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'A big problem in Georgia' | Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit chief says majority of gangs fueling industry

The Human Prosecution Unit said in 2022, they recovered 116 children.

ATLANTA — The City of Atlanta ranks at number two – just behind our nation's capital when it comes to the highest rates of human trafficking

The bottom line – dozens of children are being sold for sex on a nightly basis across Georgia. 

"Human trafficking is a big problem in Georgia," explained Hannah Palmquist, unit chief of the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit

In 2022, Palmquist said the unit recovered 116 children. 

"One of the biggest problems in Georgia with respect to trafficking is actually the buying of children," Palmquist said.

The average age of a child being sold and bought is between 12 to 14 years old. 

Palmquist pointed out, "People believe human trafficking is a kid being snatched at a park and being thrown into a van, essentially a kidnapping and we know that’s not what it is."

She said traffickers are looking to form a bond with a child, who oftentimes lacks a strong foundation. 

"It might be a child who doesn’t have housing, doesn’t have food or shelter, doesn’t have a structured family to go home to," Palmquist said. "It’s not kidnapping, it’s grooming."

One of the best networks recruiting young kids will also sell them. 

"Majority of gangs are engaging in human trafficking," Palmquist explained.

She said it boils down to money. And while it's hard to hear, Palmquist explained, "A trafficker will sell a child because they can sell them over and over and over again. Where if they were to sell drugs, once they sell that cocaine they have to purchase more supply but with a child, they can keep making money off that child over and over again."

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr explained it's easier now than ever to identify and target children. 

"Whether you’re talking about gang activity or human trafficking not only is it transient but it’s online," Attorney General Carr said.

Palmquist and the attorney general said they're going after the buyers. 

'If there's no demand, there's no supply," Palmquist said. 

Another part of combating human trafficking in Georgia is educating the public. 

"You asked what was one of the challenges, well, people sometimes look and go, 'well I’m sure that’s not what I think it is.' Better to be wrong than to let one more child be exploited," Attorney General Carr explained. 

As of February 1, 2023, Palmquist said the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit has 46 traffickers under indictment. 

11Alive has spent years investigating the impact of human trafficking in our series "Selling Girls." Click here for additional resources, the signs to look out for and how to report it. 

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