Lee County Sheriff's Office hopes to combat human trafficking at East AL schools

LEE COUNTY, AL (WTVM) -  A multi-billion-dollar industry is taking east Alabama by storm and causing headaches for investigators working to put a stop to the crime.

Human trafficking cases are popping up across our area and advocates want to make a change before its too late.

"It's a $150 billion worldwide industry…the target age is 12-14 so it's very important to educate them," Development Director for The WellHouse Maryhelen Kirkpatrick said.

The WellHouse is an organization which saves victims from human trafficking came to speak to several east Alabama schools on Friday including Loachapoka High.

"Because you all are so close to Atlanta there 's a lot of trafficking that happens here," Kirkpatrick said.

Investigators say they've found that easy interstate access provides a hot spot for predators in our area to lure victims away.

A case in Lee County is set to go before a grand jury where just in last few weeks four people were taken into custody after being involved in a case where a 13-year-old was being sold for sex across several Alabama counties.

"It's really a luring process over social media and becoming their friend in a social setting," Kirkpatrick said.

Time spent behind the screen is what advocates say they worry about. Predators posing as a friendly face online and soon after flipping the script.

"These apps aren't bad most of the time, but the secrecy about it that certainly invites the amenity about it invites sexual predators online and these kids have no idea who they are talking to until it's too late," Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes said.

The Lee County DA is also taking a step and educating parents by hosting forums to show what children might be getting into when no one is watching.

"Sex trafficking is a huge issue that is getting bigger, bigger, and bigger almost by the day," Hughes said.

Administrators at Loachapoka High and other schools said they are thankful the Lee County Sheriffs office is spending the money on education for this topic so more young people won't become victims.

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