A report released May 1 by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation sheds insight into how human trafficking is understood by law enforcement agencies across the state.
“Human trafficking does occur in Georgia,” the report states as its first key finding. “This criminal activity takes the form of sex trafficking as well as labor trafficking and victims are both adults and minors.”
The magnitude of the problem in Georgia — and the greater Southeastern U.S. — is both hard to measure and a challenge to combat, the report said.
In fact, just convincing the public it is a domestic problem in Georgia, not just an international phenomenon, is one of the key goals toward prevention.
Local agencies, like the Gainesville Police Department, train officers in victim recognition as part of their enforcement efforts.
“We try to coordinate training based on Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training guidelines,” said Cpl. Joe Britte, spokesman for the department. “Of course it’s a terrible, terrible thing and we want to do what we can to reach any potential victims and get them the resources they need.”
Victim recognition is one of first steps in combating the trade, although recognition may not cause a full investigation in every instance: the illegal activity can be hard to expose.
In a case in Oakwood, investigators noticed the circumstances surrounding a prostitution arrest perhaps warranted some digging. A 42-year-old masseuse charged with prostitution was flagged for an immigration violation, and her place of residence was a suburb of Washington, D.C., which, like Atlanta, is cited as a trafficking hub for its transportation infrastructure.
The owner of the parlor closed the shop and skipped town after being asked by law enforcement to shut down the business, Oakwood Police Chief Randall Moon said pursuing anything further, however, would have ratcheted the investigation to a level beyond the small agency’s capabilities.
The GBI report said lack of resources was a concern cited among more than half of agencies.
“... Local law enforcement does not always have the training or resources to uncover a trafficking nexus to individual incidents,” the survey said. “These reasons are compounded by the transient or highly mobile nature of the crime, and the larger fact that the typical trafficking victim is combative with law enforcement.”
The study said the majority of local law enforcement had no formal documentation of any human trafficking victims or cases in 2012, and only a handful of local law enforcement agencies had quantifiable documentation of human trafficking activity within their jurisdictions.
While a large majority of agencies cited a lack of resources to handle cases, and a smaller majority reported inadequate training to recognize indicators of trafficking, there was a strong desire to learn more — 91 percent said they would like to be contacted about available training initiatives.
The results of the survey were presented to state and local investigators from specialized human trafficking work units at a round-table discussion.