“Flaco who will now die in prison for being a sex trafficker,” says Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Gilluly tells a crowd Monday. There is a quiet round of applause, maybe because the topic being discussed is not one for the kind of raucous response one might normally get in recounting victory.
The topic here is the worst, human trafficking and specifically sex trafficking.
Gilluly was one of a number of speakers at a Child Sex Trafficking Conference sponsored by the city of Savannah. Gillully talked about one of the worst cases locally, i.e. one several years ago in which a man from Mexico was arrested at a Savannah apartment for running an international sex trafficking ring. Twelve victims were rescued, all of them girls brought to America on the promise they would have a better life.
The case is an example of national, state and local law enforcement working together. It’s also about big headlines. Monday’s conference however was about the cases that frankly never become cases in terms of arrests, about lost children, and most of them from here, not somewhere else. “Clearly there’s a perception that it involves poor kids more than rich kids and that a lot of these kids come from abroad,” said Georgia’s Attorney General Sam Olens. “Absolutely not true. We see some form Latin America and Central America, but it’s our kids that we are generally seeing.
Olens says many children at risk have been abused and run away from home. But he also said “There’s the idea all of these kids in trouble are poor and that’s not always the case at all.”
The conference, sponsored by the city of Savannah, brought together a list of people who want to help children, some representing social service agencies. There was also the department of Homeland Security, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Chatham County District Attorney’s office.
“For too long people didn’t talk about it, they’re disgusted at the thought of it,” said Olens.
The attorney general says he understands it’s a difficult topic, but the point needs to be helping more of the children and arresting those that profit from the sex trafficking. “These folks deserve to rot in jail, but we need to train, we need to train law enforcement, we need to train school systems,” said Olens.
To that end, the U.S. Attorney’s office is forming a new task force asking for all of us to get involved. “So if you’re a citizen or member of public service agency and you want to help with this problem, you can join the task force where you can come up with techniques and policies so we can address this problem,” said U.S. Attorney Edward Tarver.
Authorities say teachers and neighbors can help by paying attention to children and noticing who they may be hanging out with for example. They say teachers can notice if a child has a lot of absences at school and then shows up with expensive things and with an adult that school officials may wonder about.
You can also help by calling authorities. Gilluly says “an average person can be aware and something a simple as simple as a phone call makes a difference. He says in the “El Flaco” case, a citizen called police after that person noticed a line of men standing outside the apartment door.