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By Leif Coorlim and Dana Ford , CNN. Updated GMT HKT March 14, Atlanta CNN The pathway leading to the dark corners of human trafficking began in the fluorescent-flooded hallways of a Florida middle school.
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Find out what's happening in the world as it unfolds. JUST WATCHED How easily are children recruited in Human Trafficking. How easily are children recruited in Human Trafficking Sacharay, which is how she wants to be known, was 14 years old and looking for a friend.
I started wearing glasses and was called 'four-eyes. But when an older classmate approached her and offered to be her friend, Sacharay thought maybe her fortunes had finally started to turn. One day she asked if I wanted to skip school and have fun, you know, so we went to the barber shop. When I was there, she introduced me to these guys," said Sacharay, now One of the men, in his mids, immediately took notice of Sacharay.
He soon began courting her with gifts, paying her compliments and offering advice on the daily dramatics of adolescent life. It was just in the communication and how he talked to me," she recalled. But this subtle, subversive mix of romantic love and parental care can create havoc in the mind of an adolescent, said Anique Whitmore, a forensic psychologist in Atlanta.
It's about control," said Whitmore. You either become vulnerable to a man on the street or a man you meet in school. You become vulnerable because you're looking for attention. JUST WATCHED The human traffickers you never even notice.
The human traffickers you never even notice Soon, Sacharay's trafficker began asking for "favors" -- asking her to help make some money for him, by sleeping with another man. I got upset when I first realized what he was doing, but I kept doing it because he made me feel like I was special. The exploitation continued to escalate. Sacharay soon was being sold to dozens of men a day.
She would meet these sex buyers in motel rooms near a freeway, or even sometimes in the back of the barbershop. I was in pain. I had sex with almost 40 guys in one day, and I was so tired, and I said, 'I can't do this no more.
Her trafficker didn't care. He made sure she knew leaving was not an option. More than 3, sex trafficking cases were reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center last year alone. Under federal law, anyone under 18 years of age induced into commercial sex is a victim of sex trafficking -- regardless of whether the trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion.
Sacharay's exploiter eventually brought her and another teen to Atlanta, because he could command higher prices. There's a lot to do in Atlanta. A lot of conventions, a lot of hotels, a lot of parties going on, a lot of events," said Sgt. Torrey Kennedy with the DeKalb County Internet Crimes Against Children ICAC Unit. A big part of Atlanta's draw is the airport, which is the busiest in the world.
All over the world, students are fighting slavery. How are we to ever know who they are? Racine and Kennedy often work together to identify and then prosecute human trafficking rings. As part of an investigative series, the CNN Freedom Projec t followed Kennedy and his team on raids for more than a year. According to Kennedy, it's not unusual for a teen selling sex to deny that she's working for someone, even if it's against her will. In June , DeKalb County's ICAC and Vice Unit conducted an operation to find underage victims.
The team went exit by exit along I, the perimeter highway, to hotels where undercover agents had arranged "dates" through an Internet escort site. In several of those meetings, the escort who showed up turned out to be underage. JUST WATCHED Victims, not child prostitutes. Victims, not child prostitutes Georgia law gives authorities the opportunity to grant leniency if a girl is willing to go to a safe home.
But if she declines, their hands are somewhat tied. Kennedy encountered this heartbreaking situation on the raid, when a suspected victim of trafficking didn't want any help. But she would rather go to jail than a treatment facility. She said she's 'happy being miserable. Investigators believe a local trafficker bought the girl in question a bus ticket from Detroit to Atlanta, gave her a puppy and paid for the hotel room where she was found.
They put their logo on their girl. The tattoo is fresh, which tells me that he just got his hands on her. Meet the people fighting to end sex trafficking. Jada Pinkett Smith is on a mission to educate the public about human trafficking in the United States.
In partnership with CNN, Pinkett Smith is getting to the root cause of this heinous crime. She's exposing a growing billion-dollar industry, through the eyes of victims and those on the frontlines of the fight against modern-day slavery. Torrey Kennedy is a supervisor at Dekalb County Police Department's Special Victims Units and Internet Crimes Against Children. Kennedy and his team are determined to clean-up Atlanta by rescuing child victims and locking up their exploiters.
Lisa Williams is Founder and executive director of two signature programs, Living Water for Girls and the Learning Resource Center. She is on a mission to have perpetrators held accountable for their crimes against sex trafficking victims, while providing a safe space for survivors to heal from traumatic life events and acquire life skills that will allow them to have a healthy, self-sufficient future.
At 14, "Sacharay" suffered severe bullying in school because of her skin color. An older teen befriended her and led "Sacharay" to a man who claimed he loved her. Then he sold her body. Kasey McClure uses her past experience working in the strip clubs, as motivation for her volunteer organization, 4Sarah.
She visits Atlanta-area clubs, providing gift bags and a sympathetic ear to those who may be thinking of leaving the profession. Dalia Racine, the assistant district attorney for DeKalb County, east of Atlanta, was the lead prosecutor in the case against Darryl Curry, also known as "Pimp DC," a convicted human trafficker who posted videos on the Internet, instructing others on how to recruit and groom young victims.
Nicholson is the former special-agent-in-charge for Homeland Security Investigations of the Southeast Region. Mary Frances Bowley is the founder of Wellspring Living, an organization fighting child sexual abuse and exploitation.
She has been a leader in bringing the fight against child sex trafficking to Atlanta and runs one of the country's largest safe-homes dedicated entirely to human trafficking survivors. Rachel McCool grew up in a small Georgia town. She says she was exposed to pornography as a child and later was prostituted out of a strip club. After going through a rehabilitation program at Wellspring Living, Rachel has a renewed faith in God and an optimism about the future.
Sacharay has her own tattoos dating back to the time she was being exploited. Her journey away from exploitation started at the doorstep of a sanctuary run by the nonprofit organization The Living Water Center. The organization provided her with two things that didn't seem possible just a few years ago: And I have hope for myself.