"It looks a little different here in the States than it does around the world," said Bryson Vogeltanz, chief steward of the Passion 2013 Freedom Initiative. "But it's true, girls are being bought and sold against their will here in Atlanta. Sex trafficking and slavery are realities right here in our city."
Atlanta is considered one of the major hubs for child trafficking. It's estimated that 500 underage girls are working the streets of Atlanta on any given night. (Source: 11Alive.com)
Much to my surprise I have recently learned that child sex trafficking is on the rise in the city of Atlanta. I've read about it happening in impoverished countries and continued to read about it with growing alarm as awareness of its occurrences here in America grew; but now that it's right here at home I sit in horror watching it discussed more frequently on the news. A sign of the times?
I grew up in the 80's in Atlanta, a time of fear for parents and unbearable constraints for children as they sought to protect us from the kidnappings and murders running rampant through the city at that time. Eyes glued to the television screen our blood ran cold daily as yet another child's picture scrolled across the TV and their name flashed by as they were added to the growing list of Atlanta's Missing and Murdered Children. You couldn't escape the reality of what was going on back then, whether viewing it on the TV, passing posters and flyers hanging in stores around town, or on the back of a milk carton, children were not safe anywhere. As time went on the kidnappings and murders ended with arrests. That's not to say that it didn't still happen randomly; however, there wasn't a plague of kidnappings occurring in the city anymore.
Kidnappings in Atlanta are back on the rise with a new twist. We're hearing more stories about females between the ages of 12-16 being kidnapped and forced into the sex trafficking industry. Recently a traffic stop resulted in one young girl being saved who had been with her captor for a few months at that point. An adult female was recently arrested for harboring runaways in her home and forcing them into prostitution to help support themselves. And the scariest of them all is a child that I know of in my community has recently gone missing. We see it on the news and read about it in books, but seeing the news reports right here at home tends to have a different impact than it does when viewing it internationally.
Why is the increase occurring? Is it a result of the economy and people taking desperate measures? Is it a sign of the times? I don't know. But I am interested in what we as parents can do to protect our children.
The reality is that our children are exposed to much more than we ever were at their age and have access to more people than we ever dreamed of meeting in our youth. The internet is a very real monster when used for evil and many individuals are taking advantage of youth online, especially on social media forums. Prepaid cell phones, clothes, shoes, and other gifts for these young children draw them in and entice them to break the bond of trust with their parents. Children do not communicate with their parents about these gifts for fear they will come to an end. They work in tandem with these individuals to keep the secret of their new friends and gifts. They believe it's all innocent and have no clue of the danger awaiting them on the other side of the screen.
As parents we have a duty to talk openly with our children about the present evils in the world today. We must educate them on the dangers that lie in wait for them and be honest about potential outcomes given certain behaviors. There once was a time we could protect our children from the horrors occurring around the world by not allowing them to view certain TV programs. Yet, we live in an age now where we must allow them access to information about what is going on in their world so they will be informed. Nightline has a special show that exposes men engaging in child sex exploitation and it is very informative. There are other news shows that randomly interview young girls who have been victims of child sex exploitation, or those who have now turned to the streets or become promiscuous as a result of being abused by a trusted person, (e.g., parent, family, friend, teacher, etc.).
We can protect our children by equipping them to protect themselves through knowledge, communication, trust with parents, empowerment, and understanding. I believe we should talk to our children at an earlier age openly and honestly and share with them some of the harsh realities that are happening to children their age. This is not to say that they are completely protected from everything because that's impossible, but as parents we have to make a stand to protect them to the greatest extent possible and it starts with knowledge. It starts with acceptance that this is the unfortunate world we live in and knowing we can make a difference. It starts with communicating with your child. And it starts with in the words of my husband "being too scared to be scared."