MOULTRIE, GA (WALB) - On October 30, one of the largest federal investigations into the sex slave industry ever busted a ring headquartered in South Georgia.
Investigators said 15 women and young girls were moved around nine states, from place to place, and forced to have sex 30 or more times a day.
Experts admit human sex trafficking is an epidemic, with Atlanta as a major hub in the nation.
The youngest sex slave freed from the Moultrie based operation was 14 years old.
"These ladies were expected to have sexual intercourse with these Johns sometimes 30 times a day, sometimes up to 70 customers in a weekend," explained former U.S. Attorney Michael Moore.
Colquitt County Sheriff's Investigator Lt. Mike Murfin, whose office assisted with the operation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations, says that the human trafficking ring, "Was disturbing."
The youngest female victim, along with the 14 additional women and teens, couldn't speak English, and came to the U.S. hoping for a better life.
Instead, they were forced to pay for smuggling fees with their bodies.
"They've got no money, no family, no contacts, no place to live, no way to support themselves, and they are just forced into this life," Moore said.
Just a 3 hour drive up the highway from Moultrie is the world's busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International.
Francey Hakes is a leading authority worldwide on sex trafficking and led the Department of Justice's child protection efforts for 3 years.
Today, she travels the country and the world, consulting on the terrible realities of human sex trafficking and child exploitation.
"The Atlanta airport is full of women and girls being trafficked back and forth from other countries," said Hakes. "It's a terrible problem."
Experts say because of the airport, Atlanta has become a hub for sex trafficking.
And one study we found on the website Youth Spark, an Atlanta based non-profit dedicated to eradicating human trafficking, reports 7,200 people in Georgia purchase a child for sex each month and each child is sold 10 to 15 times to meet the high demand.
Hakes is certain the explosion of internet pornography, and its easy access, has a direct correlation to human sex trafficking epidemic. She added that the United States is the largest consumer and producer of child pornography images around the world.
"People who have easy access to horrific videos of children being raped and sexually abused, and watching those movies and looking at those images and getting sexual gratification, and then it becomes not enough," said Hakes. "They want to act on it. They want access to a real child."
We met Hakes at the corner of Fair Street and Metropolitan Parkway, about a mile north of the airport. Out in the open on Metropolitan Parkway, young girls dressed to look older are pimped for sex day and night.
"Atlanta is the highest price for pimps in the country, according to a recent study by the Urban Institute, so it is very profitable," Hakes noted.
"You can sell a child or a woman's body over and over and over again sometimes dozens of times in a day," she said. "Children can bring in as much as $1,000 a day."
A 21-year-old woman, who didn't want to be identified, revealed she had been selling her body for money since she was a teenager, and perhaps even younger, though she didn't want to say.
"Been on the street, at 17, I had no choice," she described. "I was at a literal no choice, what are you going to do? My grandma is freakin' 62 and she still does this. She still does this."
She ran away from a violent childhood home where men came in and out for paid sex.
When she came to Atlanta, she started making money the only way she knew how.
"I had already watched people do it around me and seen that lifestyle so it was pretty much like me watching someone drive the car and me driving it for the first time," she said.
"When you have a vulnerable group of people it's easy to attack them from any angle to get them to do what you want them to do," U.S. Attorney Michael Moore said.
And, no matter a person's nationality or status, the growing sex trade, both online and on the streets, is victimizing vulnerable people.
"When you expand the scope of the [human sex trafficking problem] out to child sexual abuse more broadly or child pornography more broadly, the bad guys are winning," Hakes said. "Federal agencies are over matched. They do not have the staff, the personnel, there simply aren't enough resources to tackle the problem."
But they're still trying, with the help of local agencies, even in South Georgia.
Every victory, like shutting down the Moultrie brothel is life changing, even lifesaving, for the victims that are rescued.
Resources you can use
Experts say the explosion of pornography, especially sexually explicit images involving children and teens, has a direct correlation to the human child sex trafficking epidemic.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has an internet pornography addiction, whether it be yourself, a spouse, or a child, there are resources online and in the community to help.
We found Project Know, a website which links people to addiction resources here: http://www.projectknow.com/research/porn-addiction/
And, you can check out Francey Hakes' presentation to Congress, which was the inaugural U.S. strategy addressing child sexual exploitation, "The National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction."
You can read "The Strategy" at http://www.justice.gov/psc/docs/natstrategyreport.pdf