Stopping sexual exploitation

According to the FBI, Atlanta is one of the 14 cities in the United States where girls are sexually exploited throughout the state. This astounding fact has reached the ears of Georgia State faculty and Atlanta leaders, who are working against human trafficking in Atlanta.

“People are interested in this topic, and they want to stop what I think is the most heinous crimes that can be committed against children.” Senator Renee Unterman said at a Panel Discussion, “Human Trafficking—A Look at the Economics, Policies, Enforcement, & Victims of the Industry,” conducted in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies on Thursday, Oct. 25.

The panel, which was held by the Andrew Young Office of Career Services & Student Life also featured Renea Anderson, a special agent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) Human Trafficking Unit; Maja Hasic, anti human trafficking program director for Tapesri Inc. and Kaffle McCullough, deputy director of Youth Spark, as panelists at the event.

The panel aimed to raise awareness about the economics and policies of the sex trafficking industry, which, according to McCullough, is relatively new.

“The best practices haven’t been effectively proven yet,” McCullough said when asked about the ideal solutions for child trafficking.

The panelists emphasized the education of child trafficking as the most effective method of prevention today.

“Anytime you say prostitute, there’s a stigma with that word,” said Anderson, who suggested that specifically referring to victims as “commercially sexually exploited children” immediately removes the stereotype of these children and other exploited men and women. “Now we’re bringing light to this topic and looking at it in a completely different way.”

The GBI Human Trafficking Unit is focused on domestic minor sex trafficking and has been in existence for a year and a half. However, the GBI office cannot tackle sex trafficking alone; According to Anderson, it is important to get legislation passed.

“The most significant thing we’ve done is educating the public that these children are victims—they are not criminals,” Unterman said when asked what the legislature has done about this issue. As a senator, she has also created an infrastructure for nonprofits that are educating law enforcement and judges who have bias against prostitution.

Georgia State faculty is also working to help these victims. Dr. Shannon Self-Brown, associate professor in the Institute of Public Health and Dr. Kelly Kinnish, clinical director of the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy, received a $1.5 million federal grant spanning four years for Project InterCSECT. This Project will work with Georgia therapists to service youth who have been sexually exploited in Georgia.

Dr. Self-Brown has a Ph.D in clinical psychology and, in the past, has worked to prevent child maltreatment.

“Dr. Kinnish talked all about the work in the Governor’s office about this issue,” Dr. Self-Brown said. “It very much fits into the framework of everything I’ve worked towards preventing.”

Dr. Self-Brown will be getting a package together to train 40 therapists for the Project.

“The first year, Dr. Kinnish and I will be working with a group of national experts to identify the evidence-based mental health strategies that we think will be most relevant,” Self-Brown said.

“These victims have a history of child abuse and running away from home,” Unterman said about sex trafficking victims. “Most of these children are victims because they look so vulnerable.”

Self-Brown and Kinnish will be working with agencies that provide living facilities, healthcare and mental health services until they are 18. They will be working closely with this agency to train the therapists and prepare them to help these exploited children.

“The children will be referred from the court center for youth in our state,” Self-Brown said. The court center includes a group of people who have been appointed to the CSECT (commercially exploited sex child trafficking) task force specifically.

Self-Brown says Georgia State students can get involved with this Project with data collection and transporting youth to the mental health therapy.

“This is so wrong that I have to do something about it,” McCullough said. “There is something so morally wrong with what is happening that it is gathering everybody’s passion and interest to make a difference.”