Sex trafficking is one of leading industries in the United States, and the target age of victims is 12 to 14, said Sharon Lightstone, an educator in Cobb County who is organizing an event on the subject Thursday, Jan. 26, at Congregation Etz Chaim in East Cobb.
The event is part of National Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
Lightstone, a counselor at Rocky Mount Elementary School, said the problem of child slavery is particularly bad in Atlanta.
“We live in a major city that has conventions, national sports teams, trade, an international airport — all that makes us a primary target,” she said.
“Research says that north of I-285 there are thousands of people who purchase,” Lightstone said. “It’s just unacceptable to me that slavery is going on, and it’s happening over and over again. The first step in any situation is education, and that’s what this panel is about.”
Sex trafficking happens in many ways, Lightstone said. “Middle school children are prime targets. They are put into this business through induction, social media contacts. It doesn’t matter what culture they come from or their socio-economic status. The traffickers don’t particularly care if you have money or not.”
Susan Norris, who will be a panelist at the event, is the author of “Rescuing Hope: A Story of Sex Trafficking in America.” She said in a phone interview that Georgia’s new Safe Harbor Act regards a minor being sold for sex acts as a victim, not a perpetrator. Amendment 2 to the Georgia Constitution, approved in November’s elections, dedicates the money raised from fines against pimps, johns and other sex trade criminals and from a new fee on strip clubs to pay for the intensive, long-term restorative services needed by child victims of sex trafficking to lead normal lives.
But the safe harbor measures are not enough, Norris said. “We can’t fix the problem if people don’t know it exists. Even though we are in one of the hubs, as identified by the FBI, there are still a lot of people here who have no concept of the magnitude of the problem.”
Norris runs an organization called Rescuing Hope, which she said focuses on enlightenment, education and empowerment. “We educate the public as to the existence of the problem. We educate teachers, counselors, educators, students. We train law enforcement, medical staff in hospitals, and we help the general public to find their place in the fight.”
She added, “We work with survivors and help them go from victim to survivor to thriver to lifelong friend.”
Other panelists at the Etz Chaim discussion are scheduled to include Kennesaw State University President Sam Olens, an Etz Chaim member who worked to toughen Georgia’s laws against sex trafficking when he was the state attorney general; prosecutor Camila Wright; and representatives from Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Georgia Cares, Out of Darkness, Rescuing Hope, Street Grace and Wellspring.
Norris said the goal of the event is to raise awareness. “I’m hoping to activate people by partnering with one of the front-line organizations. It’s going take all of us working together to make a dent.”
What: East Cobb Consortium for Ending Child Slavery
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26
Where: Congregation Etz Chaim, 1190 Indian Hills Parkway, East Cobb
Admission: Free. Please RSVP to Sharon Lightstone at 404-457-4543 or firstname.lastname@example.org for parking and refreshment purposes.