There were 169 arrests during an 11-day investigation into human trafficking throughout metro Atlanta leading up to the Super Bowl, the FBI said Tuesday. But that substantial number came as no surprise to the investigators involved.
“Sex trafficking is a problem that occurs every day of the year in every city and in every town in the country,” FBI Special Agent Taylor Dervish told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Throw in a major event such as the Super Bowl — which brings more people, money and crime — and the likelihood rises, Dervish said.
Sex trafficking can be a large, commercial operation, but investigators with the Metro Atlanta Child Exploitation Task Force (MATCH) are also focused on other sex crimes, such as prostitution.
“We’re looking at a sex act in which anything of value is exchanged,” Dervish said.
Among those arrested before the Super Bowl were 26 suspects alleged to be sex traffickers and 34 suspects who allegedly attempted to engage in sex acts with minors, according to the FBI. Nine juvenile victims of sex trafficking were rescued, including a 14-year-old. Nine other trafficking victims were also identified. The victims were all provided assistance and treatment, the FBI said.
The names of those charged and the specific charges were not released. In addition to sex trafficking, there were prostitution, pimping, drugs and weapons charges filed. All of those arrested are facing state charges, the FBI said, though the investigations are continuing.
Prostitution, pimping and pandering are easily defined in Georgia law. But human trafficking, a more serious charge, can include a variety of acts, according to Chuck Boring, Cobb County assistant district attorney.
“The definition is wider for human trafficking,” Boring said. “It captures a lot of different activity.”
The trafficking law is applied differently based on the age of the alleged victim, he said.
“If it’s an adult victim, it’s only human trafficking if it involves coercion or deception,” Boring said.
The coercion and deception can take a variety of forms, including threatening violence or forcing a victim to remain under the influence of drugs, he said. Coercion or deception is not required to charge someone with sex trafficking when the victim is under 18 or an adult with a developmental disability.
The penalties for those convicted of trafficking juveniles are also tougher. Human traffickers who target minors now face 25 years to life in prison and can also be fined up to $100,000, according to the office of State Attorney General Chris Carr.
More than 25 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and district attorneys’ offices, along with seven non-government organizations, participated in the operation, according to Kevin Rowson, FBI spokesman. The GBI, Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Homeland Security and police departments in Cobb, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Fulton and Clayton counties were among the agencies involved.
“From January 23, 2019, to February 2, 2019, the operation’s goal was to raise awareness about sex trafficking by proactively addressing that threat during the Super Bowl and events leading up to the Super Bowl,” Rowson said in a press release.
Arrests were also made in outer metro counties, including Coweta and Forsyth, Dervish said. On Tuesday, the Dunwoody Police Department said 30 people were arrested for an alleged commercial sex-trafficking operation. The arrests included 19 prostitution charges, nine pimping charges, two pandering charges, and one charge each for trafficking and enticing a child, according to Sgt. Robert Parsons.
“The goal of operations such as these is to first and foremost rescue any children or young adults who are victims of sex trafficking,” Dunwoody Chief Billy Grogan said. “We also want to remove those profiting from commercial sex trafficking from our streets by putting them in jail.”
The FBI numbers were released a day after the GBI announced 21 people were arrested during a five-day operation that began Jan. 30. “Operation Interception,” based in Brookhaven, resulted in arrests for computer pornography, child exploitation and trafficking, the GBI said. Many of those arrested, who ranged in age from 20 to 55, traveled from areas around metro Atlanta with the intent to meet a child for sex, the GBI said.