(For Part 1, click or copy and paste the following link: https://gwinnettcitizen.com/opinion/columnists/cut-to-the-chase-dave-emanuel/3439-the-fight-to-end-child-sex-trafficking.)
It was easy to ignore. And that’s what most people did. Sure, there was some amount of hand-wringing and head shaking, but news that 11-year old Jane Doe was missing didn’t elicit much of a response outside of immediate friends and family members. In most people’s minds, Jane was just another young girl who had run away because her parents wouldn’t buy her the latest iPhone or a pair of $150 shoes.
Undoubtedly, she would soon be found and returned home, just like Mary, who had gone missing after a fight with her mother, only to be found staying at a friend’s house.
Yet, whenever a child is missing, chances are the reason is far more sinister than a simple disagreement with parents. That was the case a number of years ago, when a 10-year old girl and her 11-year old sister both wound up in a Fulton County jail, charged with prostitution. Both had run away from an abusive drug-addicted mother and had been taken in by a relative’s “friend”. That “friend” became their pimp who physically abused them by punching them and pulling their hair. He also threatened to kill them, all as a means of preventing them from leaving his pimping operation in which he took the girls to hotels to perform sexual acts.
The girls were in jail, because at the time, child “prostitutes” were treated as criminals, not as victims, and because there was no place else to house them. There were virtually no non-profit organizations offering safe houses at the time and Georgia had no children service programs equipped to deal with children forced into prostitution.
Much has changed over the years. Non-profit organizations like Georgia Cares, Wellspring Living, and Youth Spark now offer accommodations, counseling and other types of assistance for victims of child sex trafficking. Stronger laws and more focused enforcement have also helped reign in the child sex trafficking trade.
Yet, in spite of significant improvements in laws that address child sex trafficking, each year, hundreds, perhaps thousands of children, both boys and girls, (although an overwhelming number are girls) are forced into prostitution within the state of Georgia - many within Gwinnett County.
In many instances, pimps use the internet to attract “customers”. This past April, a Gwinnett County sting operation resulted in the arrests of 23 men from the metro Atlanta area who thought they had been chatting with a 13-year old girl. When they showed up, expecting to meet a child for sex, they were greeted by law enforcement officers and taken into custody.
Arresting pimps and “johns” is one thing, successful prosecution is quite another. Recent changes in Georgia laws and expanded awareness of child sex trafficking have helped increase the numbers of both arrests and convictions. But threats to children still exist and those threats exist for children at all socioeconomic levels. Runaways are particularly at risk, but there’s also a risk to your neighbor’s child. Or your own. Either may be kidnapped by a sex trafficker. Don’t think, “it couldn’t happen here”. It can happen anywhere.