Human trafficking is a global problem. But it’s quickly gaining local media attention as people learn how prevalent the problem is in cities such as Atlanta, Phoenix and New York, among others.
Local law enforcement agencies say it is more challenging than ever to crack down on the ‘johns.’
“The issue with prosecuting buyers -- or ‘johns’ as some people call them -- typically they're not known to the victim,” said Cobb County Police Detective Carol Largent. “They may not know a first name, a last name; know what they drive, where they live. They may not be able to give us any information about them.”
People and especially adolescent girls are not being sold in one concentrated area. Recent data about Georgia’s commercial sexual exploitation of children, gathered by A Future. Not a Past., debunks the myth that human trafficking, specifically child exploitation, is exclusive to urban city limits. The study says men who respond to advertisements for sex with young girls come from all over metro Atlanta.
While many of the men who exploit these children are not seeking adolescent females exclusively, the study shows about 50 percent are willing to pay for sex with a young female -- even if they know for sure she is younger than the age of consent in Georgia, which is 16.
“If you can't identify them because you don't have enough information to identify them -- then it makes it very difficult to prosecute them,” Largent said.
And after the ‘johns’ are under arrest, law enforcement want to make sure they’re convicted. Therein lies a second challenge.
“We can make an arrest for the charge, but in the event it goes to trial -- one of the things you have to be able to show is that elements of that crime have been met beyond a reasonable doubt,” Largent said. “So, if the code section itself can be a little confusing -- that can be confusing to a jury. Child molestation is much, much less confusing for a jury pool to see elements of that crime have been met.”
Largent says that’s why her agency has arrested, charged and sentenced only one predator for child molestation over the past year. However, there’s no short of cases.
“We're averaging two or three cases a month; most of the cases we're seeing -- the buyers are not known to them, we can't identify them if we don't have somewhere to start,” she said.
Tougher laws have made life easier for law enforcement. Just last year Georgia lawmakers passed House Bill 200: Freedom from Human Trafficking Act. The bill expands the definition of “coercion,” it provides defense for prostitution victims, and it increases the penalties for perpetrators -- among other things.
However, according to Shared Hope International, a non-profit group based in Washington --more needs to be done. Not only in the state of Georgia, but across the nation.
Shared Hope International partnered with the American Center for Law and Justice to conduct a comprehensive study of each state’s existing laws. It also looks at what the state is doing to assist victims.
“This is based on over a year of research. Based on research compiled in something we’ve been working on for quite some time. We’ve seen a great response,” said Eliza Reock, the director of programs at Shared Hope International. “Organizations are raising awareness from the report as a tool.”
At the end of the study, each state was given a grade, depending on the the level of protection in each state. The results show that as a nation, a lot of work needs to be done.
In the report, more than 50 percent of the nation’s states do not have laws providing adequate protection to child victims of domestic minor sex trafficking. In fact, West Virginia, Maine, Wyoming and Virginia do not have clear human trafficking laws, period. Some use abduction laws and others use kidnapping laws to prosecute pimps and ‘johns.’
Reock said more work needs to be done at the state level. Only four states received a ‘B’ on the grading scale and six states received a ‘C.’ About 26 states failed. She says there are strong federal guidelines that states should look at.
“What we really say is we want to create a safer environment for children,” she said.
With increasing awareness, there’s been a push from corporations with money, power and influence to make a change.
ManpowerGroup is one of the largest job placement and consulting firms in the world. The company has a presence in more than 95 countries. Over the past few years, ManpowerGroup’s executives and employees have taken the human trafficking epidemic head-on. It’s leading a global example.
“The sense of responsibility on human trafficking doesn’t come from our presence; it comes from our company values,” said David Arkless, the president of corporate and government affairs.
Arkless remembers when he was approached and first learned just how deep human trafficking had infiltrated corporations across the globe. The knowledge left him speechless.
“I was led into the absolutely scary and dreadful statistics of more than 30, 000 people a day being trafficked. Thirty to 40 million people are trafficked on an annual basis around the world -- many of them women and children,” he said. “So we think it is important to communicate this.
"Not just our employees, but also to the external business community. I still go to chairmen and CEOs of very large companies and say: ‘What are you doing about human trafficking? How are you checking your supply chains? What are you doing to make sure that nowhere in the world are you using human beings as a commodity?’”
He went on to say companies are not always aware there is a problem in their supply chain; they could be abusing people and running normal human beings into bonded labor or even modern-day slavery.
So how can the trend shift?
Penalties for offenders.
“The other thing we think corporations can do is to have policies inside of the company. Human resources policies, accounting policies that say 'sorry, when you’re on company business it’s really against the values of our company to hire a prostitute,'” he said.
“Here are the consequences of doing that. That’s where that woman came from, that’s what she is getting herself into. That’s how the gangs run her, that’s what's going to happen to her in five years when she’s not quite as pretty as she is now. So I think there are a number of ways corporations can get involved because somewhere in your supply chain you’re going to find the scary fact.”
The time is now for corporations to adopt awareness policies. During this recession, the number of trafficked people has risen considerably, Arkless said. This problem isn’t getting better.