Editor’s note: This blog post was written by Katherine Thorne, an aspiring human rights lawyer interning with youthSpark. Katherine is a student at the University of Virginia, and has been instrumental in evaluating juvenile court system processes for connecting at-risk youth with early intervention services. We are thankful for her service, and inspired by her blog post!
I am not embarrassed to admit that I am a novice on the topic of sex trafficking. Throughout high school I had heard about the prostitution of youth as a troubling and pervasive issue throughout the U.S. However, I never pursued learning any more about the topic until a year ago.
Last summer I spent two months in southern Ghana researching child labor trafficking in the fishing industry on an ethics grant from the University of Virginia. My research highlighted the lack of governmental infrastructure for providing rehabilitation for trafficking victims, and the often insurmountable difficulties posed by a developing country’s bureaucracy in trying to stop permanently the cycles of labor trafficking. These findings frustrated me to no end. I boarded a plane back to the U.S. and finished my two months feeling hopeless about whether I would be able to come back to continue working with the victimized children I had interviewed. However, I resolved that the following summer I would work closer to home on issues of human trafficking, so that I could feasibly commit more time and energy to resolving the human rights issue.
Initially I had assumed that poverty, unstable households, and a lack of education put young girls more at risk to be trafficked, just as it put young Ghanaian children at higher risk to be trafficked for their labor. However, on my first day I learned that any minor from any social class, any sort of household, and any background can be subjugated and victimized by the sex trafficking industry within the U.S.
After hearing that metro Atlanta has a high rate of child sex trafficking, I was appalled. Knowing that while I was going to bed, approximately 100-200 girls younger than me were being sexually exploited only minutes from where I live, I felt heartbroken but eager to be a part of youthSpark’s mission.
Learning that young girls who were prostituted by older adult males were more likely to be arrested and given jail time than the adults who trafficked them was the most shocking thing I learned on my first day. These young girls seemed to be victimized continually and then punished, while their perpetrators went free. Though there still is much to be done to fully eradicate sex trafficking even in the metro Atlanta area, I felt hopeful after seeing the historical progress in the last ten years made by this community in the fight against trafficking.
I am encouraged by youthSpark’s efforts to work within the infrastructure of government by working alongside juvenile court judges and probation officers, lobbying at the capitol, working on public policy, and fighting for effective sentencing for sex traffickers—both buyers and sellers—in order to stop sex trafficking in our community. During my internship at youthSpark, I hope to learn more about sex trafficking in Atlanta, and what we can do as a community to diminish the demand for prostituted minors and therefore eliminate sex trafficking in our backyard.