“When I grew up, I knew where the monsters were,” said Bob Rodgers, president and CEO of Street Grace.
Rodgers, who spoke to the Spalding Collaborative last Wednesday, said, “now I don’t know. They shop with us, go to church with us. Realize this — it is happening under our noses.”
Street Grace is an Atlanta-based, faith-driven organization collaborating with faith, business and community leaders providing a comprehensive path to end domestic minor sex trafficking in Metro Atlanta and throughout the United States.
“The numbers are overwhelming, and the kids sold for sex are in our schools.” Rodgers said. “This is a runaway, a foster, homeless problem, but is also our problem. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), 1 out of every 4 girls experiences some form of sexual exploitation, and 1 out of every 6 boys.”
He said, the biggest surprise, those statistics are people — 50,000 babies born this year will experience some form of sexual exploitation by age 18.”
The customers are “buyers of sex.” Rodgers said “the vast majority of the problem is men — 92 percent of people victimized are female. It is a gender issue, violence touches women.”
According to the statistics, they “look like the college professor who trafficks his students, the children’s pastor to takes advantage of children, the neighbor who trafficks a 13-year-old girl for two years. It’s 17 or 18-year-old girls who talk their friends into coming down here.”
The friends, with their older boyfriend, will come get them, Rodgers said.
“They are happy to do it, but need help paying for expenses,” he said. “Within 12 hours, the girls have been raped repeatedly, and within the next day, they are across the state, being raped in another hotel room.”
The victims are “a 9-year-old girl raped by her cousin, then at 11 raped by her father, and on her 13th birthday, dad sells admission to a hotel to nine of his friends to rape her. After, he slips a birthday card under her door with a note — ‘welcome to womanhood.’”
There is some good news, Rodgers said.
“Some good things are happening,” he said. “Churches, businesses, schools are hearing the presentations — public, private, business and faith groups all rallying around this. It’s not about race, Democrat or Republican, rich or poor. This hits all communities.”
People, he said, are getting involved — volunteering, giving lots of money.
“And when faith groups get involved things change,” he said.
One of the changes is the recent legislation signed this past week by President Donald Trump. The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 was signed into law. The final legislation incorporates the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which was co-sponsored by U.S Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia).
In a press release on April 11, Isakson said, “the legislation signed into law by the president today is an important step toward holding perpetrators of the vile crime of online sex trafficking accountable and allowing victims to seek recourse. This legislation updates and strengthens our laws while keeping the internet open and I’m glad that it is now law.”
The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, he said, “ensures that operators of websites who knowingly facilitate sex trafficking can be held liable, and that victims can pursue legal recourse in their struggle for justice.”
It was introduced in the Senate after a two-year inquiry that culminated in a report entitled, “Backpage.com’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking.” This report found that Backpage.com knowingly facilitated criminal sex trafficking of vulnerable women and young girls and then covered up evidence of these crimes to increase its own profits.
Within hours of the legislation being passed by the Senate and before it was signed by the president, many of these pages have been shut down, Rodgers said. One of those, Backpage.com, he said, “was the largest online brothel. This suppresses the supply. Buyers are having hard time finding it — for now.”
Backpage.com, he said was the owner of many of the other sites as well, and a new one has come out — bedpage.com.
Rodgers said “the underground sex industry is a $13 billion a year industry. In comparision, the NFL is $14 billion. It Atlanta, the underground sex industry makes $290 million a year.”
He said the single largest porn site had 98 billion visits in 2017.
“The statistics are overwhelming,” Rodgers said. “If you’re watching porn, you’re watching sex trafficking” which he defined as when people who cannot voluntarily leave, and someone who is promised something — money, clothes, and gifts — for sex.
Street Grace, he said “is child-focused and demand-centric. They offer a residential program for those who get out. We work on prevention, protection and pursuit.”
The prevention and protection, he said, includes work with students, since of the 73,000 found in sex trafficking last year, 53,000 were under age 18.
Pursuit, he said, includes work with legislators and law enforcement to crack down on the purveyors of underground sex. But he noted, “we’re not an organization that stands up and cheers every time someone is arrested. Yes, they need to go to jail, but that does not solve the problem. It’s not because we’re soft on it. We work with men’s groups in jail. Sending them to jail is not the cure; they need counseling.”
Street Grace has done something it calls “transaction intercept,” where it places adds, mans a call center, and sends texts back with treatment information. They work with law enforcement, letting them know what they are doing. Of those sent texts with information, he said, 15 percent sought help, and there was a “noticeable reduction in repeat calls.”
He’s met with tech companies to find a way to this without having to manually staff a call center. BBDO, one of the largest marketing firms worked with them “to develop a chat bot, with five or six personalities. In the next few months, we look to disrupt the transactions, and can set it collect data for city, state and federal law enforcement.”
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The Rotary Club of Griffin and Griffin Daybreak Rotary Club have events planned for this month, including Rodgers presentation before the Collaborative, and series of stories in this newspaper on the topic, to bring awareness to human trafficking.
On Wednesday, April 18, Dorsey Jones, a survivor of sex trafficking, will speak to Griffin Daybreak Rotary Club at its 7:30 a.m., meeting at J Henry’s. Jones was a victim of sex trafficking at the ages 12 and 13 in Bainbridge.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of articles on sex trafficking The Griffin Daily News will run this month.)
BY RAY LIGHTNER STAFF WRITER RAY2GRIFFINDAILYNEWS.