Written by Deborah Richardson Tuesday, June 12 2012
Since 2000, Deborah Richardson has been a tireless advocate in the fight to end child sex trafficking. In addition to spearheading a number of programs and campaigns on this topic, in 2010 she testified during the U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing on Domestic Child Sex Trafficking. In 2011 Richardson received Auburn Seminary’s “Lives of Commitment” Award and in 2012, she was awarded a Womenetics POW! Award in recognition of her continuing efforts.
My 12 years of advocacy to end child sex trafficking began in a very personal way. I was then the director of program development and management for Fulton County Juvenile Court in Atlanta, Ga. While sitting in the back of the courtroom observing Judge Hickson’s morning court docket, a 10-year-old girl was led into the courtroom by sheriff deputies for her hearing. She was handcuffed and shackled at the ankles. She had just spent 72 hours in juvenile detention. Her crime? She had been found in the back seat of a van in a city park with a 42-year-old man who had rented her for sex. Because she was a minor, she was taken into custody. The 42-year-old perpetrator was released. In the year 2000, pimping and/or pandering a child for sex in Georgia was a misdemeanor, equivalent to a $50 traffic ticket.
My shocking experience that morning sparked a movement by a group of my trusted colleagues, Nina Hickson, Dr. Nancy Boxill and Stephanie Davis. Over the course of one year alone: we raised public awareness on the sexual exploitation of girls in our own backyards; got the state law passed so this crime became a felony; and the community generously donated $1 million to purchase and operate the first safe house for sexually exploited girls in the eastern United States.
Communities across the country are now using the model created out of this work by A Future. Not A Past to replicate the strategies of raising public awareness, passing legislation, training those charged with the care and protection of children and raising money to heal victims and protect those girls at risk.
After more than a dozen years and millions of dollars wisely spent, why is child sex trafficking within the United States on the rise? We are at a critical juncture in this human rights movement, and we must shift our strategies from ‘addressing the issue’ to ‘ending the issue.’
|“If we continue to focus on the victims, there will always be victims to serve.”
- Kaffie McCullough, Georgia Campaign Director, A Future. Not A Past.
The sex trafficking of children is a lucrative business. Unlike other illegal activities, such as selling drugs, where the product is only sold once, children are sold over and over again. It is not unlikely for a girl to be forced to be raped 10 times or more a day by men who buy her by the hour. One girl, sold 10 times a day for a $200 per sex act is bringing into the business $2000 a day. These girls are not protected by labor laws, so they rarely have days off. Using a conservative estimate in which she is forced to perform 350 days a week, one girl alone is a $700,000 revenue stream. Most traffickers have many more than one girl under their control.
The overhead for a trafficker is very low. The girls are not paid, only provided with minimum food and substandard housing. The only clothes they have is their work uniform – 6-inch high heels, short skirts and revealing tops.
Traffickers are evil, despicable persons, but the most complicit are those who fuel this industry and face the least exposure — the customers. If there were no customers, the traffickers would have no market. These customers are predators who intentionally seek out girls to buy for sex.
|From a linguistic and victim perspective, “John” is a book in the bible and the name of many excellent individuals. The criminals who commercially sexually exploit our children should not have their criminal behavior minimized.
- Suzanna Itapúa, National District Attorneys Association
Several research studies including the seminal work of A Future. Not A Past,The Georgia Demand Study, substantiates that men who buy sex from girls are not who you may think. They are men who you know. The study showed that 28,000 men pay for sex with young girls each year in Georgia with 47 percent explicitly asking for the trafficker to send him a girl under 18 years old. Of the total group 42 percent of the men lived in the northern suburbs of Atlanta. According to The Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, these north suburban communities have the highest per family income than any community in metropolitan Atlanta. The men who are intentionally buying sex with young girls are men who are businessmen, doctors, lawyers, bankers, clergy, dads and husbands. These are men we work with, belong to organizations with and live with.
Social justice movements take a long time. Even almost 50 years since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, persons are still being discriminated against based on race, creed and color. Post-third wave of the women’s rights movement, we are battling renewed efforts to retrench hard earned rights in stemming violence against women and access to reproductive health.
However, every movement must have those who come together and declare that the current situation is untenable and must be changed. There are too many of us sitting on the sidelines intrigued by the horror stories told by young survivors, but we remain silent observers as this tragedy plays out in a community near us.
There are three things that can be done, right now, to accelerate the movement to end the sex trafficking of our girls:
- Remove the cloak of anonymity for men who buy girls for sex. This anonymity is provided by the Internet. On computers in their home dens and offices, men go to websites such as www.backpage.com and can purchase a sofa, toaster or a girl. The Polaris Project just released data that on one day alone - May 15, 2012 - there were 19,446 ads on Backpage.com advertising for adult services with females. Seventy-five percent of the ads advertised that the girls were under 25 years old. No one can place an ad on an Internet site advertising the sale of crack cocaine. However, one can place an ad online advertising for the sale of services with young girls and the customer completes his transaction with a credit card. Please visit the Groundswell Movement website and join those who are determined to stop the online trafficking of our girls.
- Ask businesses you patronize to sign the ECPAT-USA Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct. Businesses signing onto the code commit to business practices that reduce the risk of child sexual exploitation. An airport in Brazil, for instance, displays signs that state child sexual exploitation is not tolerated in their country. Their employees are trained to recognize the signs of a trafficker or a predator who is arranging a transaction. There are too few of these signs in businesses and public places in the United States and most of us are not trained to interpret what we may be observing. Go to www.ecpatusa.org to see who is already on board.
- Have honest conversations with your friends and colleagues — male and female - on the horrendous facts of child sex trafficking in the United States. The more it is talked about, the more intolerable it becomes and one is compelled to act. A Future. Not A Past will train you with the facts.
In my lifetime, I have personally witnessed the ending of apartheid in the United States, mothers who were mad enough to stem the tide of their children being killed by drunk drivers, seat belts becoming mandatory and a multi-billion dollar tobacco industry held accountable for their activities. If we continue to not look to the source, we are equally complicit for the abuse and possibly death of the 12-year-old who is sold online. During the time that it took you to read this article, a trafficker has placed online ads that the predator is perusing to see which hair and eye color and bra size meets his current specifications — click and credit card swipe, her purchase is complete.
The first step in the fight against human sex trafficking is awareness. Learn what you can do about it here:
Karen Stauss used her legal expertise and leadership as director of programs for Free the Slaves to draft the Business Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act. Learn more about this of legislation.
Karen Olcott is committed to bringing an end to slavery at home and abroad. See what she has to say about human trafficking and the steps The Polaris Project is taking to bring the issue to light and abolish the sex slave trade.
These courageous five women decided to plunge into the movement against human trafficking, literally. They set precedents and made personal sacrifices by spending 45 days rowing across the Atlantic Ocean to raise money and awareness.