September 24, 2023

Experts have said that Savannah has an acute sex trafficking problem.

Compared to communities of similar size and population, Savannah is a target largely because of the ports, the I-95 corridor and the tourism industry, in addition to relatively close proximity to major sex trafficking hubs, such as Miami, Atlanta and Tampa.

On Sept. 20, Georgia Legal Services Program Executive Director Susan Coppedge will expand on why human trafficking is so prevalent in Georgia, and nationwide, serving as the keynote speaker at the Fall Human Trafficking Stakeholder Meeting meeting for Tharros Place, a local nonprofit that will provide stable housing to underage survivors of human trafficking.

The event, hosted at the Eckburg Auditorium on 5717 White Bluff Road, will provide more information about human trafficking, including the different types of trafficking and how it operates in Georgia.

Tharros Executive Director Julie Wade said this is the fourth stakeholder meeting, which they host twice per year. This event is free and open to the public.

“[Susan Coppedge] is kind of like a celebrity in this space,” Wade said. “She brings international experience, and she also has done really critical work right here in Georgia.”

More: Attorney Julie Wade to launch Tharros Place to aid young victims of human trafficking

‘Beyond troubling’: Current, former government officials tied to human trafficking probe in Georgia

Susan Coppedge is the Executive Director of Georgia Legal Services.

Susan Coppedge is the Executive Director of Georgia Legal Services.

A look at Susan Coppedge’s expertise

Coppedge knows a thing or two about human trafficking.

After all, as a former Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) in the Northern District of Georgia, Susan Coppedge prosecuted the first federal human trafficking case in Georgia.

A grand jury returned a 265-count indictment naming fifteen human traffickers, involving conduct spanning from 1997 through 2001. The Defendants were convicted of conspiracy in violation of the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

“By virtue of one case, I kind of became an expert in this area,” Coppedge said in a video call. “Once you have that contact with those survivors and those victims, it’s incredibly meaningful work and very hard to leave.”

Coppedge has been working in the anti-trafficking world ever since. From 2000 through 2015, Coppedge served as an AUSA in the Northern District of Georgia, indicting more than 50 human traffickers and assisting over 93 human trafficking victims. In October 2015, Coppedge was appointed by President Obama, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as United States Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons for the U.S. State Department, a role she served in until July 2017.

Coppedge took some time off, before taking a management role with Kids in Need of Defense, a non-profit law firm that provides legal and social services to unaccompaniedimmigrant and refugee children, and then serving as an attorney for Krevolin & Horst.

The Tiffany Simpson case

In May 2022, Coppedge was appointed the executive director of the Georgia Legal Services, a nonprofit law firm that offers free civil legal services to Georgians with low incomes through 10 regional offices across 154 of Georgia’s 159 counties.

In 2012, 17-year-old Tiffany Simpson wrote a letter to an anti-trafficking advocate from a south Georgia prison, where she had been imprisoned for 10 months, according to a Washington Post story.

“I was wondering something. Maybe you can help me,” she wrote. “Am I a victim of sex trafficking, or am I a prostitute?”

In 2021 – nine years into Simpson’s 30-year sentence – Coppedge agreed to take the case on a pro bono basis. On Nov. 22, 2022, the South Georgia Judicial Circuit vacated Simpson’s convictions and she was released from prison.

“It was very frustrating to me that they were not both seen as victims,” Coppedge said.

Drew Favakeh is the public safety and courts reporter for Savannah Morning News. You can reach him at

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Human trafficking law expert to speak at Tharros Place event

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