News 12 Investigates | Human trafficking in Augusta

Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018
News 12 at 11

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The Georgia Bureau of Investigations confirms there is a shift in the way agents are cracking down on sex trafficking. Their main focus is now on arresting those who are doing the trafficking instead of those who are being trafficked.

While adults soliciting sex is against the law, it's a misdemeanor. Agents also recognize that the girls are the real victims in all of this. Their main concern is underage girls being trafficked.

A lot of times, agents say, these girls do not know they are victims.

One woman who says she was trafficked in Augusta says the first time she heard the term "human trafficking" was the night the FBI rescued her. She says a lot of the men buying the sex might not have known she was a victim, either.

The ads are all over the Internet. Most are so explicit; we can't show you a lot of the words or any of the pictures without blurring them. Joy says she was forced to be in ads just like them.

"They take our phones, and they are the one who posts our ad. They are the ones who post our pictures and everything," she said. "They" are the pimps or "daddies" as they're known in the "Game." They are the ones who set up the dates and then take all of the money.

"You can't deny that this stuff is happening. You have to say that it's happening. Talk about it," Joy said.

Joy says was a victim of human trafficking for years, recruited in Augusta and forced to work in Augusta. She was rescued by the FBI and hopes her story can help rescue others.

"I believe that. Because I've been there at every hotel. And sometimes I see neighborhoods, and I think, 'yep.' And these aren't bad areas. These are good areas. And I'll go, 'yeah. I'm sure there are girls working in there.'"

She says those girls pretend to be willing participants in need of money. "I had to make sure I sold myself to him. Men that buy the sex, they don't want to usually buy it from someone who has a pimp, so they always want to make sure. 'Are you going to get the money that I give you?' And I'd say, 'yeah. Of course. Sure.' You know."

She says she never saw a dime.

"I think the majority thought that I was doing this solo. They thought I was doing it because, oh, maybe she's down on her luck."

Maybe now that she's exposed this, something might change.

Meredith Anderson: "If some of these men knew what they were doing to you, and knew the life that you had, and that you weren't going to get any money, do you think they would have turned around and walked out of that room?"
Joy: "I hope so."

Joy says she was 17 years old the first time she was trafficked. The GBI says if someone answers an ad in Georgia from someone who looks 25 and even says she is 25 years old, if she is 17, that's a child molestation charge. It's not just the traffickers who could go to jail for a long, long time.

Joy is speaking out just before the ads start to flood our area. There's a big spike in them every year just before the start of April. Joy says she traveled to a lot of major sporting events, but her busiest week of the year was always in Augusta.



Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018
(News 12 at 6 O’Clock / NBC 26 News at 7)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- It is known as the "Game," and right now, young women all over Augusta are being forced to play it. They are waiting in hotel rooms for their dates to arrive. Some could see as many as 25 different men tonight.

Again, this isn't Atlanta.

This is Augusta, and a woman who says she was recruited here and trafficked here has a powerful warning.

As the sun sets each night, day gives way to a growing nightmare in the Garden City.

"Slaves. Real slaves," said Joy. "I know it sounds weird, but I was a real slave. Cause if I tried to run, I was going to get killed."

Joy is one of the lucky ones. She was rescued. Tonight she is coming out of the shadows to shine a light on a life that's waiting for any opportunity to claim anyone it can
.
Meredith Anderson: "Every night in Augusta? This is happening?"
Joy: "Absolutely. Every night. And every day. It doesn't stop."

It won't stop until it's no longer hidden. That's why she didn't ask us to hide her face. She wants you to see it. She says she wants to protect family by not using her last name, but Joy is her real first name. It seems fitting because she has found Joy again in more ways than one.

"The first time that I was ever trafficked was when I was 17," she said.
However, she admits she didn't know she was being trafficked. She says, at first, none of the girls do.

"That's not how they'd wrap it up," she said. Nobody would sign up for that, you know?"

Instead, she says pimps, or Daddies as they're called, are masters of manipulation. They lure you on empty promises. She says it's a lot like a gang that offers potential members a new family, a sense of belonging, and a new life.

Joy says another girl approached her in a club in Augusta at just the right moment. Her new group of friends took her in and started to feed her drugs and lies.

"You know, you gotta work. You can't just stay here," she said. "You're going to have to work."

She says the "daddy" took her phone, posted an ad, and she had her first date. "In a sense, it's like I owed him that," she said. "Because he "cared for me." I know that sounds crazy, but that's what it felt like."
By then, it was too late. Joy was now a prisoner to him and to the "Game."

"If somebody has a gun to your head and says, 'you're not going to say anything. You better not tell anybody where we're at. Who we are. Nothing. Or we'll kill you. Or, I'll find your family, and we'll kill them,' you keep your mouth shut," she said.

Joy lost track of days, weeks, and months. One day, she realized she'd also lost herself.

"If I don't get out of this, I'm gonna die," she said to herself. Two days later, an FBI agent posing as a date rescued her.

"That's the first time I heard of human trafficking," she said.

It was also the first time she'd met advocates for trafficking victims. "And I bawled my eyes out, and they told us that God sent us here to tell you that he loves you."

Joy moved in with one of those advocates who helped her start the healing process.

Meanwhile, Joy knows the process of recruiting other girls is happening all the time. She says she's speaking out to protect your daughter.

"It doesn't stop. And you feel like you're stuck. And you feel like...this is hell. How do I get out? If somebody sees something, I want them to say something. And don't just think that this girl wants to do this," she said.

Joy admits she is still healing but says God is in control. She is also happily married and wants you to know that she has her life back. She hopes that her story can help others find hope.

iCare, a group of advocates in Augusta, tells us they help as many as 14 girls a month. They say every night, 200 girls are sold in Georgia.

They are in the process of building a home to help the women they rescue. They say their home is different because it allows women to bring their children with them. They say, often times, women have to choose between help and their children. This way, they can have both. They're raising money to finish building it. If you want to give, click here.