It is traditional for Georgia’s first ladies to choose specific causes to champion, and when Marty Kemp’s husband, Brian, was elected governor in 2018, she already held a few issues close to her heart. But two weeks before stepping into the role, she attended a press conference at Atlantic Station about human trafficking. Seventy-two school buses wrapped around the streets, representing the 3,600 children sold into the sex trade in Georgia each year.
Struck by the sight and how little she’d heard about the issue, Kemp formed the GRACE Commission (Georgians for Refuge, Action, Compassion, and Education), a panel of experts across law enforcement, nonprofit, and business sectors. “The more I learned about it, the more I realized why people aren’t talking about it. It’s a tough issue to talk about,” she says.
She wasn’t fazed. At an early GRACE commission meeting, two survivors of human trafficking spoke up during the public comment period. “They really let me have it. They said, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about,’” Kemp recalls. She invited them to have lunch with her at the Governor’s Mansion and share their experiences—feedback that helped inform a spate of legislation that rolled out in 2020 and 2021.
Georgia’s human trafficking survivors now have the ability to change their names and to seal records of crimes committed while they were being trafficked. They can sue anyone who profited off their trafficking, such as a hotel. Perpetrators also face harsher penalties, including a felony charge for pimping or pandering; truck drivers lose their commercial driver’s license for life. And Kemp is pursuing more safeguards.
She points to the state’s robust interstate network and busy airport as avenues of human trafficking—which affects all races, classes, and genders—in Georgia. To teach everyday citizens how to identify and help victims, the GRACE Commission created a 30-minute training video, available on the governor’s website. “The statistics show it’s in 146 counties out of 159, but I’ve always said it’s in 159. We just don’t recognize it,” she says.