EAST POINT, Ga. - Authorities said human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal activity in the United States and metro Atlanta is among the top cities.
Law enforcement officers said metro Atlanta’s reputation for having one of the world’s busiest airports, being a convention city and having a growing entertainment industry makes it a prime location for what is called modern day slavery.
“The same reasons we enjoy living and working and being in this area, are the same reasons that attract both the demand and supply side of human trafficking,” said Special Agent Brian Johnston with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Special Agent Johnston was one of several panelists who took part at an East Point community meeting, Tuesday evening. Leaders spoke about the growing human trafficking problem, adding that most of the cases in Georgia involve runaway teens or abandoned children.
Johnston said human trafficking is a very lucrative business. He said some criminals on their first or second convictions who know if they get caught again could face a long sentence, will swap over and begin exploiting children because they know they will make money and possibly never be caught.
“The average age of entry here in Georgia is about 13 and a half years old and what’s really particularly disturbing about that, most of the time in law enforcement we come in contact with them when they are 16 or 17 years old,” said Special Agent Johnston.
Despite what some may think, that human trafficking is a foreign problem, officials say it’s right here in our backyard.
“They are looking for children that are out on the streets, they are looking for runaways, they are looking at children who want to be a part of something, they are looking for love in the wrong places,” said Clayton County Chairman Jeff Turner.
“It is said that an exploiter is going to approach a child within 48 hours of being homeless,” said Special Agent Johnston.
The director of security for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport said the airport is educating their more than 60,000 employees to know what to look out for.
“We are so accustom to thinking it’s an older man and a young child or a young teenager, it could actually be someone of their age who has been groomed to help solicit other children into this type of lifestyle,” said Jan Lennon, Director of Security at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Experts said the community could also look out for warning signs of human trafficking. Some examples include an older boyfriend, multiple runways, branding (tattoos) and not maintaining eye contact.