Q: I’ve been shocked to learn that the metro Atlanta area (including the suburbs) is a hub for sex trafficking and the exploitation of children in that “trade.” I had no idea it was right here in my community and in such numbers. I guess I didn’t know because it is so well-hidden. What in the world can an everyday person like me do to combat this evil?
A: I’ve asked Lisa C. Williams, one of the nation’s leading voices on the subject, to respond to your question. Here is her reply:
“There is a problem right under our noses. It includes torture, rape, brainwashing, forced tattooing and branding, and other heinous tactics used by traffickers/pimps, adults and others who aim to profit from the victimization of our children and those most vulnerable in our communities. It is called sex trafficking.
“This is not an easy or popular subject, but it is a growing problem that crosses streets, cities, states and countries. It does not discriminate by zip code, race or economic status. And it most often targets our youngest citizens—those who are not even old enough to vote or drive. Sex trafficking snatches our children’s freedom and decimates their human rights.
“Victims of sex trafficking are often runaways or throwaways. They were often seeking to escape homes where they have been emotionally abandoned or physically and sexually abused. However, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes they were just naïve children who made bad decisions, which led them into unimaginable circumstances.
“The average age range in which a girl first becomes a victim is 12-14 and for boys it is 11-13. The 2011 FBI report on trafficking indicates that approximately 293,000 U.S. children are at risk of being exploited and trafficked for sex. One child at risk of being bought or sold is one child too many.
“Trafficked youth endure a brutalized existence, constantly subjected to pregnancy, forced abortions, compulsory drug use, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS and the threat of death to themselves or their families. There are minimal chances of them being identified or rescued once they have been abducted or lured away because they are imprisoned, and well-hidden as you pointed out, in homes, hotels or on business premises.
“For those who are found, law enforcement and community grapple with how to best help victims and combat the demand — those buying our children for their sexual perversion or profit. But there is hope. People speaking up and asking, “How can I help?” is the first step. Taking any of the steps below is the next.
- Monitor your children’s computer, Internet-based games and cell phone usage. Speak with them about the dangers of online recruitment.
- Store the Human Trafficking Hotline number 1 (888) 373-7888 in your cell phone to promptly report suspicious activity. Contact your local law enforcement as well.
- Get informed and share facts with your circle of influence (i.e., your family, house of worship, school, workplace, etc).
- Use social media to inform your friends and networks. Follow us @LivingWaterGirls and other organizations that work to combat trafficking and get useful information and resources. Share articles and images that raise awareness about the atrocities of sex trafficking on your social media pages.
- Volunteer with organizations that promote self-esteem and self-worth among young people.
- Recognize and share warning signs with other responsible adults — invite them to get involved.
- Contact your local, state and federal elected officials and policymakers. Let them know you support legislation that brings justice for the victim and holds the perpetrator legally accountable for their criminal activity.
“Most importantly, now that you know, don’t forget. Sex trafficking only remains hidden as long as we refuse to see it.
“Be vigilant and be a voice. Together, we can save and restore our children.”
Lisa C. Williams is the founder of Living Water for Girls, a program of Circle of Friends: Celebrating Life, a nonprofit organization based in Georgia.
Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lauretta Hannon, a resident of Powder Springs, is the bestselling author of The Cracker Queen — A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life and a keynote speaker. Southern Living has named her “the funniest woman in Georgia.” See more at thecrackerqueen.com.