Rotary to host human trafficking discussion
by Sarah Fay Campbell
Human trafficking, especially the commercial sexual exploitation of children, is a major problem. And not just in other countries, other states, or other communities.
Atlanta is known as a hub for child prostitution. And recently, on Oct. 5, the Coweta County Sheriff's Office made an arrest for the sex trafficking of a 15-year-old girl at a local motel.
Rotary International has an End Human Trafficking Now program, and the Coweta-Fayette Rotary Club will be hosting a human trafficking symposium in February.
The symposium will be held Saturday, Feb. 1, from 9 a.m. to noon at Cornerstone United Methodist Church.
There will be a panel including members of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Attorney's Office, and possibly a judge, said Ginger Jackson-Queener, president of the Coweta-Fayette Rotary Club. They're also hoping to get someone who has been trafficked to come and tell her story "about what happens, how they got into it and how they got out of it," she said.
They're hoping law enforcement, educators, and doctors and nurses will come, as well as members of the general public.
There will be breakout sessions on how to spot of signs that children are being trafficked, or how to identify situations that could turn into trafficking.
It's also important to educate teenagers. Because "90 percent of the time, it is going to be other children who spot this," Jackson-Queener said. "It is going to be other kids who are going to say 'hey I feel like something is going on, maybe we need to check this out.'"
Commercial sexual exploitation of children can take many forms. It's not always children who are kidnapped or runaways. Victims may come home to their families every day — and still be trafficked.
"The thing that really shocked me is it is happening to kids that are in good homes," Jackson-Queener said. "They end up being recruited or selected or chosen. These kids are chosen for one reason or the other and they are lured with jewelry and with Xboxes and various different things into these lifestyles," she said. "That is the thing that just blew me away, that they are lured."
She recounted one story of a teenager who worked in a café. An older couple came in often, and would talk to her. "They got to know everything they could about this young girl," Jackson-Queener said. Then they sent in a young man armed with that knowledge. "And wham, the next thing you know, they have gotten this girl."
"Then you have the other side, kids who need love," she said. "Their love tanks aren't full." These teenage girls — and boys — are "looking for someone to love them, to show them attention. Well, these pimps show them attention and the next thing you know, they are being trafficked."
Rotary's End Human Trafficking Now campaign started with the Roswell Rotary Club. Dave McCleary, a member of the Roswell Club and America's Director for the Rotary International End Human Trafficking Movement, recently spoke to the Coweta-Fayette Rotary Club.
McCleary got involved when he went to the "Passion" conference two years ago, as an adult volunteer. Passion is an annual religious conference for young adults, and the conference focused on human trafficking and sex trafficking.
"At the time, I didn't realize anything could happen in my community," he said. One of the speakers at the conference, a victim of human trafficking, was a girl named Melissa who had gone to Roswell High School. She was trafficked for two years in downtown Atlanta.
He asked her to come be a part of a panel discussion at one of his club meetings, in March 2012. She told her story and after the meeting, one of the club members came up to give her a hug. "I said, 'how do you know Melissa?' He said, 'she used to babysit my kids when she was 12.'"
"All of a sudden, it wasn't somebody else's problem," McCleary said. "What a perfect opportunity for Rotary to engage in this" issue, much the same way the organization has fought to eradicate polio.
Since March 2012, "we've gained a lot of momentum," he said. "We've partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Shared Hope International and the Polaris Project on some really strong efforts."
They're hoping to create a speakers bureau to speak not just to Rotary Clubs but also other community organizations.
They've also put together a program for Interact Clubs, Rotary's high school arm. The goal is education and awareness. They're educating students, teachers, counselors and parents within PTAs, "so that they are all aware of the things" to look for. "For example, if an Interact kid comes to one the counselors and says it may be an issue with one of my friends, they are all aware of what is going on, so they are all working together," he said.
They're also trying to work with and educate law enforcement. "Our goal is that we let them know that these kids are not criminals, they are the victims," McCleary said.
McCleary told a story from the book "The Slave Next Door." A teenage girl met a guy who seemed nice. He took her to a house and raped her — and had his friends take pictures of it. He threatened to show the pictures to her parents if she wouldn't prostitute for him. Later, when she tried to get out, he threatened to kill her dog and her family. He told her that her father, a very important man in the community, would lose his job if word got out. The only way she got out of that life was when her family moved.
Sometimes, girls actually recruit their friends into the life.
He also related a story of a girl who was kidnapped at 2. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children updates records, and ages photos, of missing children every two years. One day, a 14-year-old girl was getting the mail, and saw a picture. She recognized it as a girl in her class. She told her mom, the mom told the principal, and the girl was reunited with her parents.
In another story, a young boy was being abused by a well respected member of the community. His dad asked him some questions, because he felt uncomfortable about the whole thing. But the answers satisfied him. "The person who was abused said 'if my dad had only asked one more question, he would have found out.'"
"That is why awareness is just the key to this whole issue," McCleary said. "If your senses are up" you see things. "Be aware, ask those questions, and don't think 'well, that is not happening in my neighborhood,'" McCleary said.
"By making people aware, you are saving lives. That is the hope that we offer," he said.
End Human Trafficking Now is working on a pilot program for District 6900, which covers the middle part of Georgia. "Our goal is to create that good model and then launch it across North America and then South American and then hopefully, eventually, the world."
For more information about the Coweta-Fayette Rotary Club, and the Feb. 1 symposium, visit www.CowetaFayetteRotary.org . For more information about the End Human Trafficking Campaign, visit www. EndHTNow.com .