I’m not for sale: Atlanta a hub for human trafficking

By on March 13, 2012

$300 for Maryam.

That’s how much the young Kazakh girl was sold for by her parents to a man claiming to take her to Russia to put her to work as a shop assistant.

After arriving in Russia, she found home in a barred cell with a locked metal door.

According to the 2007 Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, 17-year-old Maryam refused after being told she would be used as a prostitute. She was beaten, raped and starved for five days before giving in.

A passenger zips through the security checkpoint at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Wednesday, November 21, 2007, the day before Thanksgiving on what is expected to be one of the heaviest travel days of the year. (Pouya Dianat/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/MCT)

Also in the report was Jenny, a 14-year-old Nigerian girl, who was sold to a married couple in the United States as a nanny for their children.

For five years, she was raped by her employer and abused by his wife.
These are two of hundreds of thousands of human beings trafficked in the world today, from Svay Pak in Cambodia to the southeastern United States.

Despite the growing awareness of human trafficking and its existence around the world, the issue itself continues to grow as well.

Many efforts are made each year to help reduce this issue in places such as Svay Pak and Atlanta, two cities separated by about 10,000 miles of ocean and land. What they share, however, goes much deeper than distance.

Agape International Missions is a Cambodian based organization aimed at preventing child sex trafficking and restoring hope to its victims.

Don Brewster, Executive Director and CEO, said he first came to realize the problem of sex trafficking by an NBC dateline special.

“[I] Put together a team to spend a month in Cambodia researching the problem, determining the greatest need, and developing a plan to meet it,” said Brewster.

“We rescue some girls, we also get girls from other NGOs who rescue girls, but don’t have aftercare, and from the Cambodian government.”

NGOs, or non-government organizations, such as Agape International Missions, rescue and provide help for victims of sex trafficking.

Being based in Cambodia, a central transit country for sex trafficking, Brewster witnesses the purchasing of young girls by men from all over, including western men from the United States, which he claims is particularly difficult to see.

“American men coming to Svay Pak to find little girls to rape and torture,” he said. “Taking a little girl into the hospital wearing blood soaked clothes that are the result of her being raped.”

This is the reality forced upon many young girls due to various circumstances. Brewster says that many of the young girls are sold into slavery by the parents, the parents are tricked or the girls are kidnapped.

“Or forced by cultural expectations to meet the economic needs of their families,” he said.

According to Brewster, the Cambodian world of sex trafficking of children focuses on young girls.

“In Svay Pak, it’s primarily prepubescent girls. Nation wide, most girls fall into ages ranging from early teens to early twenties,” he said. “All data available is anecdotal; however, it clearly indicates the number of girls far exceeds boys. Basically, boys are not the organized crime that girls are.”

The awareness of human trafficking spreads throughout the globe in an effective way. That includes the UAB campus and student body. Just last October, Exodus Cry’s “Incurable Fanatics” tour screened their documentary “Nefarious: Merchant of Souls”, which details sex trafficking and how it flourishes in countries all over.

Blaire Pilkington, Exodus Cry Director of Philanthropy, was quoted in the Kaleidoscope, “After seeing a 50 year-old-man fondling a 12-year-old girl, I knew I had to do something. This is not just a problem in Cambodia; it is global.”

About 140 miles east of Birmingham is one of the largest hubs for sex trafficking in the United States. Atlanta is host to about 400 children under the age of seventeen being trafficked each month.

Many of the trafficking that occurs within Atlanta seeks home in other nearby cities as well, including Birmingham.

It’s a new market. A fight to prevent this is being made, however.

Meet Justice is an NGO that fights human trafficking and other social injustices. It is also the parent organization of Innocence Atlanta, a campaign seeking to raise awareness of the sexual exploitation of children in Atlanta and to bring about a solution.

Elizabeth Clymer, web writer and representative of Meet Justice, claims that a major factor for Atlanta’s large trafficking problem is its airport.

“Because Atlanta is home to one of the largest International airports in the world, many international victims do come through Atlanta,” said Clymer. “However, many victims of sex trafficking in America are actually U.S. citizens.

“It’s hard to quantify the amount of trafficking that comes through this city because there are so few resources available to track it.”

According to Clymer, the FBI will begin to gather statistics from local law enforcement agencies in 2013 that will detail the demographics and numbers of trafficking in the state.

Despite the growing number of young women and girls being trafficked each year, the efforts being made to put a stop to it increase as well. And out of the depths of sex trade is encouragement from one survivor to a potential other.

“I can tell you that many young girls and women have come out of a terrible time in their lives to help others do the same,” said Clymer.

Richard Parrish
Staff Writer
riparris@uab.edu

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