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R. Kelly conviction highlights new report on human trafficking in U.S., Georgia

By David Pendered

The conviction of disgraced singer R. Kelly on all counts of abuse, including forced labor, underscores a groundbreaking new report on human trafficking in the United States that includes a section on Georgia.

R. Kelly was the subject of abuse allegations when he performed ‘Mr. Show Biz Presents: The Light it Up Tour’ in Atlantic City, N.J. (Photo by Nicholas Ballasy via wikipedia.org)

Kelly’s conviction on Sept. 27 ended almost three decades of allegations against Robert Sylvester Kelly, known as R. Kelly, an R&B performer and music industry entrepreneur who’s won three Grammy Awards and 26 nominations. A federal jury in Brooklyn found Kelly guilty on all nine counts of a superseding indictment, including sexual exploitation of minors, coercion and forced labor, according to a statement from the U.S. District Attorney’s office for New York City.

The conviction has focused attention on the “2020 Federal Human Trafficking Report,” issued Oct. 4 by the Human Trafficking Institute. Since 2017, the institute has provided an annual overview of all federal prosecutions of human trafficking.

This year’s edition contains additional information – a compilation of every federal criminal prosecution of human trafficking, in each state, since Congress in 2000 enacted the landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act. A portion of the law provides this definition of trafficking:

Federal prosecutors filed far more cases alleging sex trafficking than forced labor (top chart). Most victims in the United States of human trafficking come from Central and South America. (Images from ‘2020 Federal Human Trafficking Report,’ compiled by David Pendered)

  • “[T]he recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”

Key take-aways from the Human Trafficking Institute’s report include:

  • Forced labor prosecutions are rare. Prosecutors in 2020 filed more sex trafficking prosecutions than all forced labor prosecutions since 2000;
  • The Southern District of Georgia filed its first-ever forced labor case in 2020;
  • “In 2020, the Northern District of Georgia dismissed charges against three defendants from a sex trafficking case filed in 2002. One of the defendants was prosecuted in Mexico and the other two defendants are fugitives, also believed to be in Mexico.”
  • A total of 3,169 defendants have been convicted in human trafficking cases since 2000;
  • The majority of victims who enter the United States come from Central and South America;
  • Most offenders employed non-physical violence to control victims – threats, fraud, withholding pay or immigration documents;
  • One-third of cases begin with a notification from a victim to law enforcement or hotline.

That last data point, on who alleges the crime, is a common phenomenon, as the majority of victims tend to fear reprisal or feel shame and do not notify anyone of their situation.

The courage of victims coming forward was cited by a top investigator in the R. Kelly case. Peter Fitzhugh, special agent-in-charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New York, noted in the statement:

In the 2019 Women’s March in Los Angeles, a woman carried a sign calling for action against the singer R. Kelly. (Photo by Luke Harold via wikimedia.org)

  • “When his victims tried to escape, Mr. Kelly and his accomplices silenced them through bribery, intimidation, and physical violence. The brave survivors who overcame Mr. Kelly’s abuse deserve our upmost respect for telling their stories and bringing an end to his 30-year reign of terror over the young and vulnerable.”

In her introduction to the new report, the Human Trafficking Institute’s director of legal engagement, Lindsey Roberson, pays special tribute to victims of abuse, and highlights their help in producing a report that highlights progress and points to the need for more work to combat predators:

  • “We are grateful for … the survivors who make this report possible and ensure it is an accurate and victim-centered tool for those working to combat trafficking. This one-of-a-kind analysis allows us to celebrate how far we have come in holding traffickers accountable for their crimes, but also to take an honest look at how much work there is still to do.”

Note to readers: If you or someone you know is in immediate physical danger, call local law enforcement at 911. If you or someone you know may be a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (toll free) 888-373-7888.

David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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