Human sex trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar industry that is thriving in the shadows of American society – including right here in Columbus, Georgia. The practice is growing and pimps are using increasingly sophisticated means to trap victims, with devastating consequences.
Many victims are controlled through psychological means, such as the threat of violence, manipulation and lies. Others experience outright physical harm from beatings, rape and other acts of violence. Many become addicted to drugs. And the emotional and spiritual damage is immeasurable. Moreover, the issue tends to be misunderstood within the criminal justice system, with minors frequently being charged as criminals rather than treated as victims.
According to a 2010 report by the U.S. Department of State, “Women continue to be enslaved in commercial sex around the world. They are often arrested for participating in a crime that victimizes them when they should instead be provided with services and benefit from a well-trained police force implementing proven and compassionate victim identification measures.”
It is essential to understand that victims usually do not self-identify. There are numerous reasons for this, including but not limited to use of threats and extreme violence to hold victims in a constant state of fear and obedience, brainwashing and psychological manipulation, and distrust of law enforcement or service providers.
You might ask, is sex trafficking really happening in Columbus? Consider the following:
• Law enforcement agencies commonly cite a trickle-down effect of sex trafficking from Atlanta to smaller cities in the Southeast including Columbus.
• Wellspring Living in Atlanta has provided services for girls who have been trafficked in Columbus.
• Tajaun McCarty, founder of The WellHouse (a shelter for trafficked women in Birmingham, Alabama), was trafficked as a teenager and young adult throughout the Southeast, including Columbus.
• According to research by the Polaris Project, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, common recruiting locations for pimps include junior high/high schools, court buildings, bus stations, parks and playgrounds, shopping malls, halfway houses, homeless shelters and foster homes – all of which Columbus has.
• A 2013 Polaris Project report on human trafficking trends in the U.S. revealed cases of trafficking reported in all 50 states between December 2007 and December 2012.
• More than 42% of sex trafficking cases represent pimp-controlled coerced prostitution.
• DMST research also shows that pimps purposefully target minors.
• A study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania estimates that 300,000 youth are at risk of becoming victims. Other organizations have estimated the number to be as high as 800,000.
• The average age of a child first used in coerced prostitution is 11 to 14.
• Once a child becomes a victim of DMST, their average lifespan is seven years from that point.