News 12 First at Five/ August 29, 2013
AUGUSTA, Ga.--Human sex trafficking is a problem that's gaining a lot
of attention here in our area. Law enforcement from six counties across the area met at the First Presbyterian Church of Augusta Thursday to get the latest training.
It's all in an effort to spot the signs, and fight what's becoming a growing problem. Elizabeth Smith, says, "We know it's an issue, and I suspect you'll see cases begin to arise a lot more now that our law enforcement knows what they're looking for and has training on it."
Elizabeth Smith started the non profit, I'm Aware, to focus on the problem of sex trafficking in our area. She says there are four risk factors that indicate a city has a problem. "The first would be a major thoroughfare, the second would be a major sporting event, the third would be any migrant community, and the fourth would be a population over 200,000. Out of those four indicators, we have all 4," she points out.
Recent stings helped open a lot of local eyes to the problem, like the FBI's Operation Cross Country VII that led to the arrest of 9 alleged prostitutes and 2 alleged pimps in Augusta.
Sgt. Byron Fassett with the Dallas Police Department says, "It's a difficult concept to grasp or to accept as a community, because we don't think it happens in our backyard."
That's one of the main points during training, coming from an expert out of Dallas, Texas who's worked in sex trafficking for 20 years.
He explains, "Part of this whole game of trafficking and prostitution is to make them feel complacent in their victimization, that they chose to do it. I haven't met a person yet involved in this that chose to do this."
Sheriff Richard Roundtree says, "9 times out of 10 most people do not choose to be int he street, they do not choose to be homeless, young women do not choose to sell their bodies to survive."
This training is the first of an 18 month program. Law enforcement agencies are the first to receive it, then the course will be opened to medical personnel, social workers, and eventually anyone from the community interested in bringing this hidden problem to light.