Thursday, July 24 2014 11:46 PM EDT2014-07-25 03:46:21 GMT
Former Associated Press writer Jim Purks shared his experiences with people in Albany Thursday night.More >>
Former Associated Press writer Jim Purks shared his experiences with people in Albany Thursday night. More >>
COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -
When Kim Jones found out her daughter's classmate had gone missing, she knew she couldn't just sit around and do nothing.
"When you see it on TV, and you see that somebody's missing, you go, ‘Oh man! That is horrible!' And then you go about your life," says Jones. "But when it's somebody that you know, the ball game's totally different."
Jones was part of a massive community effort to find a 15-year-old Columbus girl who went missing for over a month. The volunteers passed out flyers, made phone calls and would not let the public forget that this teenager was missing.
The girl was reportedly spotted at a McDonald's, and was returned to her family on Jan. 15.
"It was like a nightmare," says the girl's father wishing to remain anonymous to protect his daughter. "I went through a lot of suffering and pain. I couldn't sleep at night."
Now, just as the community helped find his child, he says he intends to help find other missing kids, because according to the Trafficking in America Task Force, his daughter was not alone.
A masked man who goes by the name "Bishop" in order to protect his identity is a former undercover agent now heading-up Bishop Outreach, the rescue arm of the Trafficking in America Task Force.
"Columbus has a unique thing going on right here in your neighborhood, and it's called a party house," Bishop explains. "It's a normal home. Everything looks right about it. Power's on. But when you go inside the home, there are stripper poles and underage kids inside the home."
According to Bishop, the girl was enslaved in one of these party houses in Columbus, and other underage victims may still be there.
Karen Wright with the Trafficking in America Task Force in Atlanta says some areas in Georgia are a principle hub for sex trafficking, not just locally, but for the whole country. She encourages the public to become thoroughly educated on this issue in order to prevent other community members from being victims of human sex trafficking.
"Had it not been for the hundreds of flyers that were circulated throughout the area, and the response of the community member who reacted when she recognized the girl in the flyer, this young girl might still be trapped in the clutches of the perpetrators," Wright says.
She also says many are still trapped, and the public has to be aware in order to make a difference.
Bishop suggests that community members change the culture by contacting Sam Olens at the Attorney General's Office, by voting and contacting lawmakers in order to change legislation, and by getting churches and other community organizations involved with programs that fight human trafficking.
The toll free number for Trafficking in America Task Force rescue assistance is 1-888-225-0498.
"Even if we save one person, we're in good shape," says Bishop.