Atlanta is routinely renowned as the capital of the south and home to civil rights and black political icons. Now, much to its chagrin, Atlanta has achieved a new dastardly distinction. It is the nation’s major hub for human trafficking and child sex exploitation.
More than 12 million human beings—and some 1 million children—are forcibly enslaved and trafficked worldwide in what has escalated into a $32 billion illegal industry. It is a shameful and sordid saga that tarnishes Atlanta’s otherwise impressive image.
“I am so embarrassed that we go from number one as the most sex trafficking city in the United States,” laments childhood sexual abuse advocate Ann Platz, a board member of Well Spring Living. “That needs to grieve the citizens of Atlanta. While we are doing a lot of wonderful things, our children are being taken and other people’s children are being trafficked through our beautiful city. We need to be known as the city that stopped sex trafficking and that we ran it out of here.”
That mission – a call and commitment to combat human trafficking – was the thrust of a high powered public forum and luncheon this weekend at the stately Piedmont Driving Club produced by The Buckhead Cascade City Chapter of The Links, Inc., a prestigious organization of polished, professional and high profiled Atlanta’s black female gentry that has pledged their collective talents and resources to raise public awareness and outrage about this hideous and scandalous epidemic.
“They could have had another topic for this luncheon but they chose this one,” said Lisa Williams, President of Living Water for Girls and one of the heavyweight expert panelists.
“They chose to put something in the ground on this because we’ve already gotten cards from people saying let us help because they are women. They understand that these [victims] are daughters and they were once daughters and because it is a humanity issue. It’s not about race, it’s not about socio-economics, it’s just about injustice. We deplore that and they do as well.”
The panel consisted of a top notch lineup of internationally distinguished activists in the human trafficking arena. In addition to the highly regarded Williams, it also featured former Fulton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Nina Hickson, National Center for Civil and Human Rights Executive Vice President Deborah Richardson, and Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Nekia Hackworth.
They offered grim, galvanizing and riveting testimony. The discussion was deftly moderated by former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.
“The Links have decided that we need to add our voice to the voices of business and federal officials and human rights activists that human trafficking cannot be ignored any longer; that literally thousands and thousands of children are trafficked in the United States,” said Mayor Franklin. “And, sometimes it happens right in front of our eyes and we don’t know it. Atlanta has been a center, to my knowledge, for the last ten years. [Federal officials] made it clear that Atlanta was one of the worst transportation hubs for human trafficking in the world. It ruins the lives of thousands of girls and young women.”
This problem is not the street prostitution that has plagued the nation’s inner cities for decades, today most of the girls bought and sold as sex slaves are exploited virtually and visibly on Internet websites. It is appalling and outrageous, says Link National Trends Chairperson Gloria Patterson.
“There are lots of things we can do,” opined the regal retired Atlanta school principal. “After we gather information and we understand what the problems are and what the needs are then we can converge and put our resources together so we can connect with other organizations throughout the city to go around and inform children about what these predators look like; how they approach you; what you can do to keep yourself away from them and to keep safe. We can talk to parents so they are more informed about what goes on.
“We can talk to health care professionals, we can talk to educators and churches and bring all these organizations and components together so that we can really impact this city with information, and information is power. We think we can really make a difference.”
The Links are a powerful and influential women’s group who have now vowed to use their collective clout to ratchet up the war on human trafficking and sexual slavery at the epicenter of the problem here in Atlanta.