January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month and a local organization is continuing its efforts in raising awareness every day. Like many cities, I-20 crosses over into Augusta and is one of the major highways where victims are transported. This interstate also leads to Atlanta, one of the largest cities where human trafficking takes place.
I'm Aware, a local nonprofit, says they are working diligently to bring prevention to this illegal trade. It's a horrific crime that could be going on right under your nose. Using highways, hotels, and even cyber methods to lure in and transport victims.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline website, children to young adults are the age groups most affected by human trafficking, especially runaway children who experience low self-esteem. "We know contributes to prevalence of human trafficking is a major interstate. And obviously we have that thoroughfare between Atlanta, the largest airport in the world or the US, excuse me. And then of course Augusta has the large sports tournament. Which is another big indicator that we've got a lot of traffic going on with the Master's golf tournament," says Gail Pendergrast, with I'm Aware.
The state of Georgia requires that in certain places their have to be posters up that have the national human trafficking hotline listed. I'm Aware has also taken initiative by giving hotels slips of paper with hotline information on them in case they notice something odd going on in a hotel room.
The digital world has also increasingly become an arena to lure in victims. "To be befriended by people who are not who they really are. Children who are playing games, who even have very proactive parents sometimes who are monitoring, get pulled into chat rooms and then threatened by the person who they thought was another child saying you can't tell. And teaching children to then delete history," says Pendergrast.
Pendergrast says that residents should understand that this could happen to anyone. It doesn't differentiate from ethnicity or socioeconomic status. It only sees a possible victim. "Truly the case is it can happen to anybody. It can happen to a child, a little girl or a little boy. Interestingly, the younger the child is, the more valuable they are to the trafficker. And so, I think just for people to realize it affects all of us and it's going to take all of us to make a difference," says Pendergrast
If you or believe someone you know is in a human trafficking situation, please call the national human trafficking hotline at 888-373-7888 to get connected with a rehab and rescue facility in your area.