Buckhead business leaders are attempting to raise awareness about human trafficking in Atlanta.
The Rotary Club of Buckhead held an April 23 seminar on human trafficking and will sponsor classes on recognizing traffickers and victims for employees at 50 companies.
The seminar included heavy hitters such as former Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens and representatives from Delta Air Lines, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the American Hotel and Lodging Association. The event was held at Flourish, an event venue on Maple Drive, and was attended by about 150 people.
The seminar was co-sponsored by other local organizations, including Livable Buckhead, the Buckhead Coalition and the Buckhead Business Association.
Buckhead Rotary President Sam Alston created the initiative to curb human trafficking after Rotarians at the international convention held in Seoul, South Korea kept saying that the Atlanta is the capital of human trafficking, he said.
“People saw I was from Atlanta and that’s something they all mentioned,” he said. “I had never heard that from anybody.”
Afterward, Alston created a committee to fight against human trafficking, which spurred the seminar and class sponsorships, he said.
“We felt like it was critical to address the issue in Buckhead and Atlanta,” said Brent Adams, the president-elect of Buckhead Rotary.
John Coffin, who heads the committee, said the Buckhead Rotary’s involvement in this issue does not signal that trafficking is more prevalent in Buckhead.
“It’s not that there’s more of a problem here than anywhere else,” he said. “We want to bring awareness to the issue.”
Hotels and motels are commonly used venues for sex trafficking, according to the Polaris Project, which operates the national hotline for sex trafficking.
Buckhead has 27 hotels, according to numbers from the Buckhead Coalition’s Buckhead Guidebook.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association offers training to recognize trafficking signs, especially for hotels’ front-line employees that interact with guests most often, said Troy Flanagan, the vice president of governmental affairs.
“They have the most opportunity to see something,” Flanagan said.
The entrance of Airbnb has introduced new complications to fighting trafficking, Flanagan said. Traffickers may more increasingly use the private houses offered on Airbnb to avoid being noticed, he said.
Allison Ausband, the senior vice president for in-flight service at Delta Air Lines, said it has trained pilots, flight attendants and other staff to recognize signs of trafficking.
“It happens on the plane, but it also happens where our crews are laying over in hotels and restaurants,” she said.
Olens, who now works at the Dentons law firm, which operates its Atlanta location in Buckhead, said he helped push through legislation to make it easier to prosecute traffickers during his time as attorney general.
Having the world’s busiest airport and numerous conventions are often cited as reasons trafficking is worse here, but Olens said not to get hung up on those arguments.
“The part of that I find most interesting, is that over 40 percent of men who appear to be buying these minor children for sex live on the north side of town,” Olens said. “It’s not at the airport.”
Major sporting events are often cited as another venue that draws human trafficking.
The GBI has started preparing for the upcoming Super Bowl that will be held in Atlanta next year, said Brian Johnston, who heads the child exploitation and computer crimes unit.
“Anytime we have a large gathering like this, it’s tremendous for our community, for sure, but it’s going to bring in the bad guys,” Johnston said. “We realize that and we’re going to step up our efforts to do things a little bit differently.”
The GBI has already held several meetings to plan for the Super Bowl. It is partnering with the Atlanta Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation to coordinate activities, he said. The GBI will also host training with venue employees and other non-governmental officials, he said.