Human trafficking involves the exploitation of someone for a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud or coercion. It is a scourge on society as a whole and the city of Atlanta in particular. Cassandra Kirk, Fulton County Magistrate Court Chief Judge, is working with others in the city to stop it.
Kirk serves on the board of Street Grace, a faith-based organization mobilizing clergy, business and community leaders, to end the trafficking of children throughout the nation.
Rolling out spoke with the judicial crusader about the extent of the problem, the warning signs to look for and what we can all do to help keep our children safe.
Why does Atlanta have such a high number of child sex trafficking victims?
We have a low cost of living. A substantial proportion of our residents are employed, thanks to our great economy, and our city is a draw for conventions. All of these result in a city in which people have disposable income and ease of travel to and through Atlanta using our international airport and interstates. Sixty-five percent of men who purchase sex with children in Atlanta live in suburban areas outside of the I-285 perimeter.
What are warnings signs people can look for?
Changes in relationships, behaviors, appearance and possessions. Is the person in a relationship that appears controlling? Does the youth have new friends or associate with older, unrelated adults? Does the youth have new, unaccounted for clothes, [a] cell phone, jewelry, false ID, [or] gift cards? Does the youth have new tattoos, [or] unexplained bruising? Do they dress inappropriately for the weather? Are they constantly tired, hungry, [or] dehydrated?
This is the time to engage the children in your life more fully. Ensure your children’s online profiles and social media presence are void of personal information and check their profiles frequently to see to whom and what they are sending. Make sure youth have a trusted adult with whom they can speak when anything raises a concern, or makes them uncomfortable.
What can people do to stop this epidemic?
We must have adequate supports for those desiring to leave the life. We cannot just tell people it’s bad. We have to offer appropriate counseling to combat trauma, sufficient job skills, career education and resources, to allow victims to survive with dignity once they get out. We must educate our youth, our communities and those in child-friendly and service industries to prevent demand, recognize the signs of child sex trafficking and report it safely — for them as well as the victim.
How do organizations like Street Grace help to eliminate human sex trafficking?
In addition to our street teams and community awareness outreach, under the direction of Executive Director Bob Rodgers, Street Grace has expanded its efforts by delivering education, providing youth with the tools to protect themselves and their friends, and expanding Transaction Intercept — a tool that intercepts adults seeking to buy children online. [It also] works to find buyers of minor sex and strips away their anonymity.
If you suspect a child is at risk of harm, call 888-373-7888 (national) or 844-8GA-DMST (Georgia).