“Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”—The phrase that we’ve come back to again and again during this trip when looking at all the problems of creating the “best” program to help CSEC victims.
Today we visited a site called Jars of Clay. It is essentially a house that hosts girls who have been victimized by commercial sex trafficking and have a desire to get off the streets. As we drove down to the site, I noticed how desolate and impoverished the neighborhood was in comparison to the flashy side of Atlanta we have encountered so far. Jars of Clay was set right in the midst of it all. The lady who runs the place, Catina, had so much passion for the work the organization carried out. It is not funded by the government, there is absolutely no external financial support, but it runs on faith, as she put it (Jars of Clay was founded by a preacher who hosts a congregation on the site. Food and money donations are provided by the congregation members). Our work at the site was to clean the kitchen—which needed a lot of work, mind you—as well as the bathroom and dorm rooms in which the children resided. Another interesting thing to note is that due to the sheer number of children in need of a place like JC, the organization no longer caters to just sex trafficked girls but also homeless and neighborhood kids who need a safe haven in the given surroundings. It is a very brave task, I think. If only there were a hundred thousand more of places like that in the state of Georgia or even beyond. Princeton students definitely proved that they took everything as a challenge, including domestic work. We left the place spotless and even cooked a wonderful dinner for the kids . Afterwards we played with them outside, danced, laughed. It was great but it left a sadness in my heart concerning how much our efforts for the day had counted. But I guess that the kids knowing that there are people who care is good enough.
The Cobb County Story: How the Police See the Issue of Child Sex Trafficking
On Tuesday, we met the Cobb County Police Department’s Special Victims Unit, including Detective Largeant (although it’s really too fun to call her Sergeant Largeant) and her coworkers on the team. SVU investigates all crimes against children (abuse, runaways, etc.), but with the passage of legislation against child sex trafficking in Georgia, Largeant and her team now take on larger cases involving bank statements, federal punishments, and complicated relationships with the victims that they rescue.
The group found some things new about the police officers’ perspective. Perhaps best captured in this jarring quote from the detectives:
When people like you raise awareness about child sex trafficking, that increases our case load.
And without the proper funding, they said, the police department faces the constant struggle of manpower. They simply can’t take all the cases that they get, and some of these girls and boys never see justice. Other things we learned the police department struggled with:
Trying to keep victims (who have trauma bonded with their exploiter) from running away without angering advocates against incarcerations. The “locked-down” debate has been a constant theme in our trip.
Gathering evidence and getting victims to testify against their perpetrators.
Having the resources to conduct stings without taking priority away from other children (for instance, those in domestic abuse cases).
Getting the victims to believe they have been victimized. Many girls feel a naturally antagonistic relationship with the police (as does a large sector of the urban community) or refuse to cooperate out of fear of retribution from traffickers.
Combatting distrust of authority and lack of funding; feeling undervalued.
Bitter jadedness. :P (But actually. The “Bitter, Jaded Old Sergeant Who’s About to Retire Secretly Has a Heart of Gold and Does What He Does Because He Still Cares” was totally a character at Cobb County.)
Overall, many of us feel this was a powerful turning point in our trip— seeing a completely different interpretation of the issue and gaining a new perspective.
• Meeting with the Governor’s Office for Families and Children - this state agency offered a different perspective on the public-private cooperation that GA uses to combat sex trafficking. We’ve learnt that the political/government side of the issue often has a political agenda that complicates non-profit goals, and vice versa. While both groups want to stop the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), the government agency has to answer to the governor and the legislators, who have to answer to voters/constituents. This creates divergent interests at the table.
• The Police Department, Cobb County Special Victims Unit- with Detective Carole Largeant. This is something we all were interested in and turned out to be unexpectedly informative— a refreshingly contradictory opinion about the “success” of child sex trafficking laws in Georgia.
• One Voice Atlanta - Georgia Tech University’s anti-child sex trafficking group. Led by Brittany Mays, One Voice works to raise awareness on campus and mobilize the community. They work with many of the organizations that we have met and spoken with.
• Street GRACE- a nonprofit that connects volunteers to different organizations in all sectors that deal with child trafficking.
• Georgia Care Connection- a public private partnership that acts as a one stop entry point for any child victim of commercial sexual exploitation. A victim can get directed to appropriate services.
• Juvenile justice fund’s Voices project- a preventative program that focuses on at-risk girls who are runaways or truants and teaches them leadership and emotional healthy relationships.