ROSWELL, Ga. – A quick check of certain websites online shows that, beneath the cozy suburban façade of North Fulton, even here there is a hidden side.
Sex trafficking is prevalent in the north Atlanta suburbs, accounting for as much as 40 percent of the daily interactions in the metro area, by some counts.
As recent “massage parlor” busts in Roswell and Johns Creek attest, the market goes where there is money, and North Fulton has plenty of that.
When he found out about the issue and how local children, especially girls, have been subjected to trafficking, Dave McCleary took up the cause and brought it to the Roswell Rotary Club in March of 2012.
Now, Rotary has taken up the effort and wants it to go international.
“They want to use the model we are creating in Rotary District 6900 and use that across the Americas,” McCleary said.
Rotary has already been instrumental in effectively eradicating polio from the world by leveraging their millions of members around the globe for one cause. McCleary and those in Roswell’s Rotary Club hope to have a similar effect on human trafficking.
“If we can give the same emphasis to this issue, we feel we can make a big dent,” he said.
‘It’s happening in our community’
Rotary members were shocked last year, when McCleary brought together a panel of speaker on the issue at one of the club’s weekly meetings. The keynote speaker was a girl who grew up in Roswell and attended Roswell High School. She fell into a bad group and spent years prostituting herself for drug money.
One member recognized that she used to babysit their children.
“We’re trying to let people know it’s happening right here, in our own community,” McCleary said. “It’s not a downtown problem, it’s happening in our community.”
When McCleary started his efforts, there were many in Atlanta and the surrounding communities who said there was no problem. However, several high-profile cases of pimps and prostitution brought the issue to the forefront. Since then, there have been positive efforts to solve the problem.
The General Assembly passed House Bill 141 that mandates businesses where trafficking is prevalent – strip clubs, trucks stops, bars and restaurants – to post flyers about a tip line which people can call either to report a problem or seek help. Its number is 1-888-373-7888.
“If they are in Georgia and the girl needs some assistance, they can call the Georgia Cares connection and get to whatever facility they need to be in,” McCleary said.
The legislation goes into effect in January.
McCleary said the Rotary is creating a speaker’s bureau, implementing an awareness program for high school groups and raising awareness for businesses. From there, the efforts of Roswell can spread across the Americas and tackle the seedy business of trafficking.