AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Human trafficking has become one of the fastest growing crimes in the world. But the reality is it’s happening in our own backyard. Now one Augusta woman has made it her mission to not only raise awareness, but save as many victims as she can. Meet Elizabeth Smith, this month’s woman to watch.
Human trafficking. Sex slaves. These jolting phrases aren’t ones that are often spoken, but the grim reality is it’s what’s happening in some of our own neighborhoods.
“If these women and boys for that matter are experiencing these atrocities every single day, who am I to not do something about it?” asked Elizabeth Smith, Co-founder of “I’m Aware”.
It’s a question Smith asked herself seven years ago after watching a documentary that her brother suggested she watch on this topic.
“We decided we wanted to do something about it. We reached out to some international and some domestic locations just trying to see if we, you know, could start a chapter here kind of thing, and just didn’t get a lot of traction with that,” said Smith.
That’s when the two pulled their funds together and started the nonprofit, “I’m Aware”.
“Our goal really is to impact the people and professions that are more likely to come in contact with a victim,” said Smith.
With Interstate 20 connecting Augusta to Atlanta and beyond, Masters week is a time when many victims will come through our area.
“We spend our time every week, prior to Masters week, educating hotel staff, and hotel managers and trying to put some information out that’s discrete so that if victims do come across it they have that resource and they have a way that they can get some help,” said Smith.
The impact Elizabeth has already made is undeniable – felt all the way to the Richmond County District Attorney’s office.
“She really opened my eyes to a lot of the issues that were going on and certainly turned me on to investigations that I probably would have never even thought about before,” said Natalie Paine, Assistant District Attorney, Richmond County.
Paine says she believes the recent increase in law enforcement training focusing on human trafficking, has a direct correlation with Elizabeth’s founding of “I’m Aware”. GBI Special Agent, Charles Kicklighter, says having an advocate like her helps them tremendously.
“If she’s focusing on the ‘see sex’ issue that’s good because she can get out and meet people. Where if someone’s not comfortable talking to law enforcement she can talk to them and make them,” said GBI Special Agent, Charles Kicklighter.
The next phase for “I’m Aware” is to create opportunity for everyday people to get more involved, helping Elizabeth in the fight–a fight that she had no idea was so big.
“You know, I can’t take the world on, but I can impact one person at a time. And if that’s all I can do, then that’s all I can do,” said Smith.
To learn more about “I’m Aware” you can visit their website.
To nominate someone you think is worthy of being a “Woman To Watch” click here.