“I was first forced into prostitution when I was 11 years old by a 28-year-old man. I am not an exception. The man who trafficked me sold so many girls my age, his house was called “Daddy Day Care.” All day, other girls and I sat with our laptops, posting pictures and answering ads on Craigslist. He made $1,500 a night selling my body, dragging me to Los Angeles, Houston, Little Rock — and one trip to Las Vegas in the trunk of a car. I am 17 now, and my childhood memories aren’t of my family, going to middle school, or dancing at the prom. They are of making my own arrangements on Craigslist to be sold for sex, and answering as many ads as possible for fear of beatings and ice water baths.”
– An Open Letter from MC to Craigslist.
**This letter taken from The Polaris Project.
Okay, I’m going to be really honest. I didn’t want to write about this. Honestly, when the topic of human trafficking comes up, I’d rather excuse myself to tie my shoes or even more mature, stick my fingers in my ears and sing, “Jesus Loves Me.” But because Jesus not only loves me, He loves all the little girls and some boys who are sold into human trafficking, I MUST talk about it.
This isn’t an easy topic. It actually turns my stomach. But what if my child were sold as a sex slave? Would I make it a priority to talk about it then? You bet I would! Each and every one of the girls (and boys) affected by this are someone’s baby. Just raising awareness is important. It’s not happening in someone else’s backyard. It’s happening in yours. And mine.
I live in suburban Atlanta, and the problem is huge. I promise it goes on everywhere. Go to the Polaris Project website and look around if you want to see some sobering facts. But this interview today shows exactly what we can do to make a difference in this global issue.
This month the featured service organization for Sheep to the Right is Street Grace. Amy Walters is the Programs Director there, and she has graciously agreed to answer my questions. Please read our interview, then visit Street Grace to see how YOU can make a difference.
1. Can you tell us the purpose or mission statement of your organization?
Street GRACE is an alliance of Christian churches, community partners and volunteers that supports and collaborates with individuals and organizations dedicated to eradicating the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) Street GRACE mobilizes community resources — financial, human and material — to help individuals and organizations effectively fighting CSEC through advocacy, prevention and restoration. Street GRACE is working to end CSEC in Atlanta, with a vision of ending it throughout the United States.
2. How did Street Grace begin? How long has it been in operation?
In 2000, Fulton County Chief Juvenile Court Judge Nina Hickson was appalled as she presided over the 1,000th case of child prostitution that had come before her. She considered this an epidemic of tragic proportions.
And she was right. The issue was brought to the attention of then-Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin, who became a key champion in the fight against child exploitation. In 2005, she commissioned a report known as “Hidden in Plain View,” which revealed the pervasiveness of the CSEC in Atlanta. The report mentioned several areas that at the time were hotspots for this kind of activity. One of these hot spots was the corner of Peachtree Street and North Avenue, the very intersection where North Avenue Presbyterian Church (NAPC) sits.
Dr. Scott Weimer, NAPC’s senior pastor, was shocked. Together with Rev. Dr. James Milner, senior pastor of Chapel of Christian Love Baptist Church and chairperson of the Mayor’s Faith-Based Roundtable, Dr. Weimer co-hosted two Atlanta “faith summits” in March 2007 January 2008. With support from the Regional Council of Churches, these summits were organized in response to Mayor Franklin’s appeal to the faith community to join her in the fight to end CSEC.
While the faith summits were taking place, other local groups also began talking about CSEC. One of these groups was Unite!, a non-denominational network of churches in and around Atlanta whose community efforts included a focus on issues of social justice. Through discussions at the faith summits and conversations at Unite!, it became clear that if the CSEC situation in Atlanta was going to change, it would take the collective efforts of faith-based groups working with community organizations and elected officials.
A group of eight churches hired a consultant (Triaxia) to develop a strategic plan for churches to work together with the public, private and non-profit sectors to bring an end to CSEC in Atlanta. The result was Street GRACE, which received independent 501c3 status in 2009.We began in 2009 officially as a non-profit so we have been in existence for 3.5 years.
3. How did you personally get involved in Street Grace?
I got involved when my church, a founding church partner of Street GRACE, hosted a Lunch & Learn. It was at this information lunch that I learned that Atlanta was a city with a problem and I had never heard this before. My heart became broken over what I heard and I began doing lots of research on the CSEC issue. I guess you could say that: Not only could I not let go of the issue once I heard about it, but the issue would not let go of me.
4. Can you share some stats about human trafficking, just so people understand the size of this problem?
According to The Polaris Project, human trafficking is a $32-$39 billion dollar industry.
5. What specifically do you do to help girls? And what are the typical ages of the girls?
We are not a direct service provider but a vetting organization, or you could say the “information highway system”, for those individuals who want to find their place to volunteer with agencies who are front-line providers already working with at-risk children. We focus on raising the awareness level of these issues so that potential volunteers can find their place to volunteer in the areas of prevention and restoration. The average age a child is lured into prostitution is 12-14.
6. If others want to get involved with Street Grace, what are some things they can do besides the obvious (and very important) donate money?
As an agency that mobilized volunteers there are numerous opportunities where individuals can make a difference. Someone can go to www.streetgrace.org and look under our Volunteer Opportunities tab to see the numerous different needs of our partners. Just fill out the information form and your contact information will be sent directly to the agency working with children.
Opportunities run the spectrum of mentoring, tutoring, providing meals for homeless youth, organizing clothing closets for homeless youth, becoming part of a “village family” for at-risk girls, providing blessing bags for children that are on “Free and Reduced” meals at school, providing summer sandwiches for children who are out of school and don’t have food on a regular basis, etc. All of these things help an organization that work with children who are in vulnerable positions where the exploiters prey on the “need” of the child.
7. What final thoughts would you like to share with the readers?
Everyone CAN make a difference and has something to offer.
Maybe you can teach a cooking class once a month to an at-risk child. Tutoring at your local school system with children can be as simple as reading to elementary children so they can get the foundations they need to stay in school.
What about helping to provide for children in foster care? For those families who are considering adoption, would you consider adopting a child out of our foster care system who so desperately long for a forever family? Local youth groups can always have food drives and donate the food to our agencies that need the food or donate their gently used clothing. So many opportunities – so many volunteers are needed.
You CAN make a difference.
Thank you Amy! I hope you will visit Street Grace and consider making a difference today.