Human trafficking in the suburbs?

I tend to be naïve. I’ve read about Atlanta being ranked one of the top cities for human trafficking. I’ve foolishly thought this is an “inside the perimeter” problem, maybe even just a downtown Atlanta issue.

Of the countless examples I’ve learned about, one goes like this. A 14-year-old child is recruited from a small village in Mexico to come to the U.S. She’s told there are men here who would love to marry her, or she can get an education and make a great deal of money.

At 14, I probably believed most of what the adults around me said as absolute truth. If I’d been raised in a poor or abusive home, I’d have been all the more likely to want to believe someone promising me a better life.

This young girl is smuggled across the border and introduced to drugs and alcohol to make her compliant. She eventually arrives at a home in Gwinnett. Quickly she learns she will be expected to have sex with numerous men to earn her keep. She’ll be threatened that her family back home will be killed, or told she will be arrested and deported if she doesn’t comply. She might hold out hope one of the men coming each night will want to marry her. Eventually she’ll be emotionally battered enough to believe she has no other options.

Sometimes it’s a runaway. Often a family member has already abused her. They are not all from other countries. Many are born right here in Georgia.

There are signs. A lot of late-night male traffic to and from the same home, apartment or extended-stay hotel, or numerous women living in one location, might suggest a brothel. Same thing might apply to an unusually busy nail salon or massage parlor.

A young girl under the age of eighteen with a man’s name tattooed on her neck or ankle can indicate a pimp has “branded” her.

An older man, who is not the girl’s father, speaking for a younger girl. He may act as her interpreter. She may have multiple cell phones. She may also have signs of beatings, rope or cigarette burns. These are red flags.

According to Mary Frances Bowley, founder and CEO of Wellspring Living, a faith-based rescue and rehabilitation organization, “We know from a study done a few years ago by the Schapiro Group that 42 percent of calls for sexual services are coming from the suburbs outside Atlanta.” Wellspring Living helps women by providing a safe place to heal both physically and emotionally and begin to survive childhood sexual abuse and exploitation.

If you suspect human trafficking might be occurring near you, please contact local police. Several organizations are helping these girls become survivors. Two excellent choices are www.wellspringliving.org and www.outofdarkness.org.

Karen Huppertz has lived in Gwinnett County for 14 years. Reach her at karenhuppertz@gmail.com.

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