City of Residence: Fort Valley
Occupation: Activist-advocate for victims of sex trafficking
QUESTION: What drew you to human-trafficking activism?
ANSWER: I heard International Justice Mission do a presentation at my church. Its a human rights organization that rescues victims of sexual exploitation and slavery worldwide. I was horrified. Its a $32 billion a year industry just behind drug trafficking with 800,000 new persons trafficked each year. Most are trafficked for prostitution. Some estimate there are 17,000 new persons trafficked just in the U.S. each year and 50 percent of those are children.
QUESTION: So youre informed, what got you active?
ANSWER: It just broke my heart--the fact these victims live with so little hope plus the fact I was so totally unaware. I immediately wanted to do something--stuff envelopes, whatever.
QUESTION: Where did that lead you?
ANSWER: I didnt find a local group to help but discovered a big need is to help raise awareness. I believed I could do that so I did more research, got training and started talking to friends, civic groups, churches and just about anyone.
QUESTION: Has your activism eased your heartbreak?
ANSWER: Yes and no, mainly no. Im glad to be doing something but the more you learn the worse it gets. There are children forcibly raped 15 to 20 times a day through abuse and prostitution. Women and girls forced to walk the streets wearing next to nothing in freezing weather then submitting to horrors just so somebody can fulfill an urge and someone else can make money. Women trafficked and forced to work in so-called massage parlors
QUESTION: This is an international and national issue
ANSWER: First let me say something about out and out torture. Obviously, its a violent situation but it gets worse. Like a situation where girls trying to escape had their ears cut off and eyes gouged out. These and other tortures are unspeakable. Some are for punishment and some for others pleasure. Theres so little being done for them, so little awareness. These girls and boys are out there with no hope, no one caring for them, no mommy to hold them and make things OK. I generally dont even tell people the worst. The average price of a slave is said to be $40. These are disposable people -- and people were never created to be disposable.
QUESTION: How about the Houston and Peach County area? What did you learn?
ANSWER: Atlanta is reputedly an international hub for trafficking and prostitution, so its tentacles reach even to where we are. Sex trafficking is happening right here in our backyard. Though there are isolated cases locally, thankfully the worst of large-scale trafficking is mostly avoided in Houston County.
QUESTION: Whats being avoided?
ANSWER: For instance, statistics have shown Macon has had more massage parlors per capita than Los Angeles, Ca. An international authority on sex trafficking, Kevin Bales, cites Macon as having all the earmarks of a community with human trafficking. He said the citys location, interstates and high number of massage parlors is troubling.
QUESTION: But you said Houston and Peach counties have isolated instances.
ANSWER: Houston and Peach counties have more single case, opportunistic occurrences that include things like runaways being taken advantage of, individuals that prey on vulnerable youth or a family member taking advantage of their position of authority. It could even be an at-risk young person getting online and coerced into something. In a way, we can thank Centerville that there isnt more widespread trafficking in Houston and Peach counties.
QUESTION: Whys that?
ANSWER: Several years ago, Centerville had a massage business they considered suspicious. They enacted an ordinance requiring massage therapists to be certified and licensed and more important, they enforced it. There was such support for it among officials and citizens not only in Centerville but across the county that we apparently got a reputation that this wasnt the place to set up shop.
QUESTION: What are you doing now as an activist-advocate?
ANSWER: Mainly speaking, lobbying for anti-trafficking and pro-victim legislation and working to help educate professionals how to recognize trafficking. And praying a lot.
ANSWER: What about recognizing trafficking?
ANSWER: There are programs to train professions such as airline workers and, of course, law enforcement. Were doing training called Child Safe Zone with hotel staff about signs of child sex trafficking and who to call if they see red flags. Microtel Inn and Suites in Perry has been great to agree to training and I hope others will too.
QUESTION: Is this what you do full time?
ANSWER: No, Im executive assistant to the president of CB&T bank. I sometimes speak to groups during lunch and CB&T allows me time during the workday to do this. My boss and CB&T have a real commitment to our community.
QUESTION: What can people do?
ANSWER: Men and women can get informed and help. I have a list of 24 things people can do. I have a group on facebook called 24 Things U Can Do with information and resources. I can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at email@example.com.