The numbers for child sex trafficking are staggering. In fact, human trafficking is said to be the fastest-growing criminal activity in the country. Within the United States, it is believed that more than 100,000 children are currently being trafficked.
And, unfortunately, there’s a high-prevalence of trafficking taking place in Atlanta. With frequent conventions, large-scale sporting events, and the busiest airport in the world, the city has become a hub for the trafficking industry.
A 2014 Urban Institute study found that trafficking in Atlanta was a $290 million industry. It has been named one of the top 14 U.S. cities with the highest rate of trafficked children. Conservative estimates find that up to 100 girls in the city are abducted every night.
The statistics are heartbreaking and dire, but thankfully, for the children, and the city of Atlanta, there is hope.
To combat the problem and bring attention to the issue, Genise Shelton started Our Children’s Keeper. In an effort to end what has been called “modern-day slavery,” Shelton and Our Children’s Keeper seek to recover abducted children, help victims rehabilitate, and raise awareness within the community.
“People don’t know that it’s happening in their backyard,” Shelton said. “We have to raise awareness so we can end childhood trafficking here in Atlanta.”
Shelton, who is on Bravo’s reality show Married to Medicine, wanted to capitalize on her platform and exposure to help create awareness for the issue. A mother of six, she was inspired to act for the city’s vulnerable youth.
In her work, Shelton warns that today’s traffickers don’t always fit the stereotype, and that everyone should be on the lookout. While older men are often seen as the culprits, the changing landscape of the issue now includes women, and even recruitment by young peers. Recruitment and abduction can happen anywhere, including in churches, at school, and online. It is important, Shelton says, to recognized the signs of traffickers, and to be on watch for those being trafficked.
Our Children’s Keeper wants to help the public identify these signs, and help children learn the basics of personal safety. The organization provides tools and resources for individuals and communities at large to take action and be more informed.
Most recently, Our Children’s Keeper held their “Bring our Children Home” event, a day full of activities and informational sessions on child trafficking. It included a family fun day, a 5k walk/run, a backpack giveaway, self-defense classes. Law enforcement officials, medical professionals, and family members of trafficking victim also lead a panel discussion to further inform on the issue.
The revenue from the event, and future fundraising efforts will go toward securing a rehabilitation center for formerly trafficked kids, which will include physicians, therapists, a day-care, and employment services.
To learn more, donate, or volunteer with the organization, please visit www.ourchildrenskeeper.org.