A group of
Bulloch County pastors and other interested parties met Tuesday to discuss —
and pray about — a disturbing issue: child sex trafficking.
held in the jury room at the Bulloch County Judicial Annex, was advertised as a
meeting between the pastors and the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office, but no one
representing the Sheriff’s Office was present.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent John Barry, with the Child
Exploitation/Trafficking Unit, gave a presentation.
County Sheriff Noel Brown contacted Barry last week with a request to handle
the meeting, which organizer Butch McKenzie requested “about a month ago,” he
said. “Sheriff Brown sends his apologies.”
affiliated with Connections Church. He said he called for the meeting because
the issue “weighs heavy on my heart.”
people, eight of whom said they are pastors, attended the meeting. McKenzie
said the gathering was advertised and “about 90 invitations were sent.”
the turnout was typical of such presentations and said more public
participation and awareness is needed as a defense against the crimes he works
invite hundreds and get a handful,” he said.
about the fight against child sex trafficking, Barry said paying attention,
reporting suspicious behavior and knowing what to look for is important.
catches child sex predators by setting up “houses or hotels” where offenders
arrange to meet undercover agents posing online. The predators believe they are
meeting children for sex. But when they arrive, “they open the door and see
me,” he said.
pose as children online but do not initiate conversations. Instead, they wait —
and soon, a predator will appear in a chat room, asking questions that lead to
inappropriate topics. The undercover agent will dismiss a predator on first
approach, but they always come back, he said. After the online conversations
lead to sexual comments, solicitations for sex with supposed minors and
arrangements to meet, GBI agents wait for the offender to show up for the
“It’s a dark
world out there,” Barry said.
predators are male, even though some women get involved, usually in efforts to
please a pimp that has them under his control, he said. Child sex trafficking is a “male-dominated
game: 91 percent of offenders are religious,
90 percent male, and 45 percent are college educated,” he said.
of sex trafficking aren’t “snatched from the streets,” he said. They are
“throw-away kids, runaways.” A pimp will spot a young girl — or young boy,
although most victims are female — “pick her up, give her a Happy Meal, and
that is probably the last decent meal she will get until she is rescued,” Barry
often from abusive or neglective homes, needing “love, family and support,” he
said. The pimps pretend to appeal to these needs, and then coerce the girls
into sexual slavery. They are “brainwashed, hooked on drugs and alcohol, and
live hard lives. They are not trash – they are victims.”
are trying to escape a bad environment and find themselves in an even worse
been adopted by that ‘dark family’ and they bond with their captor,” he said.
recalled one case in Savannah in which a pimp was on trial, and seven victims
in the courtroom fought each other “because they still loved him.”
sex trafficking world is vast, according to Barry. His unit deals only with
child predators, and the caseload is overwhelming.
doesn’t work (all) human trafficking but specifically child sex trafficking,”
he said. “There are no resources for other human trafficking. It is like
drinking from a fire hose.”
child sex trafficking is such a major problem is money. A victim, often as
young as 12, will be forced to interact with “15 or 20 men a day sometimes. At $100
(for each encounter), times a day, times a week, times a year, it is a multi-billion
trafficking rings are not stationary and travel from state to state, Barry
said. They circulate around highly populated areas or large events where demand
is high. A victim could end up anywhere.
He told of
two young teens from Effingham County “who thought it might be fun to sell
their bodies.” They ended up in Washington, D.C., he said.
traffickers have “rolling hotels” in 18-wheelers on the interstates and target
places like truck stops and airports. They often brand their victims as
property, sometimes with tattoos on the neck. Barry said Georgia state troopers
are trained to recognize signs including these tattoos to identify possible
victims during traffic stops.
He said many
times, a dangerous situation begins with teens “sexting” — sending explicit photos
of themselves using cellphones. Predators will find the photos and pressure or
coerce them to send more, then develop further contact.
Center for Missing and Exploited Children gets calls from children as young as
10 saying they are being pursued after sexting, and sexting is one of the biggest
problems in schools today, he said.
predator is caught, the punishment varies. Sometimes they get only probation,
but in Bulloch County, “they usually get 20 years. Y’all have some good
judges,” he said.
The best way
a community can get involved is to discuss the issue, raise awareness and
report any suspicious activity, such as an older man with a young girl who is
obviously not a relative.
cypertips, make phone calls, snap a photo and get tag numbers, he said. Doing
so may provide “a piece of the puzzle” that leads to an arrest and a victim
If you see something, say something.”
closed the presentation with an appeal to the pastors to discuss the issue with
their congregations and to pray. While the hard work of the GBI and other law
enforcement helps and is valuable, they alone won’t stop the problem, he said.
“It is a
information on or suspicion of child sex trafficking — including online
pornography — is urged to file a report with police or call the National Center
for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-MISSING-KIDS, Barry said.
reporter Holli Deal Saxon maybe reached at (912) 489-9414.