Human trafficking is the second most prominent criminal activity in the world, said multiple speakers at last week’s forum about the issue hosted by the North Oconee Rotary Club at the Oconee County Civic Center. 

“Weapons you can only sell once or twice … whereas a human being, you can sell eight, nine, 15 times in an evening,” said keynote speaker Deborah Richardson, the executive director of the International Human Trafficking Institute within the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. 

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

But it is not just far away, or even in Atlanta that human trafficking happens. As Sheriff Berry indicated, gang activity also drives human trafficking in Oconee and surrounding counties. 

In 2018, there were two suspected cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children in Oconee County, according to the organization Georgia Cares. The Oconee County Sheriff’s Office also reported that the last sex trafficking victim they assisted was a 13-year-old girl who was being groomed by a 27-year-old man. 

Richardson described how the commonality with human trafficking victims is that they are vulnerable, whether due to their ages, economic circumstances, failed familial relationships, sexual orientations or living situations. 

Richardson elaborated that uplifting child welfare and support services could, on one hand, be the key to prevention so that children are not trafficked in the first place. She also shared that 80 percent of trafficked children in Georgia are also simultaneously enrolled in school. Richardson expounded upon how traffickers have transitioned to using social media apps to locate and groom victims. 

“Often times, it can be very surprising,” she said. “It’s not always another peer or someone their age.”

Richardson also underlined that labor trafficking is more prominent than sex trafficking in Georgia. Labor trafficking victims, who are forced to make products or offer services used everyday, work in environments ranging from farms and factories to construction sites, salons and private residences. 

Often times, Richardson described that people use products or services supported by trafficking out of ignorance.

If someone sees signs that another person is being trafficked, they should either contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733 with “HELP” or “INFO.”People reporting can also contact the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office. 

Resources for human trafficking survivors include: 

n The Cottage Sexual Assault Center and Children’s Advocacy Center

n Project Safe

n Divas Who Win Freedom Center

n Advantage Behavioral Health

n Athens-Clarke County Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners

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