Having dinner and drinks with friends in Decatur or Dunwoody, you might never suspect that passing by are people whose lives no longer belong to them. You’ve probably heard of Human Trafficking on the news, but you might not have realized how big the problem is, or how close it cuts to home.
In his years as an attorney and Dekalb County Judge, Roderick Bridges has become well acquainted with the violent opportunists, and the unsuspecting victims they force into the sex trade or labor at gunpoint. It’s a modern-day slave trade that thrives in the shadows, relying on our busy lifestyles to distract us from the signs.
Attorney Bridges knew he had to act — to do more than just try the cases that came before him. Fortunately, he was not alone in his desire to help. Bridges teamed up with the Interfaith Children’s Movement, a child advocacy organization based in Atlanta, and began his work to expose the darkness.
“It starts with education. If people know what’s going on then maybe they can do something about it!”
Judge Bridges, who returned to private practice when the DeKalb County Recorders Court was abolished, has since brought an inside-out view of human trafficking in Dekalb County and metro Atlanta area to hundreds of residents attending his sessions in local churches and community groups. The details are chilling.
The average age of sex trafficking initiates is 13
In rooms at popular hotels, victims are forced to service 10-20 men per day
The men who frequent these rooms are middle-class “good-neighbor” types; a businessman on a trip
The chances of these men being arrested are less than being struck by lightening
The girls are beaten and their families threatened if they don’t comply
“When people understand that this is a real thing happening right around them,” says Bridges, “they can start looking for some of the symptoms. You may be the only person who notices something’s off. You could be their way out.”
It’s shocking to hear stories of those who are victimized and it could happen to someone you love. For instance, there was a high school girl who met and dated a college boy doing a summer internship at a finance company. After dating all summer, the two went over to his cousin’s house for dinner and ended up in a back bedroom. It was there he pressured her into having sex with him. Minutes later she realized his “cousins” were all in the room, and they began to rape her.
She was told that this was her new life: she would be picked up from school each day and taken to a hotel where she would sell sex until dinner, and would always be home on time. She would never miss a day of school. If she resisted, she was warned, her family would be killed. She was living a daily nightmare, but no one recognized the signs. Would you?
- In his educational seminar, Bridges gives us the tools we need to recognize and report suspected perpetrators:
- Traffickers lure and exploit the vulnerabilities of their victims
- They might promise a high-paying job or a loving relationship
- In some cases, they may kidnap victims or control them through violence or substance abuse
- Traffickers use a number of methods to control their victims, including isolation, physical and emotional abuse, guilt, emotional attachment or threats to their family
- They can work alone or be part of extensive networks
And while sex trafficking is the most common form of human trafficking, there are several other ways the vulnerable among us are also exploited for profit.
Traffickers know how to use fear to engage victims. Imagine a 16 year-old young man who had been living on the streets. He met a guy who knew someone who was hiring, and asked if he had a record. He confessed that he did have some minor charges.
Showing up to work the next day, he was driven far away to the job site, a large farm. Approaching the work area he saw men with guns and could see that they were growing marijuana. He was told not to bother reporting them to the police because they would think he was just trying to escape drug charges. He had no idea where he was, and nowhere to go.
Stories like these play out around us every day, terrorizing the young and vulnerable around us who have become isolated. But as Bridges, who has become an Ambassador for International Human Trafficking Institute, relates, this is a problem the citizens of Dekalb County can help eradicate.
Recognize and Report Suspected Human Trafficking
To contact federal law enforcement, call 1-866-DHS-2-ICE
Or submit a tip online at www.ice.gov/tips
For victim support from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), call 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to Befree (23333733)