New anti-violence program targets local sex trade

By Kalin Thomas Contributing Writer | 1/18/2013, 12:01 p.m.
Lisa Williams, founder and director of Living Waters for Girls – a therapeutic refuge for sex-trafficked girls – speaks to civic and community leaders about the fight to save children from sex trafficking. (Photo by Vincent Christie).

ATLANTA – As the nation prepares to honor America’s peace prophet Martin Luther King Jr., the organization King co-founded is advancing an anti-violence program called “Stop the Violence” intended to stem the tide of violence against and among young people.

The latest project of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s anti-violence campaign is “Justice For Girls,” a program designed to address the sex trafficking of young girls.

The sexual exploitation of children is the third largest moneymaker for organized crime in the U.S., SCLC officials say, and Atlanta is one of the nation’s top cities for sex trafficking.

“I don’t think people realize that sex trafficking is a form of violence,” said Stop The Violence director Cathelean Steele.

Steele, who is married to SCLC chief executive office Charles Steele, said she was stunned when she read about how prolific sex trafficking is in Atlanta and throughout the nation.

“I read about sex trafficking in Essence, and it was so shocking that I couldn’t sleep at night,” she said. “So I started researching it and decided we need to do something.”

Troubled by such statistics, state and local elected officials joined Steele and more than 50 community activists at a recent SCLC stakeholder event to devise a plan to reduce human trafficking in Atlanta.

Lisa Williams, founder and director of Living Waters for Girls – a therapeutic refuge for sex-trafficked girls – said community stakeholders must step up to stop human trafficking in metro Atlanta.

“There are some 300,000 children at risk in the United States. And many of them are being charged with prostitution while the predators go free,” she said. “These are our daughters. You cannot know about this issue and do nothing about it.”

State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials (GABEO), pledged to work with other black leaders to fight the problem.

“GABEO, NAACP, SCLC, Rainbow Push and others ought to be collaborating and working together on this issue,” he said. “We can’t dialogue it away, we have to get in there and make it go away.”

State Sen. Donzella James agreed, and pledged to continue to work with activists to fight the problem.

James, who was recently appointed to the Georgia Human Trafficking Joint Study Committee, said state legislation she introduced and helped pass makes it a felony to pimp or pander children ages 18 and under. Abusers now can get up to 20 years in prison, she said.

Several community stakeholders said they were excited about the new platform and new ways they can work with the SCLC.

“We have a reach of over 300 individuals and organizations that are already known to be effective with violence prevention, so we want the SCLC to join us to fill in the gap regarding girls and sex trafficking,” said Dr. James Griffin Jr., chair of the Metropolitan Atlanta Violence Prevention Partnership.

Atlanta Board of Education member Brenda Muhammad said she is glad to see the SCLC step up and step out on the issue.