This article is part of GMA's Viewpoints catalog, a grouping of opinion pieces from the GMA magazine, speeches and other editorials.
By Georgia First Lady Marty Kemp
Traveling the state, Brian and I learned about a wide range of challenges facing hardworking Georgians. Since Election Day 2018, those issues have been the focus of our efforts as a family in serving the people of our state. I have always had a passion for speaking for those who did not have a voice. I knew that would be the theme of my time as First Lady, but I did not realize human trafficking would be a top priority of mine until Jan. 2 of this year. That day, my family and I attended the #StopTraffick event where 72 school buses drove around metro-Atlanta during rush hour traffic. Each bus represented fifty children–a total of 3,600–sold into modern-day slavery every year in Georgia alone. This demonstration painted a powerful picture.
I knew fighting human trafficking had to be my focus and that I couldn’t stay on the sidelines. Too many Georgians were trapped without a voice. Shortly after Brian’s inauguration, I announced the GRACE Commission (Georgians for Refuge Action, Compassion and Education) to combat human trafficking in our state. Since then, the commission has been hard at work raising public awareness and bringing key stakeholders together in order to develop strategies to bring justice to perpetrators, rehabilitate victims and end human trafficking in Georgia.
It was an honor to present alongside my fellow commission members, GBI Director Vic Reynolds and Street Grace’s Vice President of Policy Camila Zolfaghari, at GMA’s Annual Convention in June. A month before GMA’s Annual Convention, we held the first GRACE Commission meeting where members presented in-depth analysis on how this threat is plaguing our state. This constructive conversation highlighted efforts currently underway by non-profits, government agencies and private businesses to keep our citizens safe.
Georgia CARES, a state-wide human trafficking and exploitation service agency, testified that human trafficking cases have been reported in 145 of our 159 counties. It’s clear human trafficking is not just a problem in urban centers across Georgia, but a serious issue in every corner of our state. This problem spans geography, race, gender and socio-economic status. In fact, over 50 percent of human trafficking victims are recruited by their friends and family, and the average age of a human trafficking victim is 14.8 years. No child deserves to have their childhood robbed by this horrible industry.
The criminal enterprise behind this national operation is strong, well-funded and organized. Awareness and education are key in combatting this evil. Recognizing the red flags to identify human trafficking and knowing where to report it will save lives. At the GMA Annual Convention, I shared a story about Delta Airlines and their requirement for all in-flight and tech ops staff to participate in anti-human trafficking training. Just a few days after one of those sessions, two employees were at a conference in Florida when they stopped for lunch at a local restaurant chain. They noticed two young girls with an older man and it closely resembled a scene in their training. They took note of what they observed, called the police and provided a tag number. It turns out the car was stolen, and those girls had been in serious danger.
That’s why I’m working with the Georgia Department of Administrative Services to create a state-wide anti-human trafficking training program. In the coming weeks, we’ll roll it out for all 80,000 state of Georgia employees. These hardworking Georgians will then know how to recognize warning signs, notify the right people and hopefully save lives.
As we partner with local, state and federal law enforcement to hold bad actors accountable, we are also working to restore victims whose lives are forever changes by sexual exploitation. I know this is an uncomfortable topic, but eliminating this evil begins with shedding light on it wherever it exists. I challenge you to stand with us in your communities. We need your help. Host training sessions for local government employees to recognize warning signs, hold townhall meetings to educate citizens or team up with organizations to collect necessities for survivors. If the GRACE Commission or state government can be of any help, please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask.
Our message is clear: Human Trafficking is Not Welcome in Georgia.
I promise you that I will continue to fight until every victim is rescued, because one person trapped by human trafficking is one too many. Working together, we can end human trafficking in Georgia once and for and ensure a safer, stronger Georgia.
This article is part of GMA's Viewpoints catalog, a grouping of opinion pieces from the GMA magazine, speeches and other editorials. Click here to view the digital version of the latest edition of Georgia’s Cities Magazine.