If you think Atlanta traffic is congested now, wait until February 3, when the Super Bowl comes to town and 1.5 million football fans are added to your commute, and bring it to a crawl. That’s enough people to fill the 71,000-seat Mercedes-Benz Stadium 24 times. We’ve all been there, stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic while you’re late for a meeting, trying to pick up your child from daycare before you’re charged that late fee, or rushing to catch a flight.
However, there is something more sinister happening within the nation’s transportation network that must be brought to light: Human trafficking. Georgians often tout that one of our biggest strengths is our connectivity: home to the world’s busiest airport; No. 2 transportation infrastructure in the nation; and we operate the nation’s largest and second-busiest container port right here in Savannah. However, our state’s extensive transportation network along with many others allows human traffickers to take advantage of our most vulnerable citizens.
Georgia ranks No. 8 in human trafficking cases reported, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. And during the chaos and traffic of the Super Bowl, trafficking is expected to be at an all-time high. “Major events, like the Super Bowl, can often lure traffickers who engage in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking,” says Bob Rodgers, President, and CEO of Street Grace, an Atlanta-based organization created to combat and end Human Trafficking in Metro Atlanta and throughout the U.S. According to Homeland Security, Human Trafficking is defined as “modern-day slavery” and 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 Transportation, as many as 20 million men, women, and children are held against their will and trafficked into forced labor and prostitution.
Traffickers in Atlanta are grossing an average of $33,000 per week, according to the Urban Institute. The U.S. Department of Transportation collaborates with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to create a Blue Lightning Initiative – an initiative that trains personnel within the aviation industry on how to identify potential traffickers and human trafficking victims. The Department is currently working on a collection of anti-human trafficking awareness training for the aviation, motorcoach, and rail industries. To date, more than 100,000 personnel in the aviation industry have been trained through the BLI. Georgia’s transportation infrastructure and expansive network play a role in how these crimes are committed. The Office of the Attorney General Chris Carr, alongside the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Street Grace, are working hard to combat human trafficking through their “Demand an End” campaign, a comprehensive campaign aimed at addressing the demand for human trafficking with a focus on providing education and creating awareness. The Georgia Department of Transportation is supporting its efforts to help bring further awareness to this massive problem. Amid Super Bowl LIII festivities, more than 10,000 trained volunteers will be on the streets on alert for human trafficking, Rodgers said. They will be stationed at key points around the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and ready to report any suspicious activities. Human trafficking often operates in plain sight and can be hard to identify at first glance.
When asked to give tips on identifying the crime taking place in a public setting, Rodgers said that it’s a tough question to answer because all encounters and circumstances can be very different. “It can be incredibly difficult,” Rogers pointed out. “If you find yourself in a situation where you feel it in your gut that something just isn’t right — seeing a young girl that may be with an older man or wearing out-of-season clothes. Having the courage to reach out to law enforcement to let them know what’s going on will be the key at that moment.” A month before the Super Bowl, Street Grace will host an event to bring awareness to human trafficking. Seventy-three school buses will travel down Peachtree Street to a Lenox Mall to Atlantic Station. The event will be followed by a press conference to help bring awareness and education to the public. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Kennesaw State University, and Batten & Barton & Durstine & Osborn advertising agency are collaborating with Street Grace to make this event a success. TRAFFICKING IN THE SUBURBS Many = believe that human trafficking is a crime that takes place in the shadows of society. That it’s limited to inside the perimeter. But it’s everywhere including in affluent neighborhoods. According to a study done by the Shapiro Group in 2010, 7,200 men purchase sex from a minor every month in Georgia. To combat human trafficking we must first eliminate the demand for it.
A total stranger walks up and offers you the opportunity to travel for free. There’s only one condition. You have to leave the country, leave everything and everyone you know immediately. Would you do it? Unfortunately, the scenario happens to millions of young migrants between the ages of 12 and 14 years old all the time. Many of whom have endured unimaginable hardships already and are seeking a better life. Air travel is expected to double over the next two decades, according to the International Air Transport Association, and unfortunately, it is reported to be one of the most common ways traffickers move their victims due to accessibility and the sheer volume of travelers making it easy to hide. Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport has been the World’s Busiest Airport by passenger traffic since 1998 – accommodating over 100 million passengers in 2017 alone – and they have boots on the ground fighting. The airport held a training session for airline and airport workers on how to recognize signs of human trafficking and to increase public awareness and implemented an airport-wide public service announcement broadcast on monitors in all terminals regarding human trafficking, how to spot it and how to report it. In 2017, the airport, Delta Air Lines, and Rotary International worked to bring a traveling art exhibit with portraits of human trafficking survivors to the domestic terminal atrium. The exhibit, coordinated by the Center for Civil and Human Rights was Freedom Expressions ATL. The airline industry recognizes that it can play a vital role in helping to prevent this crime. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the trade association for the world’s airlines, passed a resolution denouncing human trafficking at their last Annual Meeting. The resolution asks airlines to commit to staff training and reporting regarding human trafficking. Eighty-Two Percent of total air traffic or 290 airlines are represented by the IATA (KL).
The transportation industry is taking a united stand to stop the flow of human trafficking through America’s transportation system. Nevertheless, human trafficking is a growing concern within the nation’s rest areas and truck stops. Truckers travel to every corner of the U.S., and with an estimated 3.5 million drivers, they outnumber law enforcement three to one. Commercially operated truck stops, as well as state-operated rest areas and welcome centers, are ideal settings for trafficking. Due to their remote locations and frequent visitors, human traffickers can quickly move victims without consequence. Thankfully, organizations like Truckers Against Trafficking – a nonprofit organization that exists to train members of the trucking and busing industries on methods to combat human trafficking – have certified more than 573,000 people in and around the trucking industry and law enforcement. On the federal level, the US Department of Transportation’s Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking initiative – comprised of over 200 transportation and travel industry organizations – is doing its part in combating human trafficking. The initiative was put in place to spread awareness, industry training, and educate stakeholders in the transportation industry, policy development, and information sharing and analysis. US Department of Transportation mandates that all of their 55,000 employees take human trafficking awareness training in 2012, and every three years thereafter. U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao appointed 15 members to the department’s new Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking. The committee consists of stakeholders from trafficking advocacy groups, law enforcement, and groups representing all facets of the transportation sector: trucking, bus, rail, aviation, maritime, and port sectors, including industry and labor. The committee will work across all modes of transportation to create strategies to identify and prevent human trafficking in the transportation industry.
Awareness is just the beginning to rectify one of our city’s most pressing issues. The next step is action. Georgia Senator Renee Unterman has championed many initiatives and several bills focused on ending human trafficking, an issue she is so passionate about. “These pieces of legislation have been a long-time dedication of mine,” said Sen. Unterman. “Unfortunately, sex trafficking is an issue that is more prevalent than ever before in our state. This legislation is the beginning of a long road to stopping a problem that is affecting too many of our citizens. The fight is not over and I will continue to do everything in my power to propose legislation to protect citizens who are victims of sex trafficking.” In 2015, Senator Renee Unterman sponsored Senate Bill 8 also known as the “Safe Harbor/Rachel’s Law Act.” The bill mandates that convicted human traffickers register as sex offenders. The legislation also strengthens the current laws that deal with human trafficking, including the additional fines for adults and adult entertainment businesses that violate the law. Human trafficking is not a victimless crime. We are all accountable when it comes to educating those around us. One of the most important acts we can do as a community, to stop human trafficking is to support anti-trafficking legislation and initiatives. One victim of human trafficking is too many. Together we can help free our state from human trafficking and the damage it causes to countless individuals.