Local authorities closed the case, but in 2021 the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit reopened it and successfully prosecuted four men.
ATLANTA — It’s a story of bravery, survival and perseverance.
A 15-year-old who ran away in 2018 found herself on the streets of Atlanta and it wouldn’t be long until she found herself on a dating app posing as an 18-year-old.
The young woman, who wants to only be called “Johnny” for this story, said it didn’t take long once she created her dating profile for men to start filling up her inbox with messages.
It would be one specific man who caught her attention.
“He would basically sell fake fantasies of him being my boyfriend, us being together, building an empire,” Johnny said.
In reality, we know now this man was a predator who was grooming his next victim.
“Me being young and not having a father figure, it’s like I can’t really tell if a dude is trying to use me or if they really want to be with me because I’ve never experienced that love from a male figure, I was just that person falling for it,” Johnny explained.
She said less than two weeks after meeting this man on the app, the two met up and it would be the first time he sold her to another man for sex.
“The same app I met him from, ugh, that’s the same app he was selling me off of,” Johnny said.
She said it continued for months in different hotel rooms. Johnny said she also became addicted to drugs during this time.
“I was given beans which have multiple drugs in it,” Johnny explained. “Me being on those, I wasn’t really there; physically I was but mentally I wasn’t here.”
Johnny believes she was sold to at least 50 men, if not more, over several months in 2018.
“I told him that I don’t want to do it anymore, my body can’t take it, my body was messed up badly, I couldn’t even walk,” Johnny explained.
She said even when the pain was so unbearable she couldn’t get out of bed, she would continue to be sold for sex. But, it would be one of the men who was buying her, that would end up being the person who got her out of this hell.
“He came and he noticed something was wrong,” Johnny explained. “He told me to get my stuff, he’s going to get me out of that situation and that’s how I really got out.”
Shortly after getting out of the human trafficking ring, Johnny found herself under arrest while living on the streets. At this time, she was still considered a runaway. It was her chance to tell authorities what she’d been through over the past several months. However, nothing happened. Johnny said she told investigators what happened, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears.
“I felt like no one believed me,” Johnny said.
It turned out, she wasn’t too far from the truth.
“I thought people were just having a hard time trying to find me because I was in foster homes and I was in group homes, too, so I thought it was just hard for people to find me, but it wasn’t that,” Johnny explained.
Unknown to her, the local authorities closed her case with not a single arrest.
It would be a couple years later in 2021 when the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Unit was formed and Chief Investigator Bryan Kimbell re-opened the case.
Not only did the unit go after those who sold Johnny, but they were able to track down two sellers as well, which took months and months of investigating.
“Let this serve as a lesson for those who seek to abuse and exploit Georgia’s children – you will be identified, vigorously pursued and aggressively prosecuted,” Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said.
It was after an initial story I did on this multi-defendant case that Johnny reached out to me on Instagram, with a screen shot of my original story and the message, “Good evening, I am the girl that was 15 being sex traffic and after my case I would like to tell you my story.”
Johnny told me when we sat down at 11Alive: “I just want a voice, I have a voice.”
She had a message for other young people who might be considering leaving their home.
“Think twice before you want to leave your parents house or your mother’s house to be with a dude or because you can’t take authority and go to a friend’s house,” Johnny said.
She hopes her story will help others out there not fall for the grooming tactics of these predators looking to prey on innocent, vulnerable children.
“To me it’s a lesson learned because I know what to look into a man for even though my father couldn’t tell me how to look into a man,” Johnny said. “I know how not to find somebody like that.”
Johnny is now about to turn 21. She’s close to finishing her GED while working at the same time. Johnny has started a new life, with a new boyfriend, who she said is supportive of her journey and understands where she’s come from over the last couple of years.
“I just got my closure in court. I’m happy now, I’m really happy now,” she said.
If you suspect human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll free at (888) 373-7888. To report suspected human trafficking in Georgia, call the Statewide 24-Hour Human Trafficking Hotline at (866) 363-4842. If you have reason to believe that a victim is in imminent danger, call 911 or your local law enforcement agency to file a report. For more information on how to get help for both national and foreign-born victims of human trafficking, visit www.endhtga.org.