AUGUSTA, GA. (WJBF) – According to the GRACE Commission, there are approximately 1.5 million human trafficking victims in the U.S., most of whom are children. In the past, children were most commonly recruited in chat rooms, but lately, it happens on apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok.
Since January 1, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office has investigated 54 cases of child sex trafficking in Richmond County, 26 of which are still open.
“Richmond County is the number two in the country for number of kids trafficked. We are right up there with Atlanta,” executive director of Child Enrichment, Kari Viola-Brooke said.
Inv. Terry Gore of Richmond County’s Internet Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking Unit says predators predominantly use the internet to recruit kids. Only three cases they’ve worked on have started with a child initially meeting someone in real life, rather than on the web.
“That’s why it’s really important that we educate kids on what to look for. To avoid talking to people they don’t know, avoid sharing information…images especially,” Viola-Brooke said.
“If they’re wanting you to leave your house and leave your phone at home, or not tell your parents who you’re talking to, that’s a big red flag,” Inv. Gore said.
Inv. Gore says predators telling kids to leave their phones at home helps them avoid being tracked.
One in five kids will be approached for sex via the internet. Viola-Brooke says as soon as kids start using social media, it’s time to have this conversation.
“My biggest advice would be to talk to children about the concerns for it. And then also monitor who they’re talking to,” Viola-Brooke said.
“Just go through your kids’ phones,” Inv. Gore said. “The more information you have about what they’re doing, the better. It may sound like it’s invasive or whatever, but these people are bad. The ones that are hurting our kids.”