Since May 2018, Oulèye N. Warnock has held up a torch as the senior human trafficking fellow for the City of Atlanta.

In what is an inaugural role, Warnock has transformed from an academic and researcher into the face of human trafficking for the city. She serves as an intermediary between multiple city government agencies, tasked with creating a strategy for dealing with human trafficking in Atlanta.

“It is a grant-funded, two-year position in order to create a comprehensive blueprint of what the city of Atlanta is doing to combat human trafficking, in terms of our service provisions, support to survivors, and what we could potentially be doing better to support survivors and prevent this from happening in the first place,” Warnock said.

Appointed by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Warnock reports to the Mayor’s Chief Staff and is considered a member of the Mayor’s executive team.

Her position was made possible by a grant provided by Partnership for Freedom, an organization that chose Atlanta, Chicago, and Minneapolis to rise to the challenge of developing a citywide response to preventing human trafficking and providing support for survivors.

It’s almost a tailor-made position for the Spelman College graduate, who possesses more than a decade of experience researching human welfare issues, such as human trafficking, internationally.

Warnock earned her bachelor’s degree in International Studies and her postgraduate degrees from Oxford University and Columbia University, where she is a Richard Hofstadter Fellow. Her work has taken her to Tel Aviv, Israel, Dakar, Senegal, and Northern Thailand.

Over the first eight months of her time in the role, Warnock has been developing “comprehensive blueprint” that she hopes will provide insight on the current state of human trafficking in Atlanta, including an analysis of labor and sex trafficking, survivor services, current anti-trafficking programs, policy recommendations, and educational campaigns.

However, her first order of business has been to re-educate officials and everyday folks on what exactly is human trafficking, before solutions and recommendations can take place.

“Across the country, this is not unique to Atlanta but it’s definitely true here, people think of domestic minor sex trafficking. That’s just the common first thing that comes to mind,” Warnock said.

According to the Polaris Project, a D.C.-based organization that leads the fight to globally eradicate modern slavery, human trafficking is a “multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 24.9 million people around the world.”

The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) considers human trafficking as “modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.”

The idea is that traffickers lure their victims through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the use of labor or sexual exploitation.  

They look for people who are susceptible to a variety of reasons, including psychological or emotional vulnerability, economic hardship, lack of a social safety net, natural disasters, or political instability.

The trauma caused by the traffickers can be so great that many may not identify themselves as victims or ask for help, even in highly public settings.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) considers human trafficking as the third-largest criminal activity in the world. It holds Atlanta as one of fourteen cities in the united states with the highest rate of children used in prostitution.

FBI guidelines point out forced labor, domestic servitude, and commercial sex as common practices of human trafficking both for citizens and immigrants within the United States.

The thought of human trafficking generally the form of kidnapped sex workers. It’s either sex slaves from Asia, Russian prostitutes, or kidnapped children. However, most of these scenarios are scenes played out on primetime television in shows like “Law & Order: SUV” and “Criminal Minds”.

According to Warnock, “labor trafficking is really big all across the country and is just started to be talked about more.”

“A few years ago The New York Times did a story on people in nail salons being trafficked. I’ve heard braiding shops also. People aren’t always doing this work willing,” Warnock said.

This also includes the busboy at the Thai restaurant or the Hispanic man who just cut your lawn this morning.

For Atlanta, Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport takes on most of the blame for human trafficking statistics since it is known as the world’s busiest airport. But experts like Warnock disagree.

“The airport is a more secure environment, so it’s almost more comfortable to think of it as a problem there,” Warnock said. “It is much easier to traffic somebody in a car than on a plane. How hard is it to get through security at the airport. If you ever traveled with a child you need their birth certificate and a bunch of things.”

Warnock points out that Atlanta sits at the intersection of three major interstate routes that connect the city to the north, south, east, and west of the United States.

“I think what people should think about more is that I-75, I-85, and I-20 intersect right here. It’s a junction.”

She continues, “Where’s Fulton Industrial? It’s a truck stop, so all these gas stations, people need to be hyper-vigilant to what they’re seeing on the road. You can put a whole bunch of folks in a van or a truck, much easier than you can take somebody and bring them on a plane.”

However, the city has taken action in the airport by refreshing signage that highlights that every ethnicity or gender can be a victim of human trafficking.

Warnock also took the initiative to develop a training guide that can be utilized by multiple agencies and organizations to train their responders on what human trafficking looks like, who is affected, and how to deal with a victim?

“One of the reasons that I wanted to develop this training is it can really be anybody that needs to take it,” Warnock said.

According to her, a lot of people may not know that “one of the biggest indicators that somebody might get caught up in sex trafficking is if they’ve been molested as a kid.”

“Originally I was answering a need for training. The minute I started, people were asking me to come lead training,” Warnock said.

She continued, “The Gateway Center was the first to ask me. I realized that it was a great place that could have it because they serve men. I visited and pointed out to them that men are trafficking victims too.”

Warnock’s training has since been requested by the Atlanta Police Department (ADP) and the Super Bowl Host Committee and it’s over 10,000 volunteers.

In terms of legislation, Warnock has identified Georgia as being “very progressive on trafficking.” She uses the Safe Harbor Bill as an example of how the state has decided to take on human trafficking.

The Safe Harbor Bill is an amendment to the Georgia Constitution, creating a fund for innocent victims to receive the intensive restorative services.

As much as $2 million annually will be dedicated to supporting child victims, as young as nine years old, of sex trafficking and horrific abuse.

“A lot of kids that are trafficked are already in our government’s systems through foster care and homelessness,” said Warnock. “Children without parents are obviously easier to exploit without parents looking after them day after day.”

At the end of 2017, Georgia’s legislature passed House Bill 341, provided provisions for sentencing human traffickers, of both sex and labor.

However, former Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams was criticized, last September, for refusing to vote on the bill, because she claimed that it took power away from judges. Regardless it passed in Georgia’s House of Representatives, 168-1.

Back in October 2018, the city of Atlanta held its inaugural Human Trafficking Policy Roundtable.

The summit brought together more than 50 community leaders to discuss new policy trends, adjustments being made to direct-services, the evolution of the healthcare delivery system, and opportunities for collaboration across the survivors’ services continuum.

Warnock was able to bring more than 15 organizations from the public and private sectors to examine labor and sex trafficking practices and identified effective service delivery options.

Collaboration is critical to the City’s commitment to ending human trafficking,” Warnock said.

They also discussed signage in schools, hotels and convenience stores, parents’ roles in prevention and reporting, and ways to bridge the generational gap to better educate communities with varying awareness levels of human trafficking.

As Warnock continues the ninth month of her position, she reflected on all she has learned and what she plans on accomplishing.

With more than a third of her 24-months behind her, Warnock has already managed provide an educational base for human trafficking in Atlanta, bring together major organizations, and win the favor of Bottoms.

Oulèye N. Warnock, senior human trafficking fellow for the City of Atlanta, has been tasked with creating a strategy for combating human trafficking citywide. (Courtesy / City of Atlanta)

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