Editor’s note: This blog post was written by Katherine Thorne, an aspiring human rights lawyer interning with youthSpark. Katherine is a student at the University of Virginia, and has been instrumental in evaluating juvenile court system processes for connecting at-risk youth with early intervention services. We are thankful for her service, and inspired by her blog post!
I am not embarrassed to admit that I am a novice on the topic of sex trafficking. Throughout high school I had heard about the prostitution of youth as a troubling and pervasive issue throughout the U.S. However, I never pursued learning any more about the topic until a year ago.
Last summer I spent two months in southern Ghana researching child labor trafficking in the fishing industry on an ethics grant from the University of Virginia. My research highlighted the lack of governmental infrastructure for providing rehabilitation for trafficking victims, and the often insurmountable difficulties posed by a developing country’s bureaucracy in trying to stop permanently the cycles of labor trafficking. These findings frustrated me to no end. I boarded a plane back to the U.S. and finished my two months feeling hopeless about whether I would be able to come back to continue working with the victimized children I had interviewed. However, I resolved that the following summer I would work closer to home on issues of human trafficking, so that I could feasibly commit more time and energy to resolving the human rights issue.
Initially I had assumed that poverty, unstable households, and a lack of education put young girls more at risk to be trafficked, just as it put young Ghanaian children at higher risk to be trafficked for their labor. However, on my first day I learned that any minor from any social class, any sort of household, and any background can be subjugated and victimized by the sex trafficking industry within the U.S.
After hearing that metro Atlanta has a high rate of child sex trafficking, I was appalled. Knowing that while I was going to bed, approximately 100-200 girls younger than me were being sexually exploited only minutes from where I live, I felt heartbroken but eager to be a part of youthSpark’s mission.
Learning that young girls who were prostituted by older adult males were more likely to be arrested and given jail time than the adults who trafficked them was the most shocking thing I learned on my first day. These young girls seemed to be victimized continually and then punished, while their perpetrators went free. Though there still is much to be done to fully eradicate sex trafficking even in the metro Atlanta area, I felt hopeful after seeing the historical progress in the last ten years made by this community in the fight against trafficking.
I am encouraged by youthSpark’s efforts to work within the infrastructure of government by working alongside juvenile court judges and probation officers, lobbying at the capitol, working on public policy, and fighting for effective sentencing for sex traffickers—both buyers and sellers—in order to stop sex trafficking in our community. During my internship at youthSpark, I hope to learn more about sex trafficking in Atlanta, and what we can do as a community to diminish the demand for prostituted minors and therefore eliminate sex trafficking in our backyard.
Editor’s note: the following blog post was written by Avni Ahuja, an intern at youthSpark. Avni has already had a great impact on the movement through her commitment to youthSpark, but her voice in motivating other youth to get involved in the issue is particularly inspiring. Avni is the incoming Vice President of her PATH Club at Alpharetta High School. We are grateful for her, as well as the rest of the PATH Club student activists!
I was first exposed to the subject of human trafficking at a youthSpark Teen Community Ambassador Training in 2014. I came out shocked and maybe a little discouraged, even though the experience was definitely educating. First let me clarify: I was discouraged because human trafficking is such a widespread, lucrative practice that I did not know what to address or where to start. It was completely overwhelming. Child sex trafficking is at the center of a complex web of bureaucracy, exploitation, and media. What is more horrifying is that a large amount of the public is scarcely aware of this problem because trafficking has become so ingrained in our society that many people fail to recognize when it is happening. How could I immerse myself in such a global and urgent issue? Where would I even begin?
After my initial hesitation, I decided to take youthSpark’s advice and become involved in my community. My first step was assuming a greater role in my high school’s PATH (People Against Trafficking Humans) Club. This year I served as secretary, and I admit there were many ups and downs. Teen participation is always a challenge, but the members involved gave 100% effort. Our effectiveness was a testament to “quality over quantity”. Organizing a seemingly simple event such as a guest speaker required months of preparation and extensive communication with our school’s administration, but the outcome was rewarding.
Our biggest success this year was participating in the 2015 DMST Lobby Day, which was attended by 20 or so PATH Club members. We observed a floor hearing in the Capitol on DMST legislation, and some legislators seemed less engaged in the hearing than those of us in the audience were. After rallying with other purple scarf-clad supporters, my fellow PATH Club members and I came back to school with a new resolve. If there was ever a turning point for me, this was it.
Now, here I am as Vice President of Alpharetta High School’s PATH Club, and a brand new intern at youthSpark. I am excited about the opportunities this internship is providing me. But, it is up to me to open the proverbial doors to see what further opportunities await. I hope that I will contribute to youthSpark in a meaningful way, but also be able to bring back what I have learn to others in my community, where many have yet to acknowledge that child sex trafficking is an issue in our own backyards.
I look forward with optimism because I am confident that the efforts of everyone participating in this humanitarian movement will positively impact the lives of future generations. Whenever I feel discouraged, I remember the bigger picture and the reason why I care so much about human trafficking. After all, every little thing we do can end up making a big difference, often in ways that we cannot foresee at the time.
Editor’s note: the following post was written by Sofia Broffman, a talented intern at youthSpark preparing to enter her senior year at the Atlanta Girls’ School. Not only do we greatly appreciate her hard work, but we are in awe of her depth of understanding of this complicated subject matter. Please enjoy her essay, and share it widely to help spread the word!
What comes to mind when you hear the words “sex trafficking”? Do these words conjure up images of far-off places? Brothels in Bangladesh, dimly lit side streets in India, or the flashing red light district in Amsterdam? Most likely when you hear these words, you don’t think of your own city, your own neighborhood, your own backyard, Atlanta.
Growing up in Atlanta, my childhood was very much idyllic. I would spend my days playing outside, completely immersed in my own perfect world. As I grew up, I started realizing that this “perfect bubble” I was given was far from reality. As many realities in this world suddenly started to seem unfair to me, one of the most shocking realities hit me when I was in seventh grade. I learned that one of my classmates was being trafficked by her mom to fuel her drug addiction. I already knew that sex trafficking existed in other parts of the world from watching my dad, a documentary filmmaker, make an International Justice Mission (IJM) documentary that focused on sex trafficking in Asia. When I found out that a girl I knew was experiencing the same horrors in the city I grew up in, I was disgusted. I was further shocked when she dropped out of school and I never saw her again. This drove me to want to learn all I could about this appalling industry and how it affects Atlanta.
With Atlanta being a hub of child sex trafficking, I learned quickly just how much of an issue it is in our city. I was horrified to find out girls and boys as young as ones I babysit were being lured into this terrible industry. What stood out to me was how easy it is for pimps to start a connection with youth via social media. With the rise of apps such as kik and tinder, it is easy for kids to become acquainted with strangers in an environment that tolerates inappropriate language and pictures. I think a big step in ensuring safety for many kids is to inform them that the stereotype of a pimp in a big fur coat, top hat, and drop top Cadillac is just that—a stereotype. Pimps look like everyday people, even family members, and this is why it is so easy for vulnerable girls and boys to begin a trusting relationship with a person who doesn’t seem to be a criminal.
A couple days ago, on my second day interning at youthSpark, a group of girls came in to learn about child sex trafficking in Atlanta. As the hour passed by, many of the girls had looks of shock. I was under the impression that the majority of them were unaware of the severity of this issue prior to the conversation. At the end of the meeting, the girls were asked to tell three of their friends about child sex trafficking in Atlanta and were given notecards with numbers for various hotlines if they suspect something to be awry. One of the first steps to ensuring the safety of girls in our city is informing others of the problem. Once they know what to look out for, they can both spread the word about the severity of child sex trafficking and help girls and boys who show signs of being victimized.
Since teenagers are the leaders of tomorrow, the more aware we are now, the more change we can make in our future. I hope that during my internship I will be able to reach out to my fellow peers to inform them of this problem, so that youth like my former classmate won’t be victimized by this hideous crime. It’s a crime that can rob girls and boys of their innocence, security, and dignity.
By Andrea Dempsey, youthSpark Intern and Community Ambassador
As I walked into my first Community Ambassador Training at Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Roswell, I had no idea what to expect. I had an interest in the topic of child sex trafficking ever since I heard Atlanta was a major hub for the industry, but I had no idea the forms it took or what it looked like. I was clueless as to the laws on the books that addressed the issue. I did not know who were the buyers, the pimps, or the girls. Where did they live? How old were they? I also was unaware of how I could make a difference. How could I, just one person, tackle the billion dollar sex trade industry? Attending this training answered many of these questions, and of course it sparked even more questions in my mind. I now am more educated about the issue, and I also feel inspired to do all I can to help.
One of the best aspects of the training was how we started the session. By going around the room and introducing ourselves, I learned how this issue affects such a diverse group of people. I was inspired by listening to the forty-some people in that church basement, from a young high-school student to a grandparent, men and women, teachers and business people- they all wanted to help. This issue is not just a women’s issue, or an inner-city issue. It is an issue that impacts everyone in our community because it happens in every community.
Not only did I enjoy connecting with my community about a topic that we all were passionate about, but I also learned so much from just three short hours. I was not very knowledgeable about this issue before attending, but even Allison Hood, a program coordinator at youthSpark, said she always learns something new from these sessions. This industry is constantly changing, with online activity from websites like Backpage, to seasonal events like the Super Bowl. The child sex industry changes with its environment, so there will always be a new angle from which we can look at this topic.
When the training session came to an end, I did not feel hopeless or discouraged because Jennifer (Swain) gave our group the tools we need to help stop child sex trafficking. If you attended, ask yourself: what is my call to action? As a marketing student and youthSpark intern, I plan to work with the branding and business end of youthSpark. But no matter who you are, you have a special skill or talent that is unique, and you can use it to help children who are at risk of being exploited or have already been exploited. This training will spark those connections.
It is amazing what Jennifer can teach in just three hours. Myself and other members of the community had the opportunity to network with one another, understand more about an issue we were interested in, and learn how we can make a difference. Whether you know nothing or everything about commercial sex trafficking, I highly encourage you to attend one of these trainings. It is the best way you can spend your Saturday morning!
For more information on our next Community Ambassador Training, email email@example.com.
This training during Father’s Day weekend is the perfect opportunity to invite the men in your life to learn more about how they can fight child sex trafficking!
Saturday, June 14, 2014
Zion Missionary Baptist Church–Fellowship Hall
888 Zion Circle
Roswell, GA 30075
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to RSVP.
Continental breakfast will be provided.
youthSpark Community Ambassadors are community members who volunteer their time to raise awareness regarding child sex trafficking and keeping their friends and family informed! This one-time 3 hour training session provides education on child sex trafficking here in Georgia, the demand for these children, red flags to look for, services available for any child in need of help, and how to report this crime to law enforcement.
By Suraj Sehgal, youthSpark Intern
As the President and Founder of Alpharetta High School’s People Against Trafficking Humans (PATH) Club, I have really been able to experience the whole process of starting a club. It all began when I attended youthSpark’s Community Ambassador Training around the end of 2012, which inspired me to learn more about sex trafficking and to try to take action. At the start of the next school year, I decided that I wanted to create and lead a club of my own; so I found a sponsor who was passionate about the cause and a few students who were interested in participating and thus, PATH Club was born!
Our goal is to raise awareness about and take action against human trafficking. We team up with local companies and organizations, like youthSpark, and People Against Sex Trafficking, Inc., in order to fundraise and contribute to the fight against trafficking: both domestically and abroad. In order to accomplish that goal, we have fundraised for AIDS Walk Atlanta, we’ve had Ms. Jennifer Swain speak at our school, we’ve sold blue wristbands that say the word “PRICELESS” for the Voices Project, and we were even able to attend DMST Lobby Day!
For more information about starting a club at your school, email email@example.com.
By Lairalaine White, youthSpark Community Ambassador
DOMESTIC MINOR SEX TRAFFICKING LOBBY DAY – Relevant…YES! Effective…YES! Necessary…YES DEFINITELY!
According to a recent study by the Urban Institute, the underground commercial sex economy’s worth across eight major US cities was $290 million. Since 2005, Atlanta’s pimps have been pulling in an average of $33,000 a week, compared to about $12,000 a week in Dallas and about $11,000 in San Francisco. All in my beloved hometown Atlanta and it has been a subject that has had my blood boiling ever since! Although DMST Lobby Day has been held for several years now, it was definitely a calling to consciousness, not just for me but for many who live in Atlanta, particularly those who work with children and young adults. We were all charged to rush to the website (notbuyingit.org) and take the pledge to mobilize into action, to advocate, to create awareness. And as a result of my motivation to advocate, I sought out organizations such as youthSpark, Wellspring Living and Street Grace to partner in the cause of creating awareness within state government on DMST Lobby Day 2014! And what a day it was! In the wake of this million dollar industry, some very active non-profits, along with some 300 volunteers and concerned citizens and other key players in law enforcement and government all gathered at the Capitol as a show of solidarity at the annual DMST Lobby Day. The atmosphere was fueled with a sense of urgency and passion for the cause as volunteers and representatives of the partnering organizations gathered early that morning to prepare for the days activities.
Yes! We were going to be about the business, through our activism, to motivate those who attended the day’s activities to hear the latest statistics, glean understanding from the array of dignitaries invited to speak, and the walk in solidarity across into the Georgia State Capitol to approach our legislators. Our state senators and representatives were urged to join the wave of awareness and activism by creating funding priorities in state budget services to benefit the victims as well as services that protect the vulnerable children who may become victims. The partnering organizations armed each of us with materials, pamphlets and other information that help each of us add relevance and importance to this day and this issue.
Several local, state, and federal officials were invited to speak about their efforts eradicating this form of modern day slavery. Ministers and Rabbis were called upon to intercede on behalf of those who have given themselves to the service of advocating and fighting the cause through prayers and sermonettes. Then, after all the horn tooting and banner waving was done and the last prayer was prayed, several of us present pulled out the letter provided to us in our registration kits, signed our names and the name of our legislators and made our way over to Georgia’s Gold Dome to pursue a conversation with lawmakers.
The Capitol was in the midst of its usual stir, a plethora of organizations, schools, grass root organizations and concerned individuals were in the number of people there that day. But somehow it seemed that the number of persons wearing the distinctive all black attire with purple scarves seemed to be more prevalent to me. Though the Governor’s office was filled with Girl Scout troops and Rotary Club members, I found purple scarves around the necks of those trailing in to meet with his honor as a symbol of the DMST presence in the political atmosphere of the day.
Julianna McConnell, Lobbyist for Street Grace, provided me with lots of insight and gave me valuable lessons on legislative protocol. As I sat and listened to her speak about her experiences, I felt a wonderful growth spurt about the process and how I could effectively advocate for the cause.After delivering my letters to my legislators and taking pictures with friends/politicians and making new acquaintances in the cause, I left the “gold dome” even more motivated to be a part in the season for change and reversal of the stigma that is attached to my beloved hometown.
I also began to reflect back on the spark that ignited this fire in me, I am moved mostly by the faces of the little girls I’ve encountered. Those who have given me testimonies of being put on a Greyhound bus and told they were going to stay with an uncle or aunt in Atlanta, only to find that they were being sold into prostitution for a few rocks of cocaine, or those 13, 14 and 15 year olds who went AWOL from the group homes I worked at back to parts of north Fulton County and Interstate 285 to be victimized further. I am stirred up in my spirit about the staggering statistics associated with my beloved city and the idea that the communities of metro Atlanta sit oblivious to this culture of modern day sex slavery and some view these girls as criminals and not victims! DMST Lobby Day is indeed very relevant, very effective and very necessary!
As I start my volunteer work I am moved to engage a new frontier of activism for me. I am already speaking to persons, whoever will listen in my own community, creating awareness of this issue and placing it on the calendar for next year. I urge whoever reads this to go to the Attorney General’s website and take the pledge! Then, contact Allison Hood and Jennifer Swain at youthSpark and get involved by becoming an Ambassador!
If you want to help be a part of the movement, please reach out to these organizations, especially my friends Allison Hood and Jennifer Swain at youthSpark
! Atlanta needs you, we need you, our children need you!
No matter who you are, you have a role to play in the fight to end child sex trafficking. youthSpark volunteer and Spelman College student LaDarrien Gillette writes about what she is doing to make a difference on her college campus.
By LaDarrien Gillette, youthSpark Volunteer
I first started working with youthSpark at the beginning of my sophomore year as an associate to Spelman’s Social Justice Program. I knew I wanted to work closely with a non-profit that provided help for girls who were at risk for being sex trafficked; I just didn’t know exactly how I could help. What could I possibly do as a 20 year old college student? I had so many ideas swirling in my head of what I wanted to do (most were ideas similar to the Taken movie, including busting down doors and rescuing victims), but I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to do this. So…I changed up my focus so that I was no longer constrained by the “savior complex” and instead I set out to learn more about this crime and the people affected by it. I had the opportunity at Spelman to start an organization called WOWpriceless under the Social Justice Program umbrella. We spent time coming up with ways to educate students on campus about this crime happening in our own backyard of Atlanta. One of my favorite things WOWpriceless did was the Priceless Road Home walk from Kings Chapel (Morehouse) to the Manley Patio (Spelman). I invited two other pioneers on this issue to come and speak and tell more about their fight to help end sex trafficking. It was a wonderful event that I hope to be able to do again. I am learning now that to educate more people on this issue you have to reach out to people and jar their interest. It takes some time but I am confident that educating individuals will be the main factor to helping end this type of modern day slavery.
Want to raise awareness about child sex trafficking on your college campus? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 11th is Human Trafficking Awareness Day! Take our I AM AWARE Challenge and share this infographic with your friends and family via social media and tag youthSpark! Each One, Reach One!
Most parents dread having the big “sex talk” when their child turns 14 years old. Today, if you wait until that age, it’s likely that someone – or television – has beaten you to the punch. According to the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, as many as 300,000 children are at risk for sexual exploitation each year in the United States, and with the average age of entry into prostitution being 12 to 14 years old, now is the most crucial time to understand the power of prevention when it comes to this horrific crime. youthSpark, Inc. has created two short videos that can be used to start a conversation with your child around this issue.
Download our Official Question & Answer Discussion Guide.
While there are many public service announcements (PSAs) available on the topic of child sex trafficking and these can be shown to anyone, youthSpark’s PSAs are specifically geared towards educating children as young as 10 years old as well as targeting the “demand” side of trafficking. More and more parents want to have this conversation, but don’t know how as some of the videos out there may not be suitable for children who aren’t considered vulnerable. Our goal is that this video will serve as a starting point to introduce this important topic to your children. In addition, we have created an Official Question & Answer Discussion Guide that provides suggested talking points and Care Clinician Tips. We encourage all parents and youth-serving organizations to use these videos and discussion guide as an appropriate resource to educate young people on the risks of child sex trafficking.
These PSAs were made possible with special partnership and funding by the Junior League of Atlanta.