In keeping with the growing awareness of sex trafficking in Georgia, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has taken a lead in publicizing the prevalence of human trafficking as the first airport in the U.S. to endorse the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct in a signing ceremony in the airport’s atrium on Jan. 10.
Jan Lennon, director of security at the airport, told Global Atlanta that the initiative is being implemented out of compassion for the children who have been victimized. She said that the
initiative is to raise awareness among the 100 million passengers arriving at Hartsfield-Jackson a year through personnel training and signage to watch out for inappropriate activity and the presence of potential victims.
During the ceremony, Hartsfield-Jackson’s general manager, Roosevelt Council Jr., signed a code of conduct with Carol Smolensk, executive director of the U.S. arm of Ending Child Slavery at the Source (ECPATUSA), a New York based non-profit.
Carol Smolenski, ECPAT-USA’s executive director, told Global Atlanta that ECPAT-USA started with sex tourism, helping to get legislation passed ensuring that Americans who traveled abroad to buy sex with minors could be prosecuted in the U.S. for sexually exploiting children in other countries.
The non-profit has supported passage of both federal and state anti-trafficking legislation and currently promotes corporate responsibility, primarily within the tourism sector, which often has been responsible for the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Ms. Smolenski said that the non-profit has formed partnerships with major hotel chains such as the Hilton Hotels and Resorts and companies such as Delta Air Lines Inc.
“There’s really no good data on sex trafficking,” she added, “but we do know that in New York there are 5,000 cases of sexual exploitation a year, with 45 percent of the cases exploited in hotels.”
She praised Hartsfield-Jackson’s willingness to host the ceremony, marking the first local event of several to be backed by an airport on behalf of National Human Trafficking Awareness Month that was established by presidential decree in 2010.
ECPATUSA’s efforts to include airports in New York have been unsuccessful to date, she added.
Mr. Council said that a broader initiative would be part of the month’s activities including roundtable discussions and a high school forum, all aimed at spreading the word that there is a concerted effort to crackdown on the trafficking.
The code of conduct is composed of six points establishing a policy and procedures against sexual exploitation of children, training of employees, a clause in contracts stating zero tolerance of sexual exploitation, procedures for reporting suspected cases, engagement of stakeholders in the initiative and an annual report reviewing implementation.
“If you see something, say something, so we can do something,” Mr. Council said, adding that signage would be distributed in the airport so that the passengers that pass through it annually would be more aware of the initiative.
The simplest response is to call 911.
Aside from Mr. Council, the ceremony featured remarks by John Horn, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia; Chris Carr, the state’s attorney general; Tracy Lawson, Clayton County’s district attorney, Major Lane Hagin of the Atlanta Police Department and Alex Trouteaud, executive director of youthSpark.
All the speakers underscored the importance of being alert to the prevalence of sex trafficking.
Mr. Horn, the U.S. attorney, said that sexual exploitation primarily occurred in hotels and at truck stops where his office has focused on preventive measures as “a top priority.”In the past year 31 sexual exploitation cases had been made in the Northern District with seven indictments returned “with more on the way.”
Mr. Carr, the former commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development who recently has been appointed the state’s attorney general, praised the work of Camila Wright, assistant attorney general and human trafficking prosecutor who assists law enforcement and prosecutors throughout the state.
Eighty-three percent of the voters in the November elections approved an amendment to the Georgia constitution to fund the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Fund with assessments on adult entertainment establishments.
He also cited the work of Georgia Cares (formerly Georgia Care Connection Office), the statewide coordinating non-profit agency connecting services and treatment care for child victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking and the passage by the General Assembly in 2011 of harsher laws prohibiting sex trafficking.
And he emphasized the importance of such measures due to the many upcoming national sporting events to take place in Atlanta, which often provoke sexual misconduct.
Ms. Lawson, the Clayton County district attorney, made an impassioned plea for everyone “to wake up,” and said that the average age of abused girls is 12- to 13-years-old.
While tourists and visitors from overseas often are cited as the reason that Atlanta has a bad reputation for sex trafficking, she said that the problem is local as well. “When a pimp can make $32,000 a week, something is wrong,” she added.
Mr. Trouteaud, executive director of youthSpark, a non-profit founded in 2000 as an independent organization with a concentrated focus on vulnerable children and families affected by the court, said 10 years ago “no one was watching,” but today there is a greater realization that there is “not a time or a place where children cannot be victimized.”