With January being sex trafficking awareness month, Wesleyan wanted to spread awareness about the issue of sex trafficking through the Wesleyan School community. With the help of students and teachers, the school brought Eboni Belle, Director of Outreach and Operations at Street Grace, to come to Wesleyan and speak about sex trafficking. Belle talked about the grooming process, trafficker’s tactics, the “do’s and don’ts” and why being a careful and aware resident in Atlanta is crucial.
The Atlanta Metropolitan Area has become a very populated place and a key place that helps people get from one destination to another. The Atlanta Metropolitan Area has many pros to it, but with the uprising economy, there are some cons. Unfortunately, one of these major cons is sex trafficking. The formal definition of sex trafficking is “the action or practice of illegally transporting people from one country to another or one area to another for the purpose of sexual exploitation.” For years, this was a topic that people limited knowledge of, but in recent years, the problem has become extremely relevant.
Amanda Hene is a Wesleyan parent and a community advocate for Wellspring Living. Wellspring Living is a non-profit organization that helps rescue women and men that are being sex trafficked in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area. Hene said, “In recent years, there thankfully here has been a shift in thinking by law enforcement and the community. These women and girls are now being considered victims instead of the problem; they are no longer seen and treated as criminals.”
While more women and girls are trafficked in Georgia, men and boys are also trafficked. Despite this statistic, boys in the community still think it is important to protect themselves. Sophomore Chandler Copenhaver said, “I think all people should have some sort of self-defense on them, like a taser or something small that can fit in a bag. People should also have an emergency contact in their phone that they can call if they feel like they are in danger.”
Statistics from Tabitha’s House, an organization that provides resources to victims of sex trafficking, shows that women who have been emotionally, sexually or have experienced other physical abuse, often are the ones that get trafficked. With these statistics being said, any women who is vulnerable physically or emotionally are at a higher risk of being trafficked. Women and girls are brought into this lifestyle sometimes not even knowing it.
When growing up and then becoming one’s own individual, a lot of things can happen. Often, women and girls are put into vulnerable positions, and this makes them the perfect target for a trafficker. The trafficker’s prey on this characteristic of vulnerability. Often traffickers find these vulnerable people through social circles, which is another reason people should be conscience of who they hang out with. Hene said, “More than 100,000 children are trafficked in the U.S. Of these 42.5 percent of the children are recruited through social circles. Who you are talking to online and how you present yourself is very important.”
Many people think that the main percentage of trafficking is girls being kidnapped at the mall, but that is only 4.1 percent of the statistics. The premise of trafficking does not really have to do with kidnapping, like most people think, it is more so manipulation of a pimp. A pimp makes around $33 thousand a week. These traffickers must be smart and aware of everything they are doing, and their mass-manipulating of women and girls is the key way to do this.
Women and girls can be manipulated anywhere but a key resource of the Atlanta Metropolitan Area is the traveling aspect. People are traveling in and out of the Atlanta Metropolitan Area. The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the busiest airport in the country, and this makes it easy for traffickers to transport their victims from one place to another. High School Bible Teacher Nathan Emmelhainz said, “There is a convenience for the amount of people flying into Atlanta because of the airport.”
Hene is very involved as a community advocate on the board of Wellspring Living. Wellspring Living is a non-profit organization in Atlanta, Ga. Their mission is to transform lives of those at risk or victimized by sexual exploitation. Hene said, “54 percent of Atlanta’s homeless youth have experienced trafficking, and 100 adolescent girls are exploited on a typical night in Georgia.” Statistics like these are what made Hene passionate about getting involved.
Hene realized that sex trafficking was going on right in her community and all-around Atlanta. She said, “People don’t realize it is happening in our neighborhood. It is not just an inner-city issue, 65 percent of the men who purchase sex with adolescent girls in Atlanta live outside of the perimeter. It’s not what people imagine.”
Being aware of sex trafficking is important, but it is also important to know what to look out for and how to protect yourself. When asked how women should prepare themselves when going out, Creative Director of Communications Brooke Dant said, “Try to be with someone at all times; look around make eye contact with people and don’t be distracted. If you’re going to go out by yourself somewhere always have pepper spray with you.”
Knowing about the topic is imperative for one’s safety but knowing what to do is also crucial. Emmelhainz said, “The minimum is you need to know about sex trafficking, but then what do you do about it? There are many agencies like Wellspring Living and Tabitha’s House that offer help to people being trafficked.” These places help women and girls exit the lifestyle and turn their lives around. No matter what your background, is it is smart to be informed and ready.
Atlanta youth need to be aware of who they are hanging out with because you never know who you will cross paths with. Sophomore Teagan Wilkenloh said, “I think we should just be aware of our surroundings, especially when we are alone going to crowded places like the mall, airport and festivals.”
What does one do with all this information? Be prepared and be ready to report something to sex-trafficking tip lines if something suspicious is happening. Other ways one can get involved is by volunteering at places like Wellspring Living. Organizations like these are always in need of hygiene supplies, clothes and people to volunteer. The biggest and easiest way to get involved is by being an advocate in one’s community and using opportunities to share the problem with your friends and family.