SAVANNAH, Ga. (CN) - Three teenage girls, all dressed in onesie pajamas, arrived at a local hospital. At least two of them had been brought there in the back of a police cruiser. One was in handcuffs, a shocking contrast to her fresh face and well-kept hair.
This is what human trafficking can look like in Savannah, Ga.
“This was the first time we’d ever had three underage girls all at once,” said Brenda Lewis, a victim advocate at of the Rape Crisis Center of the Coastal Empire, a nonprofit serving victims of rape and sexual assault in Southeast Georgia.
“You don’t believe it’s happening in the community, but it’s our homeless kids, abused kids, our affluent kids, our smart kids. It’s happening in every hotel you can think of it. Before I got this case, I didn’t understand. It’s literally what you see in the movies,” Lewis said.
This was the fall of 2015. The girl in handcuffs was just 13, but looked years younger and weighed no more than100 pounds, Lewis recalled. The two girls in the police car were 16 and 17.
The FBI discovered the girls living in a Chatham County, Ga. motel room, dressed as little girls. Their pimp, Timothy Lewis, made the 16-year-old sleep in a bathtub and the girls were forced to have sex up to ten times per day, with Lewis pocketing the proceeds, prosecutors said.
A Georgia jury convicted more of 13 child sex trafficking charges in March 2017. He is currently being held in federal prison.
The common misconceptions about the victims of human trafficking are that they are from other countries, are often impoverished, and are of certain ethnicities. None of the three girls in the motel room fit this profile.
The one attribute victims typically share is they all come from homes where they were subjected to emotional, physical or sexual abuse, said Philip Wislar, supervisory special agent in the Savannah FBI office.
“It’s similar to young gang members who say that ‘this gang is my family.’ We’ve seen some parallels sometimes to this. These victims feel they have nowhere else to go,” Wislar said.
He said the psychological damage is almost akin to Stockholm Syndrome. “Perpetrators of this heinous crime prey on this ... so the victim doesn’t feel they have a way out.”
Lewis recalled what 13 year old told her the first time they spoke in the hospital. According to the victim's advocate, the girl had had fight with her mother at a Savannah mall, and shortly afterwards was approached by a “somewhat attractive guy in his late twenties" who said, ‘"Why don’t you come live with me for a while? I’ll get you a cell phone. We can get your hair done. I’ll take care of you.”
Lewis said when the girl agreed to go with him, he took her to a van filled with other men in the mall parking lot.
The men proceeded to "beat her into submission, gave her drugs, and took her to a Savannah motel to have sex with her and keep her there,” Lewis said.
After weeks of being forced to have sex with a minimum of four men per day, these men said they’d lay off her if she recruits more girls, Lewis said.