Tackling sex trafficking in metro Atlanta - CBS46 News

Tackling sex trafficking in metro Atlanta

Posted: Updated:
(Source: WGCL) (Source: WGCL)

Sex trafficking is a crime that forces victims into a life of sexual exploitation. 

Some members of law enforcement and victim advocates have dedicated their lives to helping and saving victims. They stay busy in metro Atlanta, which is known as a hub for the crime. 

Kasey McClure is one of those people. She's a former exotic dancer who left the industry and started 4Sarah, Inc., a non-profit organization that reaches out to women in the sex industry, including sex trafficking victims. The organization is named after her daughter.

McClure and her volunteers conduct outreach in the community and online.

"A lot of people think that the problem of trafficking is in the strip clubs and that’s not the case. Some of it goes on in the strip clubs but a lot of time it’s happening online," she explained.

She and her volunteers reach out to escort advertisements, offering resources to the women while also looking for those, including underage girls, who may be forced into it. Sometimes they get hung up on, but other times they reach or get a call back from someone willing to listen and have a conversation. 

"The biggest concern is the internet and social media," said Nathan Whiteman, the acting supervisory special agent of the FBI Atlanta's squad that handles violent crimes against children and civil rights matters. He is also the coordinator of the MATCH task force, which is a metro Atlanta child exploitation task force made up of several agencies. 

He said as law enforcement and the public become more aware of how to spot signs of trafficking, that leads to more tips and investigations.

"It's not just prostitution, there are girls and women out there willingly doing this, but there are also girls and women that are out there being forced into this," he said. 

They look for victims in a number of ways, including conducting surveillance and interviews and looking at social media.

"Do we have a problem? Absolutely, but we also see that the girls and the women that we come into contact here in Atlanta also travel to Birmingham and Chattanooga to South Carolina," he added.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest airport, takes proactive steps, including posting notices about human trafficking and training workers to identify signs of it. The airport was also the first in the world to sign a pledge committing to the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct.

Whitemand and McClure agree law enforcement is making strides.

"We're no longer having to metaphorically twist somebody's arm to say hey this is a major problem, this isn't just prostitution," said Whiteman.

"I think law enforcement is doing a really good job of being proactive and looking for victims of trafficking but I think there’s a lot more work to do," said McClure. 

One step in the right direction is asking the right questions.

"When they arrest the girl for prostitution instead of just saying you're going to jail, they're asking her questions, 'Okay who's your pimp? Do you have a pimp? Is he abusive? How did you get here?'"

McClure brought CBS46 to a stretch of Fulton Industrial Boulevard, which she said is one of the most well-known spots for prostitution. Even when the sun was shining, there were several examples of what appeared to be women working the streets. 

She pointed out strip clubs, inexpensive motels and plenty of trucks passing through the area, which is close to the interstate.

Fulton County police tell CBS46 blight and drug use are contributing factors and there are efforts underway to revitalize the area. Officers go undercover to target pimps and Johns.

Those who try to help victims say their work will never be done.

"Everybody is a potential targeting of recruitment for sex trafficking," said Whiteman. "Inside the perimeter, outside the perimeter, it's everywhere.”

McClure said, "Until we get a handle on the internet and the industry as a whole, we will always have this problem.”

But with every woman she reaches on the phone or in person, she remains hopeful.

"There's always one or two that call back that say, 'Yes, help me.'"

Find more information and resources here: 4Sarah, Shared Hope International, National Human Trafficking Hotline

Copyright 2017 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

Connect with CBS46