“You have to start somewhere”  and college students teach the Daughters and the SVDP one place to start for systemic change.

“Sex Trafficking in Macon, Georgia?” is the lead story in the current joint newsletter of the Daughters of Charity and Social Justice Committee USA . It is an excellent illustration of fulling their mission… “We promote social justice as central to all Daughter of Charity ministry. We move together with persons who are poor and marginalized from reflection to advocacy for systemic change.”

Sr. Elizabeth Greim, DC writes, “The students from Mercer have helped many of us see with new eyes, and we are disturbed by what we see….And we began to ask questions about injustice.” The Southeast US has become a hub of sex trafficking in the last ten years.  Atlanta has grown to the fifth largest center of human trafficking in the nation and the first in child sex trafficking.

Mercer University students founded a group called S.T.O.P. Sex Trafficking Opposition Project. We learned the truth of a survivor who tells us that the horror of slavery and trafficking are real and happening, even in Macon, GA…. “Our Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference and Family Advancement Ministries have been actively involved with the students and see the need to increase community involvement.”

But we have to start somewhere.

You will probably have to pull out a map to find Macon, GA if you are not from the Southeast Province of the Daughters of Charity. Macon is a small city between Atlanta and Savannah. It is a very quiet southern town. The demographics are typical of the area, with a 36% poverty rate and issues with race relations. Macon has some wonderful features and some that are not so pleasant. But Macon would never have thought of itself as a haven for sex trafficking…until recently!

The Polaris Project has closed many massage parlors/spas in Washington, DC, reducing the number to eight. Los Angeles has approximately 90 massage parlors, about one per 100,000 residents. Macon with a population of 100,000 has 25 massage parlors. When driving from the airport in Atlanta to Macon, a 1 hour 15 minute drive, there are 23 signs advertising the spas in Macon. Beyond Macon on to Florida there are another 30 or so signs pointing the way to Valdosta, another area with many spas and exotic clubs.

Mercer University students founded a group called S.T.O.P. Sex Trafficking Opposition Project. As stated on their website www.stopsexslavery.org : “STOP began in a required first-year course at Mercer University called ‘Engaging the World.’ The class began by studying Judeo-Christian ideas of ethics and justice, reading from the Bible, as well as authors such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr., and Theodore Heschel. We heard Isaiah’s call to ‘loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free’ (Isaiah 58); and we heard Jesus call us to ‘do unto the least of them in as much as you would do unto me’ (Matthew 25). And then we looked around Macon. And we saw with new eyes. And we began to ask questions about injustice.”

The students from Mercer have helped many of us see with new eyes, and we are disturbed by what we see. A conference held March 19-20 was attended by 700 students and community members. Advocates from all over the country came to discuss and share on what is being done, what Macon can do and how we can all get involved locally, nationally and internationally. These students have started a movement and some residents of the Macon community have joined them.

There have been raids on a few of the spas and the police and sheriff departments have worked to educate themselves and others on seeing the women involved first as victims. One woman from Korea was freed and taken to a safe program in Atlanta and another 14-year-old from Florida was taken home to her parents. She had been lured to Atlanta with the promise of a modeling job. Atlanta has been known to be the number one port of child sex trafficking in the country.

Our Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference and Family Advancement Ministries have been actively involved with the students and see the need to increase community involvement. This summer we are planning to reach out to the other religious leaders in the city to develop an interfaith coalition to stop trafficking of women and children in Macon and Central GA. Our goal is to effectively change legislation and address law enforcement that makes massage parlors and spas havens for traffickers. Together with STOP we will also address the issue of demand. Frank and open discussions with our young men beginning in high school is the first step to promoting respect for women and more positive behaviour inrelationships.

I was very honoured to take part in a march and vigil in support of survivors of sexual assault as well as remembering all who are victims of the sex trade. After giving a short reflection, I invited survivors to come forward to share any part of their story…ten young men and women came forward to shatter the silence around sexual assault and trafficking. All the statistics, all the information, all the programs and websites can not unify us into a movement as effectively as the truth of a survivor who tells us that the horror of slavery and trafficking are real and happening, even in Macon, GA.

But we have to start somewhere. For other stories of rescue and survival, for information, definitions and resources visit www.polarisproject.org and www.notforsalecampaign.org to start informing yourself on this modern day abolition movement.

There are other eye-opening stories in this june-20091 joint newsletter of the Daughters of Charity and Social Justice Committee USA

  • UN NGO s on Finance
  • International Food Crisis
  • Incarcerated Immigrants
  • Myth and Reality
  • Detention of Undocumented
  • Water is Life
  • Endorsements
  • Vincentian Family Gathering 09
  • Cell Phones for a Cause
  • How a Bill is Passed

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