By Collin Kelley
We are bombarded with statistics about crime, so they are easily lost in the constant stream of news, chatter and social media. But here’s a number that’s hard to ignore: 7,200 people in the state of Georgia purchase a child for sex each month. Even more troubling: the same child is sold 10 to 15 times to meet the high demand.
Pine Hills resident Greg Chevalier presented those sobering numbers at this month’s Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods meeting. Chevalier became enlightened about human trafficking four years ago and become a certified speaker on the subject and now travels around Georgia to educate and inform others about vulnerable children.
Chevalier works with StreetGrace, a faith-based organization leading churches, community organizations and individual volunteers to end minor sex trafficking, and the Governor’s Office for Children and Families’ task force on the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Because of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the metro area has become a hub for sex trafficking. Chevalier said international businessmen and tourists make up a high number of those buying children for sex. Both men and women are buying and selling children for sex, he said.
But the issue isn’t confined to urban areas. “The highest demand comes from outside the perimeter – 42 percent,” Chevalier said. “It’s 23 percent in the urban core.”
The average age of the victims – boys and girls – is 12 to 14, and said children of all races and demographics are being exploited. In many cases, Chevalier said sellers prey on a child’s vulnerabilities, most notably hunger.
“There are 998,000 children on reduced or free lunches in Georgia’s public schools, and that’s probably the only meal they receive,” he said. “Hunger is a vulnerability and children are often coerced for food.”
Chevalier said human trafficking had become a $40 billion business worldwide and was set to surpass every other type of organized crime.
He said parents and guardians should be on the lookout for signs their child might be involved in sex trafficking, since 6 to 7 percent of the children sold still live at home.
“Look for tattoos or branding, a decline in school work and withdrawal from friends and family,” Chevalier said. “Social media has made sex trafficking easier and children can easily be coerced that way.”