NORTH FULTON, Ga. – Two DeKalb County men were arrested Feb. 4 after allegedly holding two teen girls as sex slaves for years, forcing them to engage in prostitution. Both girls were runaways.
According to state Rep. Renee Unterman, this is not an unusual occurrence.
“One hundred girls a night are trafficked in Atlanta,” she said. “It’s like ordering a pizza.”
The members of Roswell Rotary have taken as their cause the effort to stop human trafficking in Atlanta.
“Rotary is in it to end it,” said Roswell past President Dave McCleary. “Thirteen is the average age of a prostitute and they have an average lifespan of seven years. These are our kids, our neighbors.”
At their weekly meeting Jan. 31, a panel of experts was convened to discuss the human trafficking problem in Georgia. Composed of elected officials and local attorneys, the panel revealed the alarmingly commonplace act of buying sex in the metro area.
“Two miles from here, you can watch a football game, have a beer and then go and buy sex at the massage spa next door,” said attorney William Riley. “We have people being trafficked. People just don’t look.”
Ignoring the problem has made championing the cause difficult, said Unterman.
“Just a few blocks from the capital, boys and girls were running away from home and being used as prostitutes in Atlanta,” she said. “People say this doesn’t happen in Atlanta.”
Unterman said, several years ago, when she tried to bring up the issue to the state legislature, some of her peers would simply get up and walk out of the chamber, refusing to listen.
“People couldn’t bear to hear it,” she said. “People don’t want to believe you.”
Stephanie Davis, of Georgia Women for Change, said a helpline was created to provide assistance to those prostituted anywhere in the country. It was posted in places trafficking is known to happen – airports, truck stops, anywhere commerce is passing through.
“We got 1,200 calls from Georgia with no publicity,” she said. “Eighty-five percent of those arrested are arrested in places where alcohol is found.”
Victims are traditionally criminalized, she said. Until a few years ago, pimping a minor carried a $50 penalty and was considered a misdemeanor.
The panel advocated tougher laws on a city and county level, suggesting state action would not be likely.
“This isn’t a Republican or Democrat, black or white issue,” said McCleary. “We want to help our kids.”