ST. SIMONS, Ga. — “I’m kind of blown away that people feel the way now that I did last fall, like, ‘What do you mean it’s happening here, what can we do?’”
That was Lynn Kennedy’s reaction after a crowd of more than 400 people attended an event about human trafficking, held at St. Simons Community Church on St. Simons Island Wednesday night.
Kennedy’s organization, the Georgia Human Trafficking Initiative, hosted the event. She co-founded GHTI just a few months ago and announced the event only three weeks ago.
“That just shows how many people locally, they want more information,” she said.
As recently as just a few days ago, the organization had to increase capacity well beyond an earlier anticipated 150 people.
“I am surprised that there are so many people that came out and spoke to us,” said Gayle Corey of St. Simons Island.
GHTI’s inaugural public event featured a panel of experts, including from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
Bill Woolf, with the Department of Justice, shared with the audience some chilling recollections from when he was in law enforcement.
“One of the strategies that we used to attack human trafficking was to go out to schools and do student presentations,” he began. “Every time I did one of those presentations I had at least two students disclose exploitation.”
Woolf and his counterparts impressed upon the attendants that human trafficking and the sex trade cut across all ethnicities and demographics. In fact, Woolf revealed, traffickers often target victims from affluent areas, in part because that’s literally where the money is, and “because those are communities where these issues are not talked about.”
“Oftentimes the young people -- the teenagers that are being trafficked are living in their own homes, sleeping in their own beds and attending school every day,” Woolf told First Coast News after the conference.
It was an eye-opener for the audience.
“I had no idea that the repercussions just keep going on and on and on,” Corey said before leaving.
As encouraged as Kennedy was about this first event for GHTI, she said the effort will go on and on, as long as necessary, including upcoming forums and a concert fundraiser.
“We are looking to do some fundraisers to start establishing transitional housing for trafficking victims,” Kennedy identified among already established goals.
Information about the Georgia Human Trafficking Initiative can be found on the organization’s Facebook page or at www.georgiatrafficking.org.