Each month, about 374 girls are sex trafficked in Georgia. The average victim is just over 14 years old. This heinous industry affects every community in our state, regardless of age, race, or gender, and through strategic partnerships, we are taking action to end it once and for all.
In February 2019, my husband, Governor Brian Kemp, signed an Executive Order, creating the Georgians for Refuge, Action, Compassion, and Education (GRACE) Commission. Comprised of public officials, law enforcement, for profit and non-profit organizations, faith-based institutions, and subject matter experts, this commission set out to tackle human trafficking, seek justice for victims, and hold bad actors accountable.
During the 2020 Legislative Session, the GRACE Commission spearheaded bipartisan legislation to bring stronger penalties to those convicted of human trafficking offenses, including foster parents and commercial drivers. We fought hard to protect victims and help survivors, giving them a voice and a path to brighter, more hopeful futures out of the shadows.
To enhance our impact, we opened the doors of the Receiving Hope Center, the state’s first residential intake center for trafficked youth. Because of this facility, survivors are able to immediately enter into a safe environment, receive the care they desperately need, and transition into the next stage in their journey to healing.
Last August, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation launched a new Human Exploitation and Trafficking Unit, giving Director Vic Reynolds additional tools to crack down on this criminal enterprise and ensure perpetrators are held accountable. We’ve also implemented a Human Trafficking Awareness Training program that equips individuals with the knowledge to recognize instances of sex slavery. So far, nearly 58,000 Georgians have participated.
The GRACE Commission rolled out further awareness and prevention measures this past September with a statewide hotline to allow Georgians to play a critical role in reporting trafficking.
None of this would be possible without our strong support network here in Georgia and across the country. With the help of all of our partners, we are now doubling down on our efforts and renewing our commitment to the fight against human trafficking going into 2021.
During Human Trafficking Awareness Month this year, we unveiled new legislation to empower survivors. By changing state law, we will create an exception to Georgia’s name change statute to protect the privacy and safety of survivors who wish to change their names.
The GRACE Commission will also support legislation to create a new pathway for these survivors to file suit against their traffickers and others who knowingly profited off of their victimization.
Along with these bills, we introduced a Department of Driver Services rule change to require new and renewal applicants for Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDL) to take an anti-trafficking course to receive their license.
With these important initiatives, we can continue taking important steps to end modern-day slavery and ensure that our state is a safe haven for those who have been victimized. But I want every Georgian to know these are just our most recent steps in our ongoing fight to end human trafficking – and certainly not our last.
I urge all Georgians to join us in this important mission. To get informed, please visit doas.ga.gov, and complete our Human Trafficking Awareness Training. Thirty minutes out of your day could save a life.
And if you have any suspicions about human trafficking, please call the new statewide anti-trafficking hotline at 1-866-ENDHTGA.
We will continue to make lasting change in our state by giving a voice to the voiceless, supporting victims, and bringing justice to those who break our laws. By working together, we will shine a light on a dark place and change lives for the better.