What comes to mind when you hear the words “sex trafficking”?

Editor’s note: the following post was written by Sofia Broffman, a talented intern at youthSpark preparing to enter her senior year at the Atlanta Girls’ School. Not only do we greatly appreciate her hard work, but we are in awe of her depth of understanding of this complicated subject matter. Please enjoy her essay, and share it widely to help spread the word!

What comes to mind when you hear the words “sex trafficking”? Do these words conjure up images of far-off places? Brothels in Bangladesh, dimly lit side streets in India, or the flashing red light district in Amsterdam? Most likely when you hear these words, you don’t think of your own city, your own neighborhood, your own backyard, Atlanta.

Growing up in Atlanta, my childhood was very much idyllic. I would spend my days playing outside, completely immersed in my own perfect world. As I grew up, I started realizing that this “perfect bubble” I was given was far from reality. As many realities in this world suddenly started to seem unfair to me, one of the most shocking realities hit me when I was in seventh grade. I learned that one of my classmates was being trafficked by her mom to fuel her drug addiction. I already knew that sex trafficking existed in other parts of the world from watching my dad, a documentary filmmaker, make an International Justice Mission (IJM) documentary that focused on sex trafficking in Asia. When I found out that a girl I knew was experiencing the same horrors in the city I grew up in, I was disgusted. I was further shocked when she dropped out of school and I never saw her again. This drove me to want to learn all I could about this appalling industry and how it affects Atlanta.

With Atlanta being a hub of child sex trafficking, I learned quickly just how much of an issue it is in our city. I was horrified to find out girls and boys as young as ones I babysit were being lured into this terrible industry. What stood out to me was how easy it is for pimps to start a connection with youth via social media. With the rise of apps such as kik and tinder, it is easy for kids to become acquainted with strangers in an environment that tolerates inappropriate language and pictures. I think a big step in ensuring safety for many kids is to inform them that the stereotype of a pimp in a big fur coat, top hat, and drop top Cadillac is just that—a stereotype. Pimps look like everyday people, even family members, and this is why it is so easy for vulnerable girls and boys to begin a trusting relationship with a person who doesn’t seem to be a criminal.

A couple days ago, on my second day interning at youthSpark, a group of girls came in to learn about child sex trafficking in Atlanta. As the hour passed by, many of the girls had looks of shock. I was under the impression that the majority of them were unaware of the severity of this issue prior to the conversation. At the end of the meeting, the girls were asked to tell three of their friends about child sex trafficking in Atlanta and were given notecards with numbers for various hotlines if they suspect something to be awry. One of the first steps to ensuring the safety of girls in our city is informing others of the problem. Once they know what to look out for, they can both spread the word about the severity of child sex trafficking and help girls and boys who show signs of being victimized.

Since teenagers are the leaders of tomorrow, the more aware we are now, the more change we can make in our future. I hope that during my internship I will be able to reach out to my fellow peers to inform them of this problem, so that youth like my former classmate won’t be victimized by this hideous crime. It’s a crime that can rob girls and boys of their innocence, security, and dignity.