'Modern-day slavery'

Horrors of sex trafficking surface in Georgians' own back yard

You see far too many child molestation cases in the news these days – either because the number of them has gone up or our tolerance for them has gone down. Or perhaps it’s both.

 

Either way, one of the most disturbing such stories, of late, involves a former mental health technician at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia indicted in alleged molestations there of three young patients in 2010 and 2012. He has since been fired.

The case is all the more aggravated by the fact that, while children are vulnerable to begin with, in a health-care setting they are at their most susceptible; trust and care is at a premium there.

We know the hospital is more horrified than any of us, and we trust the court system will deal with the perpetrator appropriately if convicted.

But there’s another kind of case in which sex and molestations are combined with a hideous profit motive: sex trafficking.

It sounds like something that occurs far away from your hometown. But sex trafficking – in which a girl, often a minor, is forced into sex slavery to enrich their captor/pimps – can be found nearly everywhere, including in Georgia.

Indeed, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which has a unit devoted to it, says it made 57 arrests for child sex trafficking and related crimes last year. Meanwhile, a Georgia trooper recently discovered a captive teenage girl in a car he stopped on I-20. And in another case, federal authorities say Edwin “Boo” Barcus Jr., 27, of Georgia ran a multistate sex trafficking operation that included 23 females – four of whom were 16 and three of whom were 17 when they started. Various of the women and girls, some of whom were runaways or from broken homes, would be beaten and threatened and/or plied with alcohol and drugs in order to coerce their cooperation. He faces 20 years to life, after pleading guilty in federal court.

Few other criminal enterprises are as heinous, inhumane and contemptible.

Georgia authorities are cracking down, even on those patronizing the sex slaves. And Attorney General Sam Olens and several U.S. attorneys, including Augusta’s own Ed Tarver, have joined in a “Georgia’s Not Buying It” public awareness campaign on sex trafficking.

“Underage sex trafficking is modern day slavery in which children are bought and sold for sex through the use of force and coercion,” Olens said in a press release. “It happens throughout Georgia, from urban areas to small towns, and is often perpetrated in plain sight. ...

“The market for the sex trade of children is fueled by buyers. The only way to truly eradicate sex trafficking is to end demand.”

It’s doubtful that television commercials or billboards will shame anyone out of patronizing an underage sex slave – but the campaign featuring Atlanta sports stars and involving public and private organizations will help raise public awareness. And that’s a start.

The state also has stepped up training for prosecutors, law officers and even hotel, convention and taxi workers – to help them see the red flags, as the trooper did.

The cooperation of state and federal authorities has been inspiring. We know their work is insanely difficult and dangerous and too often thankless. But we applaud them all.

As far as “fighting the good fight,” this is as good a fight as there is.

Sex trafficking isn’t something that only happens in distant lands. And it’s not something we can afford to ignore or talk about only in whispers.

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