ATLANTA – A line of six dozen school buses wound through Atlanta traffic Wednesday in an attempt to illustrate the scope of the problem of child sex trafficking in Georgia.
State Attorney General Chris Carr and Gov.-elect Brian Kemp were joined by other elected officials and anti-trafficking advocates to highlight a campaign called Stop Traffick that aims to raise awareness of child sex trafficking.
"We will continue to make progress on all fronts, but especially to remove the cloak of anonymity and secrecy that so often surrounds the buyers of sex and the traffickers. This is what allows this evil to flourish," Bob Rodgers, president and CEO of Street Grace, an organization that fights child sex trafficking, said during a news conference.
Georgia has long been cited as one of the most active states for human sex trafficking, and the 72 yellow school buses that traveled through Atlanta's streets Wednesday had anti-human-trafficking messages plastered on their sides. Each bus could hold 50 children, for a total of 3,600, which Rodgers said is an estimate for the number of children sold into sex slavery in Georgia each year.
Rodgers said there isn't much data available on child sex trafficking in Georgia, and the estimate is drawn from a study based on a survey done in Georgia in late 2009.
That study reported that more than 400 adolescent girls were prostituted in Georgia each month. Since the study was relatively old, Street Grace wanted to be conservative and reduced that number by a quarter to 300 per month, or 3,600 per year, Rodgers said in an email.
"What these buses represent here today should anger you, and it should inspire you to help us by becoming our eyes and ears in your community," Carr said.
The parade of buses ended at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the Super Bowl will be played next month. Authorities say big events like that can cause a spike in sex trafficking.
"By Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 3, all buyers and traffickers will know that Georgia does not tolerate those who seek to exploit our state's children," Carr said of efforts to raise awareness of steps the state has taken to pass legislation that allows prosecutors to build strong cases against traffickers and buyers and for judges to impose harsh penalties.
Shemeka Dawson, an advocate with Street Grace and a survivor of child and adult sex trafficking, said it's important to talk about child sex trafficking even though the topic often makes people uncomfortable. It's important, she said, for parents to talk to their children to keep them from becoming victims.
"It happened to me in my own front yard, where I'm supposed to be safe with my parents and my family," she said. "But that's where it happened to me."