The facts about sex trafficking are beyond startling. They are eye-opening, gut-wrenching and heart-breaking.
Let’s start with the big picture and context of modern-day slavery.
A slave in Atlanta in 1850 cost around the equivalent of $40,000 today; now, the average price for a slave is $90.
Understanding the Problem
Millions of people all over the world are bought and sold as slaves every day.
There are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today. The worldwide sex trade is currently exploiting one million children. The total yearly profit of this black-market trade in human beings is $32 billion. Sex trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the 21st century. Our country has a war on drugs. What about these innocent little girls?
The U.S. State Department estimates that 244,000 American children and youth are at risk of sexual exploitation. The average age of children exploited is 14; however, children as young as 10 and 11 have been reported as victims.
This Is Personal
I am an abolitionist of the modern slave trade of little children in our region. In Atlanta, approximately 400 young children are bought and sold for sex each month. An estimated 7,200 men pay for sex with adolescent girls each month in our state.
A study by the Atlanta Mayor’s Office found that “there is a strong spatial correlation between areas of adult prostitution activities and juvenile prostitution-related activities.”
The report said sex trafficking is a major issue in several areas in metro Atlanta including Metropolitan Parkway, Moreland Avenue, Vine Street, Peachtree and North Avenue and Pharr Road. And the crime isn't limited to the inner parts of Atlanta but stretches into Marietta and Cobb County as well.
“I have an interest in working these cases because these children have been unfairly labeled and cases are not being investigated,” says Cobb County Crimes Against Children Detective Carol Largent.
In short, child sex slavery is actively happening in our back yard!
Where is the problem and who actually purchases sex from minors?
The Schapiro Group is a data‐driven strategic consulting firm based in Atlanta. They produced a study that shows the largest group of men who purchase sex with young females is found in the north metro Atlanta area, outside I-285 (42 percent). It also shows that 23 percent of buyers are from the south metro area, 26 percent are in the city’s core and only 9 percent come from the airport area.
Child sex trafficking is just as huge a problem for affluent families in Marietta as it is in the inner city of Atlanta.
Any young girl is at risk for being enslaved for sex. Factors such as childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence at home, poverty and running away lead to a much greater threat.
An estimated 1.6 million children run away from home each year in the United States. The average time it takes before a trafficker or a solicitor approaches a runaway is only 48 hours.
And 90 percent of runaway girls in Atlanta become part of the city’s sex trade, and 70 to 90 percent of commercially sexually exploited children have a history of childhood sexual abuse.
Girls are lured in by recruiters and pimps; other children are also used as recruiters. At times, a girl’s own family may be the sellers.
One Girl’s Story
At the age of 6, Sarah’s brother's best friend sexually molested her. She never told anyone. When she was in her teens, her brother was killed in a car accident. This tore her family apart, and her parents divorced. Sarah (her name has been changed to protect her identity) went to live with her mother, and her father quickly remarried. He then had another child. She felt rejected by him.
Sarah’s mother was accustomed to the wealthier lifestyle she previously had, but was now living jobless in a trailer in the suburbs of Atlanta. Due to Sarah acting out as a young teen, she ended up with a probation officer. He would stop by the house and eventually started fixing things Sarah’s mother needed done and ended up eating dinner with them. One night, her mother told Sarah that her probation officer had been kind to them and that Sarah needed to repay him. Then her mother left them alone, and he took advantage of her. This happened several times. He had a family. Sarah was only 15 years old.
This opened the door to Sarah’s mother commercially sexually exploiting her as a teenager. She set up clients who would visit them at their home. These clients were typically CEOs, presidents, directors and managers of many successful Atlanta companies. Many were violent, some would beat her, and others burned her with cigarettes.
At 19, Sarah had a son by a high school boyfriend. After the birth of her son, her mother kept the baby while Sarah started dancing at clubs. She could make $800 a night. Sarah tried holding down "normal" jobs, but her mother pressured her into dancing and often threatened to take her son away if she ever quit. Sarah danced for more than nine years. She also did drugs and drank to cope. Eventually, Sarah realized that the environment for her son was horrible and sent him to live with his father while she moved out of her mother's home.
Just four months ago, a lady in whow Sarah had confided gave her the book A League of Dangerous Women. Sarah read it and was so moved by the fact that there were other women who had backgrounds just like hers. She called Wellspring Living, the subject organization in the book, and a few days later was in its assessment center.
Sarah is now in the Wellspring Living program and doing well. She has told her story to her son, now 19, and to her father. Both were completely unaware of the things that went on. They are all in family therapy and working on reunification. Sarah has little contact with her mother.
A Glimpse of Hope
Based on seven years of experience with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, Wellspring Living was approached by several leaders in 2007 to address the issue of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in Georgia. In 2008 they formed a partnership to provide a place for education, therapy and a safe refuge to the young victims.
Through their phased approach in therapy and education, the girls progress at their own rate, and they become prepared to reintegrate into society as successful citizens. The curriculum is very individualized. To date, 45 girls have been through the program. Nine now have their high school diplomas, one is in college, three are in tech school, and the others are on grade level back in school. Only two of the girls are back in a dangerous lifestyle. People across the nation are looking toward Wellspring as a model to create similar programs in their communities. Wellspring founder and director Mary Frances Bowley says: “We look at the whole person and what’s best for her. That approach has proven a huge successful impact.”
With only 14 beds for victims of CSEC, Wellspring is one of the largest treatment facilities and the only comprehensive care center in the country. The greatest struggle is the desire to do more and to help more of the at least 200 girls currently in need in Georgia; however, Wellspring is privately funded and doesn’t have the financial capacity to grow right now.
“I think we’re all responsible for our community, and if there’s someone hurting and oppressed, that’s a part of what we’re created to do–to be a part of restoration. These girls are just little girls who have not had the chance to be a little girl. We just want to be able to provide the opportunity for young girls and women who want their life to be different. We’re excited about it. We see something that’s really working. We believe this model is from God,” Bowley says.