U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story shared a harrowing story of sex trafficking in Georgia last month with an audience in Vatican City and one particularly notable guest: Pope Francis.
Story was one of more than 60 judges and prosecutors from around the globe invited to share insights with the pope June 3-4 at the Judges’ Summit on Human Trafficking and Organized Crime. The summit was hosted by the Pontifical Academy on Social Studies in Vatican City.
“This particular summit involved judges and prosecutors from 26 countries, and it focused on human sex trafficking, forced labor and organ trafficking, as well as organized crime,” Story said. “The United States was requested to participate, and I was asked by the ambassador at-large on human trafficking to be part of a team that went.”
Atlanta is an identified major human trafficking area, according to Story, because of the international airport and convention center in the city. Convention business, he said, is often linked to sex trafficking.
Story said the summit was essentially two days of presentations about how trafficking and organized crime cases are handled in different jurisdictions throughout the world.
“The focus from the perspective of the Vatican was essentially on victims and how best to help victims be rehabilitated and reintegrated back into society,” Story said. “The pope has really taken a significant interest in human trafficking and the tragedies of it. So that was the focus he requested in hearing from folks there.”
Story spoke during the summit, sharing an international trafficking case he handled about six years ago.
“It involved young women who had been brought here from Mexico and placed in sex trafficking,” he said. “They were in the country illegally and were held in houses in Gwinnett County. They were taken to complexes and were expected to service 25 to 35 men per night.
“It was — it is — shocking.”
Story said Pope Francis also spoke at the summit, which was a highlight for him, and remained after the presentations for a group photo.
“He was kind enough after his speech to go out on the front steps of the place we were within Vatican City and have a group picture with us, and then, even more surprisingly, stuck around so we could speak to him,” Story said. “So that was amazing.”