Saturday, July 02, 2011

This Changes Things: Living for Revolution

With the aroma of coffee beans and the spirited ear-candy of a sun-kissed Atlanta drawl saturating the air, my mind struggles to re-connect with my fingertips at this chic little Starbucks. One of the most relate-able, charming, and down-to-Earth individuals that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting has just left, and I, energized to the point of experiencing an odd tremor or two, am left to process everything that she's left me.

The Place: Starbucks in Ansley Mall, ATL, GA
The Drink: Tall iced Chai for me, if you care to know
The Guest: Kaffie McCullough, current campaign director for 'A Future. Not a Past.' (AFNAP) and program manager of CSEC for the Juvenile Justice Fund (JJF)
The Quest: Eradicate domestic child sex trafficking in ATL, GA, USA

Let's start with this, and it's the truth: domestic child sex trafficking is a business; a damn good one, at that. In fact, there are more domestic children being trafficked in America than international far. Four years ago, the main services provided by safe houses, such as Angela's House, were focused on survivors of DCST. However, major benefactors realized quickly that this simply wasn't enough; and furthermore, wasn't effective. If you want to destroy a business, you can't just take the supply off of the shelf; you need to eradicate the demand. In this case, the girls are the supply (the re-usable supply, unlike drugs or weapons) and just like that, we move beyond a moral cancer and shoot straight up to a multi-billion dollar industry. That is the unfortunate reality of DCST, and that is what instigated the movement "upstream", as Kaffie says, to where the victims were being "thrown in" by pimps and buyers.

In order to swim upstream, it is necessary to know the lay of the land. Who are these girls, these pimps, these buyers? If this is such a successful business, it's certainly accessible enough to anybody. With this in mind, researchers adopted a 'business methodology' to scrutinize this industry. By surveying the Atlanta streets and contacting escort services and major hotels, researchers were able to statistically analyze commercial sex transactions. For instance, if a girl 'looks young', based on a certain model, there is a 38% chance that she actually is as young as she looks, i.e. under-age. Over time, it was found that the number of under-age girls being sold off-line stayed pretty much consistent, but the online charts were rising through the roof. So, if nothing was done, Atlanta could rise to far more than 1500 under-age girls sold per month in the future, which is the current estimated number.

Focusing back on the girls for a moment: we'd like to think that they would be viewed as the victims of some sort of crime, right? Absolutely wrong. In Atlanta, there is no minimum age for prostitution, and legislation to change this has been shot-down by scarlet-red conservatives who claim that putting an age on prostitution would be that much closer to legalizing it (okay, fine...) but it still doesn't solve anything. Because of the ramifications of this law, many girls are actually being charged with prostitution instead of being rescued from it. But again, nothing like this would even be happening to these children if the demand were not so enormously high.

So, we can look at demand for a longer moment. Resulting from a study involving researchers who posed as escort service operators, it was estimated that 7200 men per month were knowingly or ignorantly having sex with a minor per month. Seventy-two hundred every month. Of these men, 10% actively requested an underage girl, and 47%, after receiving notification that "there's no way that this one is 18 years old", went through with the transaction anyway. I asked Kaffie if these men were travelers (since the international airport is such a buzzing international hub) or Atlanta-bred, and with a wince, she noted that 42% of these males were from the North Metro Atlanta area. Here's something that will throw a giant wrench in your demographic stereotype machine: the North Metro Atlanta area is predominantly white, predominantly suburban, predominantly affluent, and predominantly married. So, like Kaffie said: "This changes the conversation."

After hearing things like this, I have to admit that it makes sense to me. One hundred percent of my personal assault and the abuse suffered by members of my family has been at the hands of white males of our same economic status. However, it does give us something to think about. At first, the demographic for the prostituted girls could have perhaps fallen under a category such as "throw-away kid" or "unlovable". The majority of victims are run-aways, escaping from sexual abuse in the home 80% of the time. However, with internet soliciting on the rise, children are being lured away from steady, middle-class homes into the nitty-gritty of DCST. So, you can begin that empathy now, if you please; these kids could be coming from your neighborhood.

On top of the general false belief that DCST only happens in poverty, legislation is as insanely hard to change as pimps and buyers are to arrest. This goes beyond moral issues; it's political, cultural, and economical. Politically, police officers are judged by numbers. If they arrest one buyer for one victim, their numbers don't boost so much. However, if they ignore the buyers and focus on stinging the pimp, well...up shoots the status and credibility (which is a good thing, of course). However, at what cost? And speaking of cost, Kaffie was told by a reporter that escort services and DSCT bring in an estimated 750 million dollars to the city's economy. Who are we, passionate advocates of human rights, to deny the city of Atlanta $750,000,000 in these times of economic turmoil? One argument could be this: one of Kaffie's cohorts with financial expertise estimated that for every girl rescued from the mire, turned around, and given a job, her economic value would be between $800,000 and $1,000,000. If she stays in Atlanta and finds a niche for herself, starts a family, etc...she's more golden in many, many ways than she would have been if she had stayed down. These arguments aside, though, it's still a cultural problem. When you bring this issue home, where it lives with us invisibly, people get defensive. If you even touch a prostitution bill with the best of intentions, it is shut down by the people who you thought might be on your side of the issue.

People like Kaffie and I have to ask this: what is it about our culture that condones the idea of buying another human being for sex? Although there are several female pimps, there are almost no female buyers and so this extends further into a very literal gender issue (we're hitting every base, here, aren't we?) Something about the childhood and adolescence of the buyers must have shaped how they view human beings, little girls specifically. Since when was this behavior excusable? But we see it, time after time. Men with status get off, spot-free. Athletes, CEOs, religious leaders, you name it. Status is power here, but I believe that knowledge is also power. So, where do we go next?

For Kaffie, retirement (she said with a sparkling grin). In all seriousness, though, AFNAP has just launched a billboard campaign in greater Atlanta. Billboard companies have pledged to cut contracts with advertising adult services and, instead, advertise the fact that DCST exists and that having sex with a child could cost the buyer five to life. The first one went up's a major triumph. In addition, she, along with AFNAP, plans to spear-head new research geared towards boys. Boys on both sides of the grid. Boys who grow up to rape, boys who didn't get the chance to grow up before they were raped. The dynamics of survival-sex. It's a completely different issue and a heavily-veiled environment here, but something that needs to be addressed because, simply, it exists.

For me, Michigan. AFNAP also exists in Michigan and we have between 120 and 150 girls sold per month, so not only does AFNAP exist but so does the issue. I am searching for ways to get involved, have taken names, and am looking for more. I believe that SACI can get very much involved on campus and off, because the first step is awareness. I eat, sleep, and breathe this business and had no idea that such a large amount of girls were being sold in Michigan. No idea. So, let's do a little something about it. Let's live up to the name of 'Pure Michigan', because in so many ways, it certainly is not. There is work to be done, and it's past time to do it; and the further "upstream" we move, the more we, as activists targeting sexual violence, intersect and compliment each other.

It's been a bit of a tumultuous morning. The world is a wonderful place. A wonderful, terrible place...but I am a part of it and will be for (what I assume to be) quite some time to come. So, for the rest of my time in Michigan, I think it would be prudent to spend less time waiting to graduate and peace out (forever) for graduate school and the rest of my life and spend more time making it a sensible place to live. These are our kids. They are worth it.

So, with a hug and a "see ya later", Kaffie left and here I am. It's a big under-taking, but one that needs to be done with careful hands and meticulous understanding. I fully intend to do my best to do my part. Who's with me?



Dr. K. said...

Becca, this is an excellent blog. Your words have given me new hope for the loathsome sexual slave trade. Having been part of the 1960s revolution (and still solidly behind all work that supports ridding the country of human trafficking and sexual abuse in general), you can count on me to assist whatever efforts you put into place.

Also a victim of sexual abuse at age 9 by a family member, my heart just bleeds for those innocents being used and then being made to feel they have no worth.

Brava to you, Becca. I look forward to more of your thoughts and inspiration.

Dr. K.

Becca said...

Thanks very much, Dr. K. When I return to Michigan, I intend to continue this activism as much as I have the time. I will certainly keep you posted on whatever I get myself into!