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Ivanka Trump meets with sex trafficking victims in Atlanta

Adviser to the President Ivanka Trump tours a local safe haven in Atlanta on Tuesday. She toured two facilities in the city that help survivors. President Donald Trump has listed fighting sex trafficking as a priority, as have Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and first lady Marty Kemp. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Adviser to the President Ivanka Trump tours a local safe haven in Atlanta on Tuesday. She toured two facilities in the city that help survivors. President Donald Trump has listed fighting sex trafficking as a priority, as have Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and first lady Marty Kemp. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Andrea came to Wellspring Living addicted to drugs, estranged from her family, desperate and unemployable.

A dozen years later, she’s director of a residential program at the Atlanta nonprofit that helps women like her who have been sexually exploited. Andrea choked back tears Tuesday as she told Ivanka Trump, Gov. Brian Kemp and other government officials about the program that turned her life around.

“You name it, I had done it — things that I’m not proud to talk about,” she told those who gathered at a Wellspring campus in south Fulton County.

Andrea was one of several victims who shared their stories with President Donald Trump’s daughter and adviser, and others who came to Atlanta to highlight their efforts to combat human trafficking.

Trump said her father’s administration is “committed to bringing the full force and weight of the U.S. government to solve the horrific problem of trafficking in persons.” The governor and Georgia’s first lady, Marty Kemp, also pledged their efforts, which will include legislation increasing penalties for those convicted of sex trafficking.

Despite the star power of the event, it was the stories of the victims that riveted a small audience that included U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr and GBI Director Vic Reynolds.

“You really represent resilience and strength on a level we will never know,” Trump told the women who testified.

Definitive statistics on human trafficking are hard to come by. According to a presentation Tuesday, there were 276 reported cases of trafficking in Atlanta in 2017. But hundreds more are believed to have gone unreported.

The women who spoke Tuesday agreed to share their stories on the condition that their last names not be publicized. All sought help at Wellspring, which provides therapy, housing, education, job training and other assistance to women and children who have been sexually exploited.

“They’re the strongest women you’ll ever meet,” said Mary Frances Bowley, Wellspring’s executive director. “They’ve suffered the worst of humanity. Because of the people who have chosen to help us, they’ve seen the best of humanity.”

JoJo, another Wellspring alum, spoke about being abused as a child. With the program’s help, she now works at Fab’rik, an upscale boutique that provides free shopping sprees for girls in need.

And Jessica came to Wellspring after years of abuse and addiction.

“It was like a never-ending story. There was never going to be an exit,” she said. “I’m here to say today, there is definitely an exit.”

Federal and state officials pledged their help. Trump cited bipartisan legislation her father has signed over the past three years. Later this month the White House will host a summit of government officials, employers and others seeking solutions to modern slavery.

The Kemps have also made trafficking a priority. On Monday, the first day of the legislative session, Marty Kemp unveiled a new training program to help identify sex trafficking victims.

“You are very brave to tell your story,” the governor told the victims who spoke Tuesday. “People are listening now. Your fellow Georgians are listening.”