Sex trafficking: Fayette is not immune, panel says


It was a meeting designed to address the reality of sex trafficking and how it can be recognized and combated. But it was much more than that because it dealt with issues that can affect any community, including Fayette County.

The “Our children are not for sale” meeting was held April 21 at the library in Fayetteville and was sponsored by two local children’s advocacy organizations.

The audience of more than 70, including parents and children, at the outset of the meeting viewed a short film stating that 500 underage girls are trafficked in metro Atlanta each month and an average of 100 girls are raped for profit each week in Atlanta.

There may be some in Fayette County who believe what happens in Atlanta could not happen here. Such a contention could not be further from the truth, according to panel members.

The panel consisted of Assistant U.S. Attorney Phyllis Clerk, Rep. Virgil Fludd (District 64-Tyrone), Atlanta-based Fedup-4u Director of Operations Lena Jones, Fayette FACTOR Executive Director Becky Smith, Fayette County Sheriff’s Office representatives Wyndolyn Moulder and Fayette County High School Lead Counselor Beverly Brown.

Clark cautioned parents at the meeting to be aware of the social media their children are accessing.

“If your child has Snap-Chat on their phone, take it off,” she said emphatically. “No matter what they think, once it’s on there it never disappears.”

Whether suggestive or not, photos posted on social media websites are quickly passed around from one viewer to another.

“We see it every week in school,” said Brown. “(We) see photo’s that get out and the kid didn’t think it would. It has happened. It does happen.”

Jones wore a silver mask that covered the area around her eyes. While it may have seemed out of place, the mask made a point.

“I wear this mask because it’s not a face,” said Jones, explaining that when a teenager is approached or on the street it is easier than many adults might think for that girl to become a target. “I could have been that girl. In sex trafficking, no one has an identity.”

As someone who previously worked security in school systems, Jones said girls are vulnerable in schools. Jones said she sometimes “saw older guys picking them up from from school and often the parents wouldn’t believe it.”

Following up on that topic and responding to an audience question, Clark said, “Some girls don’t get attention at home and (turn) to social media or the Internet. And the bad guys are smart enough to take advantage of the person wanting attention. The girl believes the person loves her even though the girl is often sold. They perform sex but think it’s okay because they have some place to stay and they think the pimp loves them.”

Fludd followed up on Clark’s comment, saying that everybody like attention.

Moulder in her statements said runaways who become involved in trafficking do not always see themselves as victims. And while Moulder said she did not know of any sex trafficking in Fayette County in the eight years she has been here, there are cases where “some kids have run away and come back with things like cell phones, and often they don’t want to talk about” how they obtained those items.

Smith spent 20 years working with girls and women in need and the past 10 years with Fayette FACTOR. Smith said 75-90 percent of girls and boys on the street were abused before leaving home.

“The street is bad but it’s better than home,” Smith said, quoting Assistant Attorney General Camila Wright at the “Turn on the Lights Prevent Child Abuse Benefit Dinner” held April 21 at Whitewater High School.

It was noted at the benefit dinner that human trafficking, in the case of a minor, is recruiting, enticing, harboring,  ransporting, providing, obtaining, or maintaining another person for the purpose of commercial sexual activities. 

Commenting on the demand for the sex trade, Clark said that while Atlanta is big on tourism and conventions, the majority of the customers are from the suburbs.

“Some girls recruit their friends into the lifestyle,” Clark said, adding that pimps “are the smooth ones and are charismatic and quickly learn about the family situation. And the kids are naive.”

Asked why girls and boys are willing to get involved with sex trafficking, Jones said “sometimes they think it’s glitz and glamour like on television.”

Fludd said that while progress has been made, the Georgia General Assembly “has done very little about this and our laws are lax.”

Brown in response to an audience question said there is a peer-reporting mechanism in Fayette schools where friends can share information with school authorities. Brown noted that kids at Fayette schools are safe, and added that through peer-reporting information schools are provided with information about students being abused.

Asked about what can prompt a girl to explore and become involved in a lifestyle where trafficking is the outcome, Jones said “a lot of girls don’t have dads, and they’re looking for nurturing.”

Far from being a meeting with only trafficking as a topic, Smith in commenting on an audience question on abuse and what it looks like said, “There are many forms of abuse. A common one is verbal abuse — cutting kids to the quick and telling them they’ll never amount to anything. Many of these parents were abused.”

Some in Fayette County may believe that child abuse, spousal abuse, teen alcohol abuse, heroin use and prescription drug abuse do not occur here. But they do.

Fedup-4u is a nonprofit organization whose mission it is to spread an anti-bullying, anti-violence and anti-gang message to more than 65,000 the youth and young adults across the nation each year.

The meeting was sponsored by the Fayette County Area Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc. and the Fayette County Area Chapter of Junior State of America, Inc.