The law enforcement officers were united in their sentiment that while the leaders of their city were always polite and listened to evidence of the growing sexual exploitation of women and children in Atlanta, they were ultimately completely ineffectual in doing anything about it. Most disheartening of all for some of the police officers involved was the knowledge that when a young girl runs away from her home in the city of Atlanta, statistically the police have only forty-eight hours to find her before she is recruited into prostitution.

Those police officers tasked with combating the growth of such exploitation said that the criminal gangs involved were completely ruthless and very well-organized. Often the men who joined the gangs were more afraid of their own gang than they were of going to jail. Many of the ethnic gangs were said to be very close-knit and only targeted male customers from within their own ethnic communities, making them very difficult to infiltrate by the law enforcement community. The officers explained that at every Atlanta Convention Center event and outside every hotel, patrons would be handed information cards promoting and advertising the sexual services of those women and children enslaved in the industry.

Most alarming for me was to learn what happened during an operation set up to target some of the escort agencies involved. When it became apparent during the investigation that some of the male clients were senior members of the Atlanta city council and U.S. Senators, the operation was quickly shut down. Those officers involved were reassigned.

Many gangs used women who were trafficked into the United States and then forced to work as prostitutes to pay off the debts imposed on them. Many endured extreme forms of exploitation and abuse, and even if given the opportunity they would not speak with authorities out of complete terror. Others did not want to leave the United States and so did not complain for fear of deportation. Still others were told that if they ever agreed to testify, their families and children back in Central or South America would be murdered before their cases ever reached an American courtroom.

Emily
I stopped to refuel my car late one evening at a gas station in an industrial area just off one of the main interstates that converge on Atlanta. A small black man materialized from the darkness and slowly approached me. He casually asked in an unconcerned manner, as if in passing, whether I wanted any "company" for the evening. When I expressed an interest, he sprang to life and the greed that lay beneath his casual veneer was exposed. He offered to connect me with whatever my heart desired and sang the praises of one particular girl who he said was young, beautiful and very "fresh."

While I paid for my gas, he made a call on his cell phone, and by the time I returned to my vehicle it had all been arranged. I would pay him $100 for the referral and I would pay the girl $300 for sex. I gave him the name of my hotel, along with my room number and cell phone number. I warned him that I would not pay him unless he delivered on his promises. He reassured me with all the charm and experience of a used car salesman before quickly vanishing into the night.

I was not back at my hotel room for long when I received a knock on my door. Standing outside was the same man I had met while pumping gas. He was in the company of a small Latino girl who was exactly as he had described her. Emily entered my room with the same forced smile, hiding a combination of dread, desperation and fear that I had seen in the eyes of so many girls in so many different countries. I duly paid the man his $100 and he left, leaving Emily to deal with me alone.