Saturday, June 27, 2009

Traffic-Free Zone

Some people don't just lament human trafficking--they do something about it.
Street GRACE is a non-denominational, Atlanta-based group of churches who have banded together to fight "the commercial sexual exploitation of children" that takes place in their city every day. Here are some facts from their website that I, for one, was both shocked and saddened to read:

-Between 200-300 young girls are trafficked each month in the state of Georgia alone.
-Atlanta is a focal point in Georgia's sex trade industry.
-The average age of children who are sexually exploited is 14, although in some cases the girls are no older than 10 and 11.

Street GRACE (Galvanizing Resources Against Child Exploitation) works within Atlanta's community of faith to fight the sexual exploitation of children in the city, while also supporting secular groups and organizations who have shown proven success in advocacy, aftercare, and mentoring.
I've pasted below the beginning of an Atlanta Journal Constitution article that focuses on Street GRACE's beginnings--and their battle. Click here to read the entire article, which appeared in the AJC on Sunday, June 14.

Sex-trafficking fight goes beyond streets
For more than a century, congregants at North Avenue Presbyterian Church had little reason to think that anything other than worship was going on at their corner of North and Peachtree.
In 2005, they found out others had set up shop.

Teenage prostitutes, according to a mayor’s report on child sex trafficking, had begun working within a few steps of the familiar inscription from Matthew on the church’s wall: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Members of the congregation, appalled by the report, told the Rev. Scott Weimer they wanted to take action.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Weimer said, “but their response inspired me to move forward.”
Four years later, they have helped build an extraordinary coalition of Presbyterians, Catholics and nonbelievers, conservative Christians and feminists, Jews and Muslims, city dwellers and suburbanites, all of whom have found a cause involving religion, politics and sex they agree on: eradicating child prostitution from the streets of Atlanta.
“When you … talk to a girl who is 15 and has been prostituted, it doesn’t matter anymore if you are pro-life or pro-choice,” said Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), who has become active in the campaign. “You just want to help, and debate about women’s issues or Democrat or Republican or black or white just stays away.”

Beyond the streets
These folks are not out in the streets, stalking pimps and picking up children. They’ve selected a different battlefield to which they bring particular gifts: the Legislature, the courts, fund-raising. This year, for example, the group provided hundreds of volunteers to lobby at the Capitol for anti-trafficking legislation. Members also are paying for additional safehouses for child prostitutes — tripling the number of beds from seven to 23.
“We couldn’t wait for the politicians to solve this thing,” said Marla Randolph of Sandy Springs Church of the Redeemer, part of the evangelical Presbyterian Church in America.
“And we can’t sit back and do nothing.”
It is more than being against sin, the religious groups say. There is a new flowering of justice movements and emphasis on social issues that has resulted in evangelicals campaigning against the torture of suspects in the war on terror and faith-groups speaking out on global warming.

Atlanta is a mere two-hour drive down an ever-bustling I-75 from Chattanooga, and while I've been unable to find statistics on childhood sexual exploitation in this city, it's a sure thing that our town is not immune. Sadly, I also feel certain that members of our community have been involved in the harming of these precious children.
Seeing how real the struggle is in Atlanta is a sobering wake-up call to me and to everyone here at World Next Door. We talk regularly about fighting human trafficking in countries halfway around the globe--India, Nepal--but unfortunately, I, at least, find it all to easy to ignore the very real crimes taking place in my own backyard.
Second Life is a Chattanooga-area group whose goal is the "restoration of the sexually exploited." For now, check out their website to find out more. I'll post more later on what we can do to take a stand against human trafficking right now, in our own cities and states.

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