End It Coweta shines light on modern day's slavery
By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
When most people think of slavery, they think of something that ended with the Civil War.
But in 2013, slavery is alive and well. And not just in other countries, but in the United States — even in Atlanta.
The End It Movement was started to shine a light on the problem of slavery. The local branch of the movement, End It Coweta, is hosting an event Friday to help raise awareness of the problem, as well as money to help end it.
“People really have no clue. You say slavery and people think it is a thing of the past,” said Caitlin Crane of End It Coweta. “We’re going to really try to get our community involved.”
The event will be March 15 at 7 p.m. at Crossroads Church, 3260 Highway 16 East, Sharpsburg. There will be worship music and speakers.
“It is a night of worship but a lot of the time we will be talking about the issue,” Crane said.
Members of End It Coweta will be sharing true stories, speaking as victims of slavery, “to give the people who come an idea of their stories and to connect,” Crane said. “This is not just a number. Twenty-seven million is not just a number. Each of them is a person with a face and a name and a story. We want to bring it down to that personal level at the event.”
“After we raise awareness, we will give people an opportunity to give. We will explain where the money is going,” she said. The money raised goes straight to several organizations. “There is no overhead cost or anything like that.”
They will also be selling T-shirts with the End It Movement’s distinctive symbol: a red X.
“People are not educated. People do not understand that slavery and forced labor still exist,” said End It Coweta member Luke Ayers. “Not just now, but more now than ever before.”
They’re also painting the red X’s on cars. “We have about 50 cars right now,” Ayers said. “Starting Monday or Tuesday, I’m looking to have 150, 200, 500.”
The End It Movement grew out of the Passion 2013 Conference, held in January at the Georgia Dome. Passion is a yearly event aimed at college-age Christians.
There had been a focus on the same issue at the 2012 Passion Conference, but “they had not given us a specific thing to do” to work on the problem, Crane said. “They wanted, this year, to give us something to grab ahold of and run with. So this definitely did that.”
At the 2013 Passion Conference, a guest speaker was a young girl from the Philippines who had been a victim of sex trafficking.
For End It Coweta member Becca Harrell, who had done nine months of work in the Philippines, the girl’s story really hit home.
“I just remember bawling the whole time, because I was sure she was one of the little girls that I had worked with while I was over there,” said Harrell, who worked in the Philippines with Operation Mobilization.
“I lost it,” she said. “Putting a face to anything that is going on makes it closer to home. It gives it more of an urgency when you put a face to something like this.”
She now works with middle and high school girls with her church. “I imagine them, the girls overseas that are being trafficked, with the faces of the girls that I work with,” Harrell said. “To me, that is the biggest impact. I would hate to see one of my girls hurt or taken like that. It just breaks my heart.”
“When I am working on this project or I am thinking about what I can to do make this something that people are aware of, I put a face on it,” she said. “This is going on, with these kids in the Philippines, or this is going on with these kids in Atlanta. We have got to do something about it.”
Atlanta is considered a major hub for human trafficking, especially commercial sex trafficking.
“Within Atlanta, between 200 and 500 girls are commercially exploited,” said Crane. “The majority are 12 to 14; some are as young as 9,” she said. “On any given night, there could be 400 underage girls working the streets of Atlanta.”
In the United States, it’s estimated there are 200,000 or more victims of slavery.
“That is a lot for a country that claims not to have slavery anymore,” Crane said.
Many of the victims of human trafficking in the U.S. are runaways. It’s estimated 90 percent of runaways in the U.S. end up being victims of human trafficking, Crane said.
And unfortunately, many times when girls are rescued or run away from a situation, they end up in a youth detention center “when they should be treated as victims and given proper treatment,” Crane said.
“It is such a complex issue, it blows your mind... how many different areas are affected and what has to be done to really bring change and help to these children and young women.”
Crane has been working with her father, State Senator Mike Crane, to research the issue and see if any changes need to be made to state laws.
In other countries, slavery includes sex slavery as well as forced labor, bonded labor and child labor.
According to the End It Movement, between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked internationally, and human trafficking is linked to the illegal arms industry as the second largest international criminal industry. It’s also the fastest growing. And 80 percent of all people trafficked into forced labor are women and girls.
An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year, according to Unicef, and, every minute, two children are sold into slavery, according to Innocence Atlanta.
As many as 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. annually.
Atlanta is ranked in the top 14 cities in the U.S. for the highest incidents of children used in prostitution, according to the Governor’s Office for Children and Families.
After the Passion 2013 Conference, “I knew I wanted to do something,” Crane said. “So I sent out a Facebook message” to a lot of people who had been involved in a local event last year that raised money to drill wells in communities that don’t have access to clean water, and asked them if they would be interested in “doing another event like we did last year.”
“Within five minutes they were responding,” Crane said. End It Coweta began to grow, and now has a website, enditcoweta.org, a Facebook page and Twitter account.
“I could not do it without the group. They are the force behind the whole thing,” she said. “It is amazing how God has brought us together,” she said. “None of us could have done it alone. It is pretty awesome to see what we can do together.”
“We wanted to bring it to our community, to raise awareness, and to give people an opportunity to make a difference,” she said. “A lot of times, when people hear about these massive issues, whether it is slavery, world hunger, or whatever, they wonder what they can do. They just feel incapable of really doing something. And so we want to give them that opportunity to get involved, to be a voice, and to make a difference,” Crane said.
Ayers feels his generation has a real “I can do it if I set my mind to it” attitude. “I can make a difference,” he said. “People are already stepping out and making a difference and the event has not even happened.”
“I am ready to educate, and I am ready to rally the troops, anyone and everyone to get it out there,” Ayers said.
“God’s word says it is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” Crane said. “With the freedom we have, we want to go in the name of Jesus and bring that freedom to the captives, to bring people on board, to care about these people who widely go unnoticed, who have been forgotten,” Crane said.
Ayers feels that, in many ways, “people don’t want to think about what really goes on in the world, and they don’t want to think about what goes on 35 miles up the road.” Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and the Port of Savannah are hubs for human trafficking, Ayers said.
“People don’t like to look at that; people don’t want to know what goes on with businessmen and politicians right here,” Ayers said. He’s glad to see local legislators “on board with what we are doing.”
He also knows “we’re going to get a lot of flak.”
They’ve already started receiving negative e-mails, “people saying leave this alone, this is not your fight,” Ayers said.
Crane quoted English abolitionist William Wilberforce, who said, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”
“Once people know, they will be ignoring it if they choose to look the other way,” Crane said. “As a community, we want to come together and really shine a light on this issue.”