COVINGTON, Ga. — Several protesters from Newton and surrounding counties gathered Saturday on the Covington Square to rally against human trafficking and child sex trafficking.
For approximately three hours, the group marched around the square hoisting signs, some of which read “save our children,” “end human trafficking” and “stop the silence.”
One of the event’s organizers, Jessi Boleman, of Covington, said the purpose for the peaceful rally was to not only condemn human trafficking and pedophilia but also raise awareness and educate the community. Boleman said the event served as a way for victims to know that 4Sarah, a faith-based nonprofit organization that focuses on providing support for women who are victims of sex trafficking, is available to help them.
“We’re out here to try to bring awareness to everybody to show that there’s help out here,” she said. “To also show these pedophiles that we are not playing. We are mothers — we are families out here that are willing to fight for our children.
“We’re here to make a little noise and show them that we’re here to make a stand and we’re not going away, because the problem’s not going away.”
“There’s been too much silence for far too long,” Jamie Gilbert, of Covington, said. “This isn’t like something that just happened and came about. It’s literally just been ignored by media and by just everyone. Everyone has become just normalized to the whole aspect of child exploitation and trafficking … we just really want to make a difference.”
Shellie Hamilton, of Covington, said trafficking also leads to other problems for victims, including mental health issues and drug abuse.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, human trafficking — also referred to as “modern day slavery” — is now the third-most profitable business for organized crime in the world. It is also the fastest growing form of international crime. According to a February 2019 report from the International Labour Organization, an estimated $32 billion in total illicit profits are produced in one year by trafficked forced laborers.
According to the U.S. State Department of Homeland Security, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year. Approximately 80% of those people are female, and half are children.
In the U.S., approximately 80% of documented cases of human trafficking are for the purposes of sexual exploitation, according to a study from the United Nations. The U.S. was listed as the most common destination for victims.
Not only is human trafficking an issue in the U.S., but it’s also been an issue close to home. In 2019, there were at least 417 human trafficking cases reported in Georgia, ranking sixth highest among the 50 states, District of Columbia and other U.S. territories, according to National Human Trafficking Hotline. Statistics from the Trafficking Hotline are based on aggregated information learned through signals — phone calls, texts, online chats, emails and online tip reports — received by the Trafficking Hotline.
In August, two people in Newton County were charged among nine total suspects across Georgia after the U.S. Marshals Service Missing Child Unit, in conjunction with the agency’s Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and other state and local agencies, led a two-week operation to rescue endangered missing children. The operation resulted in the rescue of 26 children and the safe location of 13 children.
In April 2018, a 20-year-old woman from Washington, who had recently moved to the metro-Atlanta area, was rescued from a trafficking situation in Conyers. The suspect involved was charged with trafficking of a person for sexual servitude and aggravated sodomy.
And as in many other cases around the area, 4Sarah was able to provide housing and other resources for the victim.
At 4Sarah, founded by Kasey McClure, of Conyers, in 2003, the mission is to “empower change in the life direction of women and girls who are adult entertainers, prostitutes, escorts, porn stars, or victims of sex trafficking by offering a holistic approach as well as an educational, emotional, physical, and spiritual support.” The organization offers scholarship opportunities to women in the sex industry seeking continuing education or new job skills. Through its intervention program, 4Sarah provides housing assistance, medication assistance, food assistance, transportation, counseling and other resources to women in need.