Local experts: Human trafficking still a problem in Savannah

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – A new effort is underway Monday throughout the state to stop human trafficking in Georgia. Georgia’s First Lady Marty Kemp launched a program that trains people on how to spot a victim.

Local experts say enforcement of and investigations into human trafficking cases have increased, but it is still a big problem in the Coastal Empire.

Savanniahians, specifically, are at risk because the city hosts large events like the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, and it is located near major highways, interstates, and waterways.

“We know it’s still happening,” said Jose Gonzales, the president of Savannah Working Against Human Trafficking (SWAT) and committee member behind Savannah’s Traffick Jam 2020. “We know it’s not just sex trafficking. It’s labor trafficking. It’s domestic servitude trafficking. The more folks that understand what those signs and symptoms are… the better we are prepared.”

Ms. Kemp touches on those signs and symptoms in her Human Trafficking Awareness Training program. She says it was completed with the help of the Georgians for Refuge, Action, Compassion and Education Commission (GRACE) and the Georgia Department of Administrative Services.

“We cannot allow this terrible, criminal industry to plague our state, every community in Georgia and take advantage of our most vulnerable,” said Ms. Kemp.

Victims of sex trafficking — according to Gonzales and Ms. Kemp’s online program — are usually physically hurt, appear to be controlled by others or act hesitantly, among other things.

The Center for Public Policy Studies reports that 374 girls are commercially sexually exploited each month in the state of Georgia.

Gonzales says victims are usually people who are homeless, minors who ran away from home or others who have experienced instability, trauma or abuse.

“We’ve been told [to] stick to your business and sometimes we don’t want to stare. We don’t want to take that extra glance. But if we take that extra glance, we may be a little closer to seeing some of those indicators,” said Gonzales.

If you spot a potential victim, Gonzales says to call police, CrimeStoppers or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.

“Please do not approach a potential trafficking victim or a potential human trafficker himself. That is big money. There’s a lot invested in this money operation. It could be dangerous not only for the victim, but for the person trying to rescue,” said Gonzales.

Traffick Jam 2020 will host hundreds of people — from police officers to healthcare professionals — to train and teach them how to care, spot and deal with trafficking victims.

Unlike others in the nation, Savannah’s conference is free to anyone who registers on their website. The conference is happening on January 25 from 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

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