Painful facts, once known, cannot be unknown.
Lynn Kennedy could not bear to turn away when she first began to fully understand what sex trafficking is and how this billion-dollar industry reaches every corner of the world — including Glynn County.
And she’s hoping other community members will feel the same call to action when they learn about the realities of human trafficking in this area.
Kennedy is the co-founder of the Georgia Human Trafficking Initiative, a nonprofit formed in 2019 that aims to support local nonprofits working toward the fight against sex trafficking.
As part of Sex Trafficking Awareness Month in January, the nonprofit will host an event titled “Prisoners of Darkness,” which will be a panel discussion meant to educate the public about human trafficking.
The free event is planned for 5:30-7 p.m. on Jan. 22 at the St. Simons Community Church.
The panel discussion will feature representatives from the federal, state and local levels.
Kai Munshi, co-founder of the Georgia Human Trafficking Initiative, will be the commentator for the event.
“Our main goal is to really bring awareness to the general public that human sex trafficking is a problem in Glynn County,” Kennedy said. “… It is not just in large metropolitan areas. It trickles down all over the state of Georgia, and the reason that we’re kind of in the middle of it is because of our proximity to I-95.”
Pimps frequently trade trafficking victims on I-95, Kennedy said. Local nonprofits are fighting against this industry, but these nonprofits need the community’s support to do so, she said.
“We want people here to know that we need people to join this fight,” she said. “We need an army, if you will, of people. The more eyes looking, the better.”
Local nonprofits, including Faithful Love, House of Hope and Grace House, will have information tables set up at the event. Susan Norris, the founder of Rescuing Hope in Atlanta, will be on hand at the event to provide information and will take part in the panel discussion as well.
There will be also be representatives from the local district attorney’s office and the new trafficking task force formed recently in Glynn County.
Sex trafficking is a $32 billion industry every year. Georgia is ranked No. 7 among states in the U.S. with the highest amounts of trafficking, according to the Polaris Project.
Georgia had 1,124 cases of sex trafficking between 2015 and 2018, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Around 859 of those cases involved female victims, and 277 involved minors. Around 265 cases involved male victims.
The panel discussion will provide facts from professionals, and the information will hopefully offset any mistruths or exaggerations people may have seen on social media or heard through word of mouth, Kennedy said.
“It’s going to be like trying to sip water from a firehose — you’re going to get a lot of information coming at you in an hour and a half,” she said.
The Georgia Human Trafficking Initiative supported training last year before the RSM golf tournament on St. Simons to local hotels and local airport staff. The training focused on how to recognize and report potential trafficking.
“We brought a team down from Rescuing Hope in Atlanta to conduct training with local hotels, the airports both on St. Simons and in Brunswick, to train staff on what to look for, how to recognize it and how to respond,” Kennedy said.
The nonprofit plans to sponsor fundraising efforts in the future that will support local nonprofits. But first, Kennedy said, they wanted to educate the community on the realities of sex trafficking.
And so far, they’ve had a large response. More than 200 people had registered for the event earlier this week.
“It just shows, I think, that the community wants more information,” Kennedy said.
Doors for the event will open at 5 p.m. Registration can be completed at georgiatrafficking.org/raise-awareness.
Kennedy hopes the panel discussion will motivate community members to join the fight against human trafficking.
“Once you know something, you can’t un-know it,” she said. “So once someone brings it to your attention and says, ‘Now we told you what trafficking is, we told you that it’s here,’ are you going to keep ignoring it? Because you can’t say that you didn’t know.”