Atlanta Mayor Dickens joins Georgia first lady, public officials to condemn human trafficking

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens joined several local and statewide officials at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Monday, Jan. 31, 2022, to condemn human trafficking. (City of Atlanta)

Credit: City of Atlanta

Credit: City of Atlanta

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens joined several local and statewide officials at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Monday, Jan. 31, 2022, to condemn human trafficking. (City of Atlanta)

A dozen Georgia state leaders and local officials held a Monday press conference at Atlanta’s airport to highlight ongoing partnerships formed to fight human trafficking.

Georgia First Lady Marty Kemp, who has worked with lawmakers to craft anti-trafficking bills, said the General Assembly will consider legislation to add human trafficking to the list of offenses for which bail can be granted only by superior court judges.

The state is opening a second recovery facility for survivors of human trafficking this summer, Kemp said. She also said the proposed state budget offers more resources to the human trafficking prosecution unit in the state attorney general’s office.

Several officials at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport used every word imaginable to castigate the buyers and sellers of trafficking victims. Clayton County Chairman Jeff Turner called human trafficking a hideous crime. Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat called it the most despicable act in society. Balram Bheodari, the airport’s general manager, called a scourge on the planet.

Governor Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp at the capitol in Atlanta, October 21, 2020. JOHN AMIS FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: John Amis

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Credit: John Amis

“I personally believe there’s a place in hell for anybody that would engage in this business,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said. “There’s a place in jail for those who are caught in Atlanta.”

Dickens said it breaks his heart that Atlanta is considered one of the nation’s top cities for child sex trafficking. He said the underground commercial sex industry accounts for an estimated $300 million a year, and he called the city’s airport a landing spot for traffickers and their victims.

But Dickens and Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said the city is working with every law enforcement agency available to ensure the safety of everyone at the airport. The officials urged airport passengers and employees to report anything that looks unusual.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said his office initiated 25 cases that resulted in 100 arrests, 51 defendant prosecutions, and the rescue of 107 victims — all in the last year. Just this month alone, Carr said the state has indicted 15 defendants, including nine people charged with solicitation in Fulton County.

Carr’s office announced last week that 10 people were indicted in Fulton County thanks to “Operation Not Forgotten 2020,” which occurred in collaboration with federal officials, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and other state and local agencies.

Investigators rescued 26 children and arrested nine people. The defendants face life sentences.

“We will leave no stone unturned and we will not let the people of Georgia down,” Carr said. “The more people we have working together, the more lives we can change.”

Human trafficking is the crime of kidnapping, coercing, or selling people for prostitution or forced labor. According to the federal Department of Homeland Security, traffickers use violence, false promises of good jobs, or romantic relationships to lure millions of men, women and children into this practice.

The fight against human trafficking is one of the main battles that elicits bipartisan support. Gov. Brian Kemp has signed seven forms of unanimously passed of legislation over the last three years to protect survivors and to increase penalties against perpetrators of human trafficking.

Atlanta Public School Board member Erika Mitchell said several APS students were sold into human trafficking for sexual exploitation, including one as young as age 12. She said, “our students are not for sale” and vowed that APS will collaborate with law enforcement to protect children.