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On Demand: Underage Sex Billboard Campaign Targets Johns, Pimps

The Juvenile Justice Fund’s A Future. Not A Past. effort has a new tool in its ongoing campaign to “disable the demand for child sexual exploitation” in Georgia.

The Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia has agreed to donate space to the Atlanta-based non-profit victim’s advocacy group to run billboard ads throughout metro Atlanta. Unlike previous efforts by other organizations focused on raising awareness among victims, these ads are unique in that they will target the demand side – specifically the pimps and johns who partake in child prostitution. The overall goal, supporters say, is to educate the public on the consequences of purchasing prostituted children.

“This probably is the first of its kind, I’ve never heard of a billboard campaign targeting the demand side,” says A Future. Not A Past. State Coordinator Jennifer Swain. “We want people to know that with the passage of HB 200 in the state legislature that they can now get up to life in prison for purchasing sex with a minor. We feel that if you take away the demand side it will no longer be as big of a problem.”

The traditional vinyl and electronic boards due out later this week warn that pimps and buyers could face five years to life in prison under Georgia's new sex trafficking law, which substantially toughens the penalty for buying underage sex. The ads urge Georgians to text "DEMAND" to 313131 for more information.

“We’re not promoting texting while driving, we want them to text it once they get to their destination,” explains Swain. “That’s why we chose a number that was easy to remember. We haven’t made a final decision on what the final message will be, but they will probably receive a text back with Georgia’s statistics.” 

 

“It’s really good to get people not just talking about the girls, but the men who buy them,” says Swain, of the ads.

“It feels great for us to be a part of this effort to let drivers know about the laws in Georgia – especially those who are engaging this activity," says Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia Executive Director Conner Poe. "This was already a strong campaign, but getting the state law passed parlayed perfectly with this. It put some teeth behind this campaign and it’s letting folks engaging in this know, ‘you’d better watch out.’”

Women Volunteers Target Online Ads Selling Sex With Children

Some unlikely Atlanta women are spending hours on the Internet looking for child prostitutes, but not for personal gratification. They’re volunteers who are monitoring websites that advertise children under categories such as “escorts” as part of a new front in the war against sexual trafficking.

Deborah Richardson

“We have found every quarter an exponential increase in the number of girls being exploited,” said Deborah Richardson, executive vice president of the National Center for Civil & Human Rights. “One reason is the internet. Anyone can sit at home and order a young girl for sex as easily as ordering a pizza.” And just as a customer can specify pizza toppings, children can be ordered online by skin color, hair color and age, she said.

Richardson spoke on a panel Friday at Atlanta’s North Avenue Presbyterian Church as part of a town hall meeting called “Take a Stand Against Demand.” The breakfast gathering was sponsored by the Atlanta Women’s Foundation and A Future Not a Past, a campaign spearheaded by the Juvenile Justice Fund.

Speakers emphasized the need to target traffickers, pimps, customers and online advertisers.

Traffickers have found a lucrative business in selling children for sex, Richardson said. “Unlike drugs and guns, girls sell over and over again.”

Jennifer Swain

After the online advertising site Craigslist came under fire last year and shut down its “adult services” section, many of the illicit sex ads moved to a site called Backpage.com, Jennifer Swain, state coordinator of A Future Not a Past said Friday. Volunteers in Atlanta are searching Backpage sites targeted to Atlanta, Saint Louis and Houston for possible child sex advertisements and forwarding suspicious cases to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The cases aren’t hard to find. In a single four-hour session last week, a handful of volunteers found dozens of possibilities. The monitoring will continue for eight weeks, Swain said. “We’re going to give Backpage a run for their money,” she vowed.

Local law enforcement agencies and courts are also stepping up efforts to curb the sale of children for sex, panelists said.

Det. Carol Largent of Cobb County’s Crimes Against Children Unit said her department made a commitment last fall to pursue such cases more intently through methods such as following up on runaway reports. “Within a couple of months,” she said, “we were averaging a case a week of girls involved in prostitution.”

Police agencies need to work with schools, juvenile courts and social service agencies, she said, because children who are truants or runaways can become victims of exploitation.

Sonja Brown

Fulton County Assistant District Attorney Sonja Brown said her office currently has three open trafficking cases, seven open pandering cases and 17 pimping cases, nine involving juveniles. Fulton prosecutors pile on charges such as rape, child molestation and cruelty whenever possible to try to increase prison sentences for people charged with exploiting children for sex, she said.

Sally Yates

On the federal level, U. S. Attorney Sally Yates pointed out that on February 1, Attorney General Eric Holder and other Obama administration officials announced a national crackdown that will involve inter-agency “anti-trafficking coordination teams.” But child trafficking has “long been a priority in our office,” she said.

The same assets, such as transportation, that make Atlanta a business and convention hub make it appealing for child traffickers, she said. “One real problem in Atlanta right now is young women brought in from Mexico.”

Renee Unterman

State Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Gwinnett), an outspoken advocate of treating juveniles caught up in the sex trade as victims, not criminals, said she is encouraged by all the grassroots organizations in Georgia that are taking up the cause. The only Republican woman in the Senate introduced a bill last year that would have kept juveniles under 16 from being charged as criminals, diverting them instead to treatment or therapy.  The bill died without a hearing.  Unterman did not say whether she would reintroduce it, but she urged advocates to continue to speak up for children in the sex trade. “I believe children are victims,” she said. “There’s a certain segment out there that believes they’re criminals. That’s why the legislation is being blocked.”

Richardson of the National Center for Civil & Human Rights also spoke optimistically. “I believe we have come to a tipping point with this issue where we can stop it,” she said. She cited the civil rights movement and the crusade against drunk driving that succeeded when enough people became concerned and involved.

“But shame on us for allowing this to happen,” she said. “Shame on us.”

Lobby Day 2011: Hundreds Rail Against Child Sexual Exploitation

It was a sea of black and purple in every direction on the steps of the state capitol Tuesday morning. An estimated 800 people showed up to join in the third annual “lobby dayevent to raise their voices — and overall awareness—about the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in Georgia.

“When we first started this we were told that 10 people showing up at the state capitol was a groundswell; now we’re rocking it,” says CSEC activist Cheryl DeLuca Johnson. “The first time we did this we had 50 people come out; then the next year we had 100. Last year it was about 500. It’s great to see people of all ages and races all come together for one purpose.”

Supporters, mostly from local churches and community organizations, wore black shirts and the purple scarves that were handed out for the event co-hosted by non-profit organizations Street GRACE, A Future. Not A Past, and Wellspring Living. The legions that turned out assembled at Central Presbyterian Church in the early morning hours, and then later walked together across the street to the capitol.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Alex Trouteaud of The Shapiro Group, were among the dignitaries who addressed the crowd before, everyone was directed inside. Once there, supporters were encouraged to sign form letters expressing their concerns about the issue that included their contact information. The forms were delivered to their respective state representatives and senators.

“It’s been a great day,” says DeLuca Johnson, executive director of Street GRACE. “The first year we had one or two legislators come out and address us. Today we wondered if the stage would hold them all.”

Some attendees observed legislators on the floor and also spoke with lawmakers directly about their concerns.

“We take single white roses to the elected officials at the state capitol and ask them to do something to protect our children from being exploited,” explains Street GRACE Strategy and Volunteer Coordinator Amy Walters.

It is estimated that 375 girls are sexually exploited in Georgia each month, with the majority of the illegal incidents occurring in Atlanta. In that same time frame, about 7,200 men knowingly or unknowingly purchase sex from teen girls in the state.

Here’s what some supporters had to say about lobby day and CSEC.

Carolyn Bales and Sue Landrum Rother

Carolyn Bales, Tucker Georgia

“There’s nothing more precious than our children and it just breaks my heart to see people take advantage of them like this. I hope to draw attention to this issue, especially to people who are not involved. We need lawmakers to know that we care about this issue so that we may get all the help we can to punish the people who are doing this to our young people.”

Sue Landrum Rother, Chamblee

“I am here today because I want to make a difference. We must leave a legacy for our children for their futures. I want to help change their future, because they are the next generation. They’re going to be our future leaders. I also want to let them know that they are loved by the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Katrena Holmes

Katrena Holmes, Riverdale

“Last year I attended the premiere of The Candy Shop film about this issue at the Fox Theatre. That movie was about the power of one in ending child sexual exploitation. I decided that I wanted to make a difference on this issue so that’s why I came out to Lobby Day. It has been a very eye-opening experience because I am not a very political person. This has been a very good experience because any type of movement begins with awareness. If people don’t know about it then they can’t mobilize and make a difference. This was an important way let people know about the problem and that we all can get involved.”

Teresa Royall

Teresa Royall, Lawrenceville

“I have heard about the issue for a while and my heart is breaking for the kids who are being sexually exploited.  This is a great day because I felt like I could do something tangible to help laws get passed to prosecute these people. I hope to send a message to legislators to pass legislation that will help to prosecute these people who are doing this to our children.”

Beth Ann Williams, Dacula

“I work for the Georgia Baptist Convention in the women’s area and we have adopted this issue for the next four years; through 2013. My job is to let our 3,600 Georgia Baptist churches know how they can be a part of the solution.  Both prevention and mentoring are critical. We’ve got to work with kids to keep them from falling prey to those who don’t have their best interest at heart.”

Beth Ann Williams

Robert White, Executive Director Georgia Baptist Convention

“Some people told me that they’d left from their church at 3am to be on time today. That let’s you know how important this issue is. I appreciate the hundreds of folks over Georgia who came out for the event. It is inconceivable to me that people take advantage of our children like this. We’re here to influence legislators. The only way to curb this issue is prevention with our kids and strong legislation for the perpetrators of these crimes on our children.  The General Assembly needs to impose stiffer laws. It’s important for all of us to be involved. A lot people have told me that this was the first time that they’ve been involved in something like this. It’s important for people to get out and let their voices be heard.”

Esther Grissom and Shirley Fomby

Esther Grissom, Southwest Atlanta

“About a year ago found out about this problem. Once I found out that Atlanta was ranked number one [in the Southeast] on this issue, I felt concerned that I had to do something. I did hear about Street GRACE and I decided to get more involved with this issue because I felt it was a start. My church, Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in College Park, is affiliated with Living Waters and the Georgia Baptist Women’s Missionary Union, an auxiliary of the Southern Baptist Convention. Every year we adopt a social issues and human exploitation and sex trafficking is our issue for 2011-2012. When I first heard how hard kids have to work – sometimes 30 to 40 men a day  – I was so disturbed. I can’t imagine that. This has got to stop!”

Shirley Fomby, Southwest Atlanta

Robert White

“What amazed me is that Atlanta ranks number one [in the Southeast] in the trafficking of children in the country. As the mission director for my church, Fellowship Group Baptist, my role is to become more aware of the social issues so that I can educate my church and mission on these issues. We need to be advocates and assist in the rehabilitation and mentoring of young people; especially young women. This is my first time being involved in something of this nature and I am pleased with the response. I have enjoyed being a part of something so important. I do hear about the exploitation on the news and I welcome the opportunity to get more involved in helping stop it. I’m generally concerned about what’s going on with our young people. I want to help our future generations.”

Aaronde Creighton

Aaronde Creighton, Street GRACE Volunteer

“The turnout was great, especially for a cold overcast day. I got involved in this issue because I have two daughters ages 6 and 9. While I am active in their lives, a lot of children don’t have active parents. They need to have a voice and someone to fight for them too. The victims of CSEC often come from broken homes; they need more advocacy. My wife and I have been mentors for years. I think the first step is awareness. There are a lot of people who are not aware of this issue and some are aware but ignoring it. We are here to support the rights of the victims. “

Cheryl DeLuca Johnson, Executive Director Street GRACE

Cheryl DeLuca Johnson

“We are so thrilled by the turnout. It’s great to see because all of this was done on a grass roots level. To see so many people come out in rainy weather with MARTA breaking down is so inspiring. We’re here to let lawmakers know that this is going on in Georgia and that we don’t want it to. We’re trying to send a message to lawmakers to prosecute the perpetrators. We’re sending a message to the community that the sexual exploitation of children is wrong and Georgia needs to get off the list. We know that 300 to 400 children being raped for profit each month in Georgia is too many."

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Got a juvenile justice story idea? Contact JJIE.org staff writer Chandra R. Thomas at cthom141@kennesaw.edu. Thomas, a former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow and Kiplinger Public Affairs Journalism Fellow, is an award-winning multimedia journalist who has worked for Atlanta Magazine and Fox 5 News in Atlanta.

Craigslist: Adult Services Section Closed for Good

For the first time since Craigslist suddenly blocked sex ads 12 days ago, the company is talking about the decision. William Clint Powell, director of customer service and law enforcement relations at Craigslist, testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. Powell promised the Adult Services Section will not re-open.  This could cost his company an estimated $44 million in annual revenue, according to The New York Times

Child advocates fighting the epidemic of child prostitution in Georgia and across the country are cheering the decision. According to Kaffie McCullough, campaign director for A Future Not A Past, “[Craigslist is] definitely the market leader in [prostitution] and as they go, others may go.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R- NJ) called the move “the responsible thing to do for the sake of the children.”

Powell warned that people who posted prostitution ads on Craigslist will move to other websites.  As cnet.com reports, he said Craigslist has done more to deal with legal and safety concerns than any other venue, calling it “one of the few bright spots and success stories in the critical fight against trafficking and child exploitation.”

Congress to Grill Craigslist on Sex Ads – GA Advocates Applaud


Advocates fighting the child prostitution problem in Atlanta are cautiously optimistic about Wednesday’s congressional hearing targeting Craigslist. The world’s largest online ad service is sending William Clint Powell, the director of customer service and law enforcement relations for Craigslist, to answer questions from the House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee about adult ads and the role that online services play in child prostitution.

“[Craigslist is] definitely the market leader in [prostitution] and as they go, others may go,” said Kaffie McCullough, campaign director of Atlanta’s A Future Not a Past. The group is fighting the child prostitution problem in Georgia with research, intervention, and education while pushing for prosecution of pimps and johns.

Under growing pressure from attorneys general across the country, Craigslist deactivated its adult services section in the U.S. on September 3, but the section remains open in other countries. Nevertheless, McCullough is pleased because the move has “already disrupted the usual patterns” of prostitution in the U.S.

Some feel that censoring Craigslist is the wrong move. A researcher for Microsoft told the Washington Post that Craigslist’s adult services section could provide more clues for law enforcement to help fight prostitution.

“We’re not under any illusions that prostitution will stop now that these ads are gone. This is about making it harder for it to continue,” said McCullough.

Deborah Richardson, Chief Program Director of the Women’s Funding Network, will be speaking at Wednesday’s hearing on behalf of her national group and Georgia’s A Future Not A Past campaign.

In terms of the hope that Craigslist will permanently remove its Adult Services section:

“I’m just fearful that they’ll do some sort of fancy dance because of profit motive. They make a lot of profit from this section. I just hope they’ll do the right thing.”

Craigslist’s adult services section accounts for about 30 percent of its overall revenue. This year, the site has made about $122 million and $36.6 million of that came from the adult services section, according to the AJC.

As jjie3.wpengine.com reported in June Craigslist tried to stifle criticism from A Future Not a Past, who revealed in a study that it was” by far the most efficient medium for advertising sex with young females.”  The campaign teamed up with the Women’s Funding Network to publicize the problem, but was hit with a Cease and Desist letter from Craigslist.

More about the Craigslist sex ads controversy:

Child Prostitution Ads Censored on Craigslist

17 States Fight Craigslist Adult Services

Craigslist Sex Ad Investigation

Craigslist Stuns Child Advocates

Craigslist Sex Ad Investigation

The internet has become the favorite place to sell women for sex, according to a CNN report. Now there is a national campaign against Craigslist and its popular “adult services” section. Police and anti- sex trafficking groups are pushing to end the “adult services” ads, arguing that underage girls are being exploited.

"Craigslist is like the Wal-Mart of online sex trafficking right now in this country,” said Andrea Powell of the anti-trafficking group The Fair Fund. Watch CNN reporter Amber Lyon grill Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, about sex ad's on his site.

Atlanta is a hub of child prostitution. As we reported back in June an estimated 7,200 men are paying for sex with teenage girls every month in the Atlanta area. The group called A Future Not a Past is leading a campaign against the child sex trade in North Georgia.

Read more:

CNN

Craigslist stuns child advocates

FBI Targets Child Sex Trafficking

The Fair Fund

A Future Not a Past

Justice Targets Child Sex Trade

Georgia’s child prostitution problem will get some new attention from the Justice Department. Attorney General Eric Holder spells out the first National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention in a 280 page report. The plan focuses on child prostitution, child pornography, sex tourism and child exploitation in Indian Country.  It’s a multi-agency effort that includes a national database to allow federal, state, local and international law enforcement to work together better and analyze trends.  The Justice Department is adding 38 new Assistant U. S. Attorneys devoted to child exploitation cases.  And the U.S. Marshals Service is targeting the top 500 most dangerous sex offenders in the nation.

The extent of Georgia’s child sex trade came to light last spring, when a study done for A Future Not a Past revealed that an estimated 7,200 men are paying for sex with teenage girls every month in the Atlanta area.  Child prostitution is also a big problem in Connecticut, Washington, DC, Florida, New York and Texas.

Holder lays out the problem with this stark description:

“Children are being recruited and coerced into the world of prostitution in our own cities. Teen runaways - who are often trying to escape abusive homes – may turn to prostitution as a means of survival. They also frequently fall prey to “pimps” who lure them in with an offer of food, clothes, attention, friendship, love, and a seemingly safe place to sleep. Once the pimps gain this control over the children, they often use acts of violence, intimidation, or psychological manipulation to trap the children in a life of prostitution. Pimps will also cause the children to become addicted to drugs or alcohol (or will increase the severity of a pre-existing addiction) in order to ensure complicity. These children are taught to lie about their age and are given fake ID. They are also trained not to trust law enforcement and to lie to protect their pimps. As a result, these victims are often not recognized as victims, and may be arrested and jailed. The dangers faced by these children– from the pimps, from their associates, and from customers—are severe. These children become hardened by the treacherous street environment in which they must learn to survive. As such, they do not always outwardly present as sympathetic victims. These child victims need specialized services that are not widely available given that they often present with illnesses, drug additions, physical and sexual trauma, lack of viable family and community ties, and total dependence – physical and psychological – on their abusers, the pimps.”

Read more:

Atlanta's War on Child Prostitution

Child Prostitution Report Triggers Warning from Craigslist

FBI Targets Child Sex Trafficking

At Atlanta man is under arrest for sex trafficking involving children. Demetrius Darnell Homer is accused of recruiting and maintaining three young girls for prostitution.  U. S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said, “This defendant allegedly recruited very young girls and turned them into prostitutes, robbing them of their youth, their dignity, and their freedom. Vigorously prosecuting those who exploit children and young women is a top priority for our office.”

Atlanta is considered a hot spot for child prostitution.  An estimated 7,200 men are paying for sex with teenage girls every month in Georgia, according to a study called “Men Who Buy Sex with Adolescent Girls.” The report, commissioned by the campaign called A Future Not a Past, paints an alarming picture of the sex trade in North Georgia.

  • 12,400 men pay for sex with young females each month; 7,200 of them end up having sex with underage girls.
  • While many men were not looking for sex with teenage girls, close to half were willing to go through with the transaction even after they found out they would be hooking up with someone under 18.
  • Commercial sex exploitation is not just a city problem.  Men responded to ads from all over metro Atlanta, including the suburbs.
  • Researchers found 9% of customers were near the airport, fueling a theory that travel and tourism play a role in sex trafficking.

The FBI’s Metro Atlanta Child Exploitation Task Force is handling the Homer investigation. Members include police departments in Atlanta, Gwinnett County, Marietta and Sandy Springs.

Atlanta’s War on Child Prostitution

Atlanta’s battle against child prostitution and sex trafficking is getting national attention, and so is the broad coalition of groups that are fighting the problem. The campaign called A Future Not a Past, which studies commercial sex exploitation of girls in Georgia, is winning funds and converts across the nation. Sojourners Magazine reports The Women’s Funding Network is modeling similar campaigns in Michigan, Minnesota and New York. Writer Letitia Campbell takes us through the history of the movement and what’s next in the battle.

Craigslist stuns child advocates

New details are out about the child sex trade in Georgia.  An estimated 7,200 men are paying for sex with teenage girls every month in this state, according to a study called “Men Who Buy Sex with Adolescent Girls: A Scientific Research Study.” Highlights came out in May, but the full study, released Thursday, sheds new light on the crisis.

While state leaders and advocacy groups are trying to get hold of the problem, it appears no one is more concerned about the report than Craigslist, the online classified ad giant.  Craigslist attorneys have sent a Cease and Desist letter to the Women’s Funding Network, a national partner of the Atlanta campaign called A Future Not a Past, which commissioned the study.

The legal warning letter alleges the Women’s Funding Network defamed Craigslist, and distributed false information about the company, by releasing highlights of the Georgia study.  The study claims “Craigslist is by far the most efficient medium for advertising sex with young females; ads on this site received 3 times as many responses compared to identical ads placed on other sites.”

A spokesman for both the Women’s Funding Network, based in San Francisco, and Atlanta’s A Future Not a Past campaign were shocked by the Craigslist demand letter, which arrived June 7.  In response, they sent Craigslist the full study yesterday, and asked for a sit-down meeting.  They say Craigslist declined.

AFNP Campaign Director Kaffie McCullough tells us, “I hope they will look seriously at this research. “ McCullough, who is a therapist by background says, “The problem I see with Craigslist is it allows the buyers looking for a girl to do that in a way that seems very normalized and legitimate.”  She adds, “We need corporate and private citizens to say it’s not okay for men to buy sex from children.”

Craigslist has not responded to our request for information.  CEO Jim Buckmaster blogged about human trafficking on May 11:

“we’ve vastly improved our approach to the point where an adult service ad submitted to craigslist today relating to an underage person…would be rejected by our reviewers, with an immediate report submitted to law enforcement, allowing the victim to be rescued, and the perpetrator to be removed from society.

“Human trafficking and child exploitation are utterly despicable and horrendous crimes, absolutely beyond the pale. While quite rare on craigslist, any ad on our site in facilitation of such an unspeakable crime is completely unacceptable, and we will continue to work tirelessly with law enforcement to ensure that any such victim receives the assistance they deserve and that anyone responsible for such a crime is imprisoned.”

This is not the first time Craigslist has been criticized for running illegal sex ads.  Two years ago Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin wrote a letter asking Craigslist to avoid running ads that promote child prostitution.  In May 2009, Craigslist responded to complaints by closing its Erotic Services section and starting an Adult Services section.  Two weeks ago, Rep. Jackie Speier (D- CA) called for a congressional hearing, and called on the company to shut down the Adult Services section.

The Atlanta-based study, conducted last fall by the Schapiro Group, is also called the Georgia Demand Study, because it seeks to answer the question of who is creating the demand - Who is buying sex with underage girls?   Researchers posted fake ads and took calls from hundreds of potential johns, then questioned the men for their survey.

McCullough says, “This is a business. Girls are the supply.  It’s a supply and demand issue.  We want to bring down the business.  If there were not a demand, the girls would not be exploited.”

Beth Schapiro from the Schapiro Group would not discuss whether Craigslist has sent her a letter, too.   She does say the most important parts of the study are the numbers.

  • 12,400 men pay for sex with young females each month;  7,200 of them end up having sex with underage girls.
  • While many men were not looking for sex with teenage girls, close to half were willing to go through with the transaction even after they found out they would be hooking up with someone under 18.
  • Commercial sex exploitation is not just a city problem.  Men responded to ads from all over metro Atlanta, including the suburbs.
  • Researchers found 9% of customers were near the airport, fueling a theory that travel and tourism play a role in sex trafficking.

Researchers conclude that there is no way to stop the sex trade, so advocates should try to educate and encourage men to avoid teenagers when they pay for sex.

Read more:

"Men Who Buy Sex with Adolescent Girls: A Scientific Research Study”

Craigslist blog