Investigators train to help victims of child exploitation

(Source: WGCL)

Members of law enforcement and prosecutors from across the country are in Atlanta to undergo training to help young victims.

They're attending the National Law Enforcement Training on Child Exploitation.

It includes seminars, visiting with different vendors, and using other tools to learn best practices and stay up to date with the latest technology.

"Technology changes, we have to change our investigative techniques," said Debbie Garner, the Special Agent in Charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit. She is also the commander of the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Garner said those attending the conference are learning how to combat crimes involving child exploitation.

"It's everything from how to do that forensically, how to gather evidence from digital devices, it's how to interview victims more effectively," she said.

Those at the training work on child pornography cases, child sex trafficking cases, and online child enticement cases.

"I’ve been in law enforcement for 27 years and this is probably a group of the most dedicated law enforcement professionals that are in the business," said Garner.

Someone who knows all too well the lengths to which a child predator will go is Kristina Laverett. The 17 year-old is a sex trafficking survivor. She is now safe and at home with her family, and wants to tell her story in hopes of helping others.

"I woke up and I was tied to a bed," said she.

Laverett said it happened after she ran away from home, got in with the wrong crowd, and attended a party one night. The next thing she knew she was being held against her will, drugged, and forced to have sex with as many as a dozen men a day.

"I heard a couple outside the door saying, 'I got 15 minutes, my wife's gonna be home,'" she explained. "It was a lot of white older men and I didn’t even know some of these guys existed, like how angry they are toward you when they're doing the things that they do to you.”

She said her traffickers would post pictures of her and other girls on websites that advertise escorts.

Laverett said predators will go to great lengths to try to attract young victims.

"A lot of pimps will lure you by sending pictures of this younger guy making everything seem like this perfect world that you'll make all this money, you'll get to live on your own," she said.

She said social media plays a big part, which is part of the training law enforcement is going through this week at the conference in Atlanta.

"If they see that you're vulnerable and they see that things aren't going well, then that’s their target," she said.

Garner said, "They absolutely manipulate these children. They groom them, they lie to them, many times the victims believe these trafficker are their boyfriend.”

Laverett was eventually able to get away from her trafficking situation. She now enjoys school and riding horses and hopes sharing her story will help even one person.

She said, "I believe that I've cried all my tears that I can. It's time for me to use what I have to do something better."

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