By Haley Vincent, youthSpark Intern and leader of the Global Women’s Club at Westminster
Happy summer! As excited as all of us are to have a long and much needed break from school, we know it can be harder to find ways to advocate and raise awareness for youthSpark and the issue of child sex trafficking when school isn’t in session. We’ve created this short list of action steps you can take to continue all the great work you’re doing. We want you to use this list as a way to get started, but we also want you to use your own creativity and passion to make these ideas your own. Good luck—we can’t wait to see the exciting work we know you’ll do!
1. Have summer meetings with your Igniter club
If you have an Igniter club, do your best to continue to meet even during the summer. You don’t have to meet as frequently as during the school year, but a meeting once or twice a month will make it easier to jump right back in when school starts. Come up with ideas for events you could host, plan a few of your meetings, or even plan a school assembly. This is a great way to make sure your Igniter club will have a great and productive year!
2. Spread the word through social media
Most people are checking their social media accounts frequently during the summer, so take advantage of that by liking or sharing youthSpark’s Facebook posts and favoriting or retweeting youthSpark’s tweets. And check out our new Instagram account @youthsparkinc!
3. Support the girls in youthSpark Voices
Send the girls supportive letters, or maybe even make jewelry or other DIY gifts for them. They will be so grateful to know that you care about them and are thinking of them!
4. Intern with youthSpark
Summer is a great time to become a youthSpark intern! We are always looking for students who want to be a part of the youthSpark movement to end child sex trafficking. In addition to providing essential programmatic assistance to youthSpark staff, interns will gain an understanding of critical issues for youth in metropolitan Atlanta, learn more about the way a non-profit organization operates, obtain valuable skills they can take into the workforce upon graduation and participate in networking opportunities with youthSpark staff and juvenile court employees. We are looking for both high school and college age interns. You will need to have two recommendations, a resume, and a short essay. Email Allison Hood at email@example.com to get the official application.
5. Write a blog post
Write a blog post for the official youthSpark blog. We believe in the power of youth, and we want you to use your voice. The post can be about anything from why trafficking matters to you, to what your club does against the cause, or more! Look at the youthSpark blog for ideas and be sure to check the blog for upcoming youthSpark events you can attend during the summer! Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
6. Speak with your legislators
Learn who your senator/representative is:
Call and/or email them! Tell them that you’re one of many passionate teens in your community that support anti-trafficking legislation. Afterwards, check with your legislators to see how they’ve followed through with fighting against trafficking.
7. Host events during the summer!
You can still host your own events to raise awareness and funds, including:
–“Don’t Pimp My Ride” car wash
–fashion show or trunk show
–movie night (you could watch “Very Young Girls”)
–donation drive for the girls in youthSpark Voices
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.
By Haley Vincent, youthSpark Intern
For the past two spring breaks I have had the amazing opportunity to go with my church, Peachtree Presbyterian, on a mission trip to Kolkata, India to work with girls who are victims of sex trafficking in aftercare homes. These girls are anywhere from 13 to 18 years old, and they way that they are trafficked as well as what they experience while trapped in sexual slavery is remarkably similar to the experiences of girls here in the United States. The girls are put in the aftercare homes to keep them safe and prevent re-entry, however many homes in India are too large with too few and improperly trained staff, and the girls end up in an environment that is nothing short of a jail. We were able to work with an aftercare home in Kolkata that provides quality care: the Mahima home. Mahima is a small Christian aftercare home with about 25 girls and around the same number of staff who are all certified therapists, so the girls receive professional therapy on a normal basis, as well as receiving support from all the staff members. We worked with girls in both the Mahima home and a larger home that is more typical of aftercare in India to give the girls one- on- one attention and let them know that there are people who care about them and want to spend time with them.
When we are with the girls, we make picture frames, string beads to make jewelry, decorate notebooks, and do their favorite thing—dance. The girls are all beautiful and charismatic dancers. They attempt to teach us traditional Indian dances, and they laugh loudly with us when we try to repeat the moves. I was fifteen on my first trip and sixteen on my second trip, so most of the girls are around my age, and dancing with them makes it so clear to me that they are normal teenage girls who love to laugh and joke around. Their resilience and ability to bounce back from the trauma they have faced always amazes me and reminds me that although sex trafficking is one of the most horrible evils in our world today and recovery is extremely difficult for its victims, it is possible.
Although we are faced with a language barrier and limited by the short amount of time we are able to spend at the homes, all members of our mission team were able to create special bonds with girls and even hear their stories. One girl shared through a translator that she was trapped in a brothel for several years of one of the most brutal brothel owners in Kolkata. The brother owner would beat, rape, and even murder the girls in front of each other to “break them in” to life at the brothel and break down them down emotionally to the point that even if they could physically run away, they have either no willpower to do so or have a crippling fear that stops them from attempting escape. The girl was finally rescued by a human rights organization, International Justice Mission, after over seven attempts to get her out of the brothel. The brothel owner was captured and sentenced to ten years of hard labor in prison, an unusually harsh sentence in India that sends a clear message to other brothel owners in the area. The girl smiled broadly after finishing the hard part of her story and shared that she now feels safe and loved in her new home at Mahima, and that she dreams of being a social worker when she grows up so she can help other girls. This girl is a great example of the fact that with the right kind of aftercare and support services, recovery is possible. Although both mission trips could be dark and heavy at points, we were able to hear many other stories of hope and see for ourselves the wonderful people that these girls are. After interacting with these victims I have never been more confident that the fight against trafficking is one hundred percent worth it, even if it only affects one girl.
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 Shayann Hendricks, youthSpark Igniter
Atlanta International School Against Human Trafficking (AISAHT) hasn’t been around very long; we started in 2012, just a group of high school freshmen, horrified by the idea of human trafficking but with no real understanding of what it was, or the extent to which it exists in Atlanta. As a group we were very determined to understand the problem and attempt to work against it, and we had an amazing teacher, Ms. McDaniel, who was willing and eager to help us. But often we found ourselves a bit lost, not exactly sure where to begin or how we could help.
The first time we worked with youthSpark was towards the end of 2012. We met in our school’s library, fifteen or so students and youthSpark’s former Executive Director, Sharon Joseph. Sharon spent almost an hour with us, explaining how youthSpark was looking for schools and passionate students to work with. She gave us an introduction to the issue of the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), a specific form of human trafficking, and then spent almost twenty minutes answering the questions we had. After this incredible introduction, we had many other meetings with youthSpark. We met some of their other leaders, Sarah Conklin and Jennifer Swain, equally inspiring young women who enthusiastically undertook daunting projects such as presenting to our entire high school, and introducing us to other schools.
youthSpark became this amazing forum for us, a medium through which we could learn about human trafficking and get involved in combating it. After meeting with youthSpark, our group began to pick up speed; we had bake sales, donating the money we made, and we got involved in Stop DMST Lobby Day. We attended youthSpark’s ambassador trainings, while also training with programs such as Darkness to Light, and we finally had access to the information we had been looking for. youthSpark gave us an opportunity to grasp the information we had been looking for. It enabled us to begin projects of our own, such as AISAHT’s Information Session, where we spent almost an hour presenting the issue of human trafficking to the parents and students present.
Personally, youthSpark was the push I had been looking for. The issue of human trafficking is something I am very passionate about; it’s an issue that has no boundaries, impacting people from a range of socio-economic backgrounds and races. youthSpark enabled me to share my passion about this issue with others, and to become part of the battle against human trafficking in ways I otherwise would not have been able to. The chance to work with an organization like youthSpark is not something that comes along often, and I’m very grateful for all the support they have given me and AISAHT.
Busy Bee owner Tracy Gates with youthSpark Intern Camille Henderson
youthSpark is extremely grateful for the support of Ms. Gates and Busy Bee Café! For the past 4 years, Busy Bee has sponsored meals and other tokens of love for girls participating in our annual youthSpark Voices Recognition Ceremony. youthSpark Voices is an early intervention program for girls at risk for trafficking involvement or extremely vulnerable to exploiter. Get more information about youthSpark Voices here.
Tracy Gates, owner of The Busy Bee Cafe here in Atlanta, has certainly shown herself committed to the fight to end child sex trafficking. In honor of youthSpark Voices, Busy Bee donated catering for the 2013 Graduation and Recognition Ceremony. youthSpark Voices is the first prevention/early intervention program in Georgia working with girls deemed high risk for child sex trafficking involvement. When asked why she got involved with youthSpark and the fight to end child sex trafficking, Gates replied, “because I’m in the food business, that’s the greatest way I can give back.”
With Gates, donating food is just the beginning. Whether it’s donating clothes or helping with local donation drives, Gates is always at the ready. “It’s whenever they call,” says Gates. She continues, “Anytime that you can go beyond yourself, especially for children who don’t ask for these situations is reason for getting involved.” Gates has long expressed her commitment to the well-being of at-risk and inner city youth. In addition to her partnership with youthSpark, Gates also serves with Hands on Atlanta – a local nonprofit organization.
For Gates, good food has circulated through her family for years. Named after an observation of bees in motion, The Busy Bee Cafe in Atlanta was passed down to Tracey Gates from her father. Reflecting on her chance to run the restaurant, Gates said, “I wanted to have my turn, but wanted to brand it. It’s not just about a business that I inherited, it’s a place that God gave me.”
It certainly is evident that Gates has made Busy Bee her own. Knowing that, “the size is what people come for,” Gates is purposeful in retaining the authenticity of what Busy Bee sells. Gates made it her prerogative to learn the nature of the product which she then documented for all to share. “There is a recipe for everything here – that teaches us not to lose our hand in cooking a specific dish.” In her journey of owning a restaurant and learning what will sustain the business, Gates simply explains, “I want to be able to deliver a great product.”
Tying her first love of food back to why she became involved in the fight to end child sex trafficking Gates reflects, “Your gifts and talents are within. When you reach inside yourself that’s when you succeed.”
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!
Want more information on what youthSpark is doing to end child sex trafficking?
Check out our most recent program update! It features programmatic and organizational highlights of success as well as our strategy for ending child sex trafficking.
Take a look at our website for more information on youthSpark programs!
Colin Kelly, partner at Alston & Bird, ignites justice and inspires change.
Special thanks to Route 2 Change sponsors Alston & Bird LLP!
We appreciate their continued support of our work to end child sex trafficking.
Route 2 Change sponsorship opportunities are still available!
Check out our official Sponsorship Package and email email@example.com for more information
Over the weekend, the FBI conducted Operation Cross Country, a three-day law enforcement action to address child sex trafficking in the United States. 105 children were recovered in 76 cities, and 150 pimps and other individuals were arrested.
From the FBI’s official press release: “Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across America,” said Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “This operation serves as a reminder that these abhorrent crimes can happen anywhere, and the FBI remains committed to stopping this cycle of victimization and holding the criminals who profit from this exploitation accountable.”
We are so thankful for the FBI’s commitment to protecting our children, and to ensuring that the adults responsible for this horrific form of child abuse are held accountable for their actions.
For more information, check out the FBI’s press release and news story.