According to a study by Atlanta-based firm The Schapiro Group, about 12,400 men across the state purchase young women for sex in a given month. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has named Atlanta as one of the top 14 U.S. cities with the highest incidents of children being used in prostitution.
“Do we really want to be known as a place where women and children are exploited in a wholesale fashion? I don’t think so,” said Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols, who served as moderator of the lunch and learn event.
Nine speakers gave presentations on what their respective groups are doing to end sex trafficking in Atlanta and what others can do to help. Echols said the purpose of the event was for attendees to go back to their businesses and circles of influence and make others aware of the issue and rally them into action.
“There are lots of different ways for you to have an impact in this,” he said.
The Salvation Army has a program called HavenATL, which helps women and girls transition to better lives after being the victims of sex trafficking.
“The reality is it’s not just happening in Third World countries or in other cities,” said Hillary DeJarnett, the program’s co-founder. “It’s happening here and it’s happening today.”
Andi Worley, training coordinator with Norcross-based organization Street Grace, shared a story of an individual from her 50-home subdivision near Lake Lanier being arrested for a sex crime.
“One of the first things that you can do is to make your community — wherever your sphere of influence is — aware of this issue,” she said.
Many of the presenters said representatives from their groups are able to come out to speak to others about how sex trafficking affects the local community. Several organizations also offer training for individuals to get actively involved in helping victims.
Sgt. Torrey Kennedy of the DeKalb County Special Victims Unit shared a case study which illustrated how victims come from all types of backgrounds — older teens from troubled homes and even 13-year-olds living in stable, affluent, two-parent households.
Gerald Durley, a retired pastor from Providence Missionary Baptist Church in southwest Atlanta, said it will take sacrifice and risk to combat the issue just like those who fought in the civil rights movement decades ago.
“All of this starts with a ground swell — individuals collectively working together in a collaborative manner,” he said.