ALBANY, GA (WALB) - State prosecutors say they believe South Georgia and one of the major highways that goes through it are prime areas for human trafficking.
Law enforcement agencies from around our region came together Tuesday to learn how to recognize victims and help them.
While it's not easy to catch the culprits, prosecutors said they believe in the near future they'll put more of them behind bars.
"It's one of those things we don't realize as law enforcement that these people are among us right now," said Captain Tom Jackson with the Dougherty County Police Department.
Human trafficking is an organized crime that's been happening for decades throughout the nation. Southwest Georgia is no exception.
"We've recently learned that the I-75 South Corridor and South Georgia are prime areas for human trafficking," said US Attorney First Assistant Pete Peterman.
Federal prosecutors said that in the past five years they've been made more aware of how often sex trafficking happens in Southwest Georgia. In 2015, 29 people were arrested after a year-long federal investigation into a human trafficking ring that began in Moultrie.
"A lot of your victims are foreign nationals, they are lured here, may be paid to come here," said Peterman. "They are told they'll be given jobs in the food service industry or housekeeping industry. When they get here they owe a great deal of money to the people who brought them here. And when they get here they are told, 'No, you are doing something else,' and that's prostitution and they have no option but to do that."
"They fall victim to this because they don't have anybody else that's doing that for them," said Jackson.
Prosecutors and investigators have an understanding of what is happening, now they're learning how to identify where it's happening and to whom.
On Tuesday, members of law enforcement agencies throughout the area learned what to look for and how to speak with victims.
"A lot of these victims are being sexually abused. They're being used and prostituted because it's easy money for the person who is taking advantage of them and they don't know any other way of life," said Peterman.
Once those victims come forward, investigators and prosecutors will work together to take the next step to bring the offenders to justice.
"We're taking a team approach. We have a human trafficking task force that involves mental health professionals, people try to help with immigration status they have and people to try and help them with employment," said Peterman.
Many of these cases can be prosecuted locally, but the majority of them go through the U.S. Attorneys Office because of how often immigration is involved.