and King-Brown was sentenced to 20 years to serve in prison. The convictions were the first ones prosecuted under Georgia’s new Human Trafficking Unit. Attorney General Chris Carr said, “I am pleased with the sentences handed down in this historic case, but we will not stop here. I stated when the Human Trafficking Unit was starting that we will work every single day with all of our law enforcement partners to protect our state’s most vulnerable and put buyers and traffickers behind bars. This is justice for the victims, a great result for Georgia and our Human Trafficking Unit.”

A $150 Billion Industry

After the drug trade, human trafficking is matched only by the illegal weapons market as the second biggest criminal industry – and is viewed as the quickest developing – producing $150 billion a year for the world’s economy, according to the data featured in the 2014 ILO report.

Sexual maltreatment and abuse are often fatal civil rights issues affecting teens and families across the United States. The size of the illegal exploitation issue in Georgia is both challenging to quantify and considerably more challenging to battle. Many cases go unseen. The migratory and ever-growing nature of the crime may confuse investigations and, because of corruption, trafficking may very well go unpoliced within government networks. Further worsening the issue is Georgia’s vigorous travel industry and agriculture enterprises which present abusers with an almost perfect chance to act. Airports Council International reports, “While the numbers are difficult to quantify, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport continues to shine a light into the dark waters of the human slave trade.” The high volume of passenger movement at Atlanta’s busy airport significantly raises the threat of trafficking in our city. 

Who is at Risk

Survivors of sex trafficking seldom seek help for various reasons including, however not restricted to: the staggering injury and dread they encountered throughout their horrific abuse, reliance on their dealer, a general absence of comprehension of their freedoms or the anxiety toward being charged as a criminal themselves. These reasons are frequently compounded in unfamiliar or non-U.S. resident casualties who might fear removal, experience language obstructions, or dread law enforcement offices. 

How are Atlanta’s teens supposed to ask for help when it feels like nobody is listening?

Do Georgia’s citizens see the scope of this issue? Victims of trafficking have been found in both legal and illegal settings. Most of these exploitations are set in the commercial sex industry, factories, hotels, restaurants, as domestic workers, and by marriage brokers and some adoption firms. The National Human Trafficking Hotline, an anti-trafficking hotline and resource center that serves victims and survivors of human trafficking, has worked tirelessly to provide solutions to the ongoing spread of trafficking. Still, their attempts, while admirable, are not enough. We spoke to Jennie Matos, a 16 year old student attending The Lovett School, to get her opinion on the crisis. When asked about how Atlanta’s trafficking crisis makes her feel, Jennie replied, “It makes me uneasy and a bit anxious when going out in public. There’s a lot of places where I feel nervous going by myself due to fear of the human trafficking that’s going on this city. It’s incredibly depressing to see awful people take advantage of young girls, knowing [good and well] that we are vulnerable.” Scared Atlanta teens, like Jennie, may be made vulnerable by their identities, are afraid, and have now grown to become weary of their surroundings to keep themselves safe. 

Help at Covenant House

According to Covenant House, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization supporting youth facing homelessness, the main risk factors for trafficking include needs being unmet or insecure, dealing with past traumatic experiences, being a victim of online luring/grooming, lack of knowledge about what makes a healthy relationship, and being poorly educated about the vulnerabilities that lead to being trafficked. It is necessary to recognize the economic factors that make people susceptible to becoming victims, and Covenant House is a strong resource for anyone facing homelessness or victims of trafficking. This recognition becomes even more necessary when taking into consideration that one in five runaway and homeless youth are victims of human trafficking, according to the National Network for Youth.

In June 2021, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that 39 children, 15 of whom authorities said were trafficked for sex, were recovered in 2020 during a two-week operation in metro Atlanta and Macon. Those recovered ranged in age from 3 years old to 17 and had been missing from about two weeks to two years, authorities confirmed. The article also reported that 20 children ranged in age from 6 weeks to 17 years old and were recovered mainly from Cobb, Gwinnett, Fulton and DeKalb counties, Katie Byrd, communications director for the Attorney General’s Office, told AJC in an email. A survivor that was recovered from a similar situation was transported to the Children’s Advocacy Center for comprehensive care and explained her thoughts on online luring and healthy relationships, “I don’t think any of us, especially if we didn’t grow up with a healthy relationship around us, really know what that is . .  I think we’re vulnerable to it because either you weren’t educated about it or you didn’t see it growing up.”

How To Protect Yourself

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— Practice online safety! Abusers often use digital platforms to access and groom minors into further states of vulnerability. The internet has made victims more accessible.

— Be aware of your surroundings.

— Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help if you are concerned about a potential human trafficking situation. Call 1-888-373-7888, text HELP to BEFREE (233733), or email help@humantraffickinghotline.org.


Co-written by VOX Media Cafe 2022 reporters Asia Rodney-Collins and Z’Rena Williams.

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