On Tuesday, November 8th, Georgia voters successfully passed Amendment 2, a ballot initiative creating the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund. On behalf of the hundreds of children who are trafficked and exploited in Georgia every year, I would like to thank the over 3 million voters across the state who overwhelmingly voted yes.
Amendment 2 creates a permanent fund dedicated to providing trauma informed care and services for child victims of sex trafficking. Children who are trafficked have often lived a life filled with violence, forced drug abuse and constant threats to their safety. The average age for children forced into sex slavery is 12-14, and many are as young as nine years old. They experience some of the most extreme physical and psychological abuse imaginable. Those who escape or are rescued are in dire need of help to cope with depression, deal with drug dependency and address serious mental issues. Access to this type of care and restoration means everything to these children…. it’s hope, healing and freedom.
The passage of Amendment 2 would not have been possible without the passion and hard work of United Way’s Tocqueville Women’s Leadership Council. In 2014, former President Jimmy Carter appeared before this group of women leaders and spoke forcefully about the scourge of human trafficking – especially in Atlanta. At that moment, we were inspired to take on the issue on as our signature cause. Throughout 2015, we passionately advocated with lawmakers and raised awareness about child sex trafficking. In 2016, the Safe Harbor Yes Ballot committee was formed with the United Way Public Policy Director Ann Mintz and Women’s Leadership Council members Robyn Roberts and Evia Golde taking the lead. The committee was quickly rounded off with committed community partners such as the Junior League of Atlanta and the Atlanta Rotary. By April 2016 a true state-wide coalition had formed and it continued to grow exponentially up to and through the Nov 8th vote.
This steadfast coalition of individuals, non-profits, corporations, faith-based and government organizations stands ready to continue the critical work of protecting our children from trafficking and sexual exploitation. As a community, our long-term goal must be cultural change – making it clear that we have no tolerance for child sex trafficking in Atlanta, or anywhere in our state. The United Way intends to remain at the forefront of this issue as part of our vision of a community where all children thrive. To this end, we will continue to advocate for the passage of strategic legislation and to build upon the awareness campaign started by Safe Harbor Yes so citizens understand the seriousness of the issue and how they may be a part of the solution.
Albert Einstein once said, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking”. Our women’s leadership group began to change how we thought about child sex trafficking a few years ago and it has resulted in the passing of Amendment 2. Let’s all begin to change how we think about this issue. “We will not tolerate the sexual exploitation and trafficking of our children in Atlanta”. Think this with me now.
Katina Asbell is the Chair of United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Tocqueville Women’s Leadership Council and Associate Broker & Founding Member of Real Living Capital City. For more information on Tocqueville Women’s Leadership Council, email [email protected]