It's a harmful threat to young people, mostly girls, in families and communities statewide and it is undermining the character of our great state.
I'm talking about the hundreds of children who are prostituted -- rented for sex -- every day in Georgia. It's difficult to comprehend, but it's a reality that is widespread and demands outrage and action. Fortunately, there's a growing movement to take on this evil and it is gaining momentum.
The statistics are staggering. According to a new study, more than 400 adolescent girls are sold for sex each month in Georgia and a staggering 28,000 men pay to have sex with adolescent girls each year.
Much (though certainly not all) of the demand is in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Men from across the city are purchasing sex with girls, but shockingly the plurality of them are from the north metro area -- well outside of downtown where suburban neighborhoods dominate the region.
But this is not just an Atlanta problem. Girls are being purchased and lured into prostitution in towns and cities throughout Georgia. The average age of entry into the sex market is between 12 and 14. Some of the girls have been abused and neglected, others are homeless or runaways and some have even been kidnapped. Girls come from every geographical area, race, and socioeconomic background. Each of them is different, but all of them need help.
It's difficult to imagine a more devastating social injustice than this, a more blatant mistreatment of the weak this close to home.
But there is good news. More and more Georgians are hearing about this problem and are committing to end it. I saw heartening evidence of this just a few days ago.
The other night I was sitting in a crowd of more than 4,000 people gathered at the historic Fox Theatre in Atlanta. The event featured the debut of a new short film called "The Candy Shop." It's a 1930s era fairly tale about a man who lures little girls into his shop where he turns them into candy. He then sells the "candy" to men who frequent his shop. The film is a creative, yet disturbing, metaphor for what happens every day in Georgia and I pray it motivates countless people to action.
The film is being promoted by Street GRACE, a nonprofit that is marshalling resources and building a coalition of concerned citizens, churches and organizations who want to eliminate the child sex trade in Atlanta. What was most encouraging about the gathering was the sheer number and diversity of those who came. They were young, old, black, white, churchgoers, non-churchgoers and more, all united for the purpose of eradicating this injustice. It was the beginning of a movement.
Fortunately, law enforcement is also getting more engaged with this problem. This is an area we at Georgia Family Council are focused on, along with other partners like Georgia Rescue and Restore, Wellspring Living, and A Future. Not a Past. We are making plans to help prosecutors and police understand the law and increase the number and quality of the prosecutions of this crime. We also want to help them recognize victims and the treatment options available to them.
At the same time, more has to be done to discourage demand -- to stop the men who are buying these girls in the first place. Strategies to address this problem are in the works as well.
There is a lot to do, and there's a movement growing to end this despicable trafficking of children for sex. Perhaps you're wondering if there's a way you can get involved. I encourage you to visit www.stopthecandyshop.com to find out more about what you can do.
A compassionate and civil society cannot ignore the evil exploitation of our children. We can and must end it.
Randy Hicks is president of Georgia Family Council, a nonprofit research and education organization committed to fostering conditions in which individuals, families and communities thrive. For more information, go to www.georgiafamily.org, 770-242-0001 or firstname.lastname@example.org.