Nonprofit Voice | Street Grace on Atlanta's Sex Trade

A new report from the Urban Institute on the state of the illegal sex trade in eight U.S. cities, the first of its kind, found that the Atlanta area sex trade brings in annual profits of $300 million—making it, by far, the largest in the study (Miami, the next largest, had profits of $235 million). Based on research from 2003-07, the report doesn’t account for the progress made by the state in the last two years—including tougher penalties for buyers and sellers, a dedicated GBI child sex crimes unit, and increased law enforcement awareness. Driving that progress is the work of organizations like GCN member Street Grace, headed by Cheryl DeLuca-Johnson.

OPINION | by Cheryl DeLuca-Johnson, president and CEO of Street Grace | March 27, 2014

The report that recently came out, as disheartening as it is, only confirms what we already know: that trafficking is a very real issue in our state and in our city. Street Grace has been working since 2009 to bring the issue of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) to the forefront of people’s minds. We know at Street Grace that there is a pathway to change beginning with awareness, empowerment, and engagement, which will ultimately lead to social change. The only way to end DMST is to shift the way that society thinks about how money affects the purchase of children for sex.

We need to take away the excuses, the thinking that a minor could choose to participate in these transactions, that there is anything like a consensual exchange taking place, that there’s no harm done. If there is truly no harm done, why is it an underground activity? Why are buyers and sellers hiding?

At Street Grace, it is our goal to end DMST in Atlanta, with a vision to end it throughout the U.S. Our three initiatives to stop DMST are:

As an organization dedicated to leading churches, community organizations, and individual volunteers on a comprehensive path to end DMST, we are dismayed by the Urban Institute report, but confident in our ability to turn those grim statistics around.

1. Georgia Department of Education Collaboration: According to Georgia Cares, 91% of DMST victims identified in Georgia are still in the school system. For that reason, we have developed a web-based teacher portal to educate over 112,000 Georgia Public School teachers, arming them with the knowledge to identify and report potential DMST victims. School teachers are often the first line of defense in protecting our children from exploitation, so it is imperative that they be educated about and empowered to act on the issue.

2. Feeding Vulnerable Children: Traffickers often use children’s hunger to lure them into DMST. To fight this, Street Grace mobilizes volunteers and community organizations annually to feed thousands of our state’s most vulnerable children. One less hungry child means one less child who will fall victim to the lures of the trafficker.

3. Fathers Against Child Exploitation (FACE): Statistics show that perpetrators of DMST are predominately male; as a result, we have formed an initiative that mobilizes men to take steps that protect those most at risk, creating a generational shift that empowers men of all ages to stand up against DMST. In economics, there is the simple rule of supply and demand: when one goes down, so does the other. By decreasing the demand, there will no longer be supply—in this case, children—needed to meet that demand.

As an organization dedicated to leading churches, community organizations, and individual volunteers on a comprehensive path to end DMST, we are dismayed by the Urban Institute report, but confident in our ability to turn those grim statistics around. To help us, visit our website at www.streetgrace.org, where you can learn more about the cause and support our efforts with a donation of $5 (to train a teacher) or $10 (to feed a vulnerable child). You can also like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Cheryl DeLuca-Johnson is president and CEO of Street Grace.

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