Ever since the publication of the Urban Institute’s 2014 report on the illegal sex trade, the city of Atlanta has been trying to shake the unofficial title of “Sex Trafficking Capitol of the U.S.” Although it would take more research into the nationwide issue of sex trafficking to prove that Atlanta’s share of it is in fact the worst, the report did reveal Atlanta’s sex trafficking problem to be far larger than most locals would ever have guessed. As of 2007, the illegal sex industry was worth an estimated $290 million within Atlanta alone.
Both adults and children, male and female, are at risk of sex trafficking, but adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable. According to the Center for Public Policy Studies, about 374 underage girls are sold for sexual exploitation every month in Georgia, about 65% of them in the Atlanta. The average starting age is somewhere between 12 and 14.
Victims Usually Have No Idea What Their Options Are
Sex trafficking is “the use of force, coercion or deception to recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide, obtain, or maintain, another person for the purpose of commercial sexual activities.” This practice takes many forms and rarely matches the kidnapping scenario many people imagine. As a result, many sex trafficking victims don’t even realize that the label applies to them. Sex traffickers use a variety of manipulation techniques to convince their victims to keep quiet and continue working for them, including:
- Promising a better life in the future
- Controlling victims’ finances
- Posing as modeling/acting scouts
- Holding glamor photo shoots to connect victims’ self-esteem with sex work
- Threatening violence toward victims and their families
- Pretending romantic interest in their victims
- Encouraging and exploiting a fear of law enforcement
This final tactic has unfortunately been reinforced by law enforcement over the years. As embarrassingly recently as 2000, victims of sex trafficking in Georgia were treated as perpetrators of prostitution, regardless of age. Nowadays, while sex trafficking in Atlanta is still rampant, the legal status of victims has improved significantly. Anyone engaging in sexual acts while underage or coerced is no longer guilty of prostitution.
Under the updated laws, one 15-year-old took her chance to summon police to the Marietta hotel where she and other victims were being held. Her four captors are now charged with multiple counts of child sex trafficking, each carrying a minimum sentence of 25 years.
Sex Trafficking Relies on the Complicity of Hotel Management
Experienced sex traffickers are good at maintaining anonymity, but there are other guilty parties hiding in plain sight. Sex traffickers do business primarily in hotels, often with the approval of the owner, manager, or desk clerk. The Urban Institute’s study found that keeping “good relationships” with local hotels is standard practice. Some hotel managers take bribes, while others turn a blind eye to avoid alienating a huge portion of their client base. Harboring child sex trafficking is a felony, and these hotel owners are liable for the sexual violence taking place on their property.
If you think you or a loved one might have been a victim of child sex trafficking, learn more about how the Stoddard Firm holds sex trafficking enablers accountable and returns their ill-gotten profits to the hands of survivors.