Human and sexual trafficking can happen anywhere, not just metropolitan hubs like Atlanta. Conyers knows this all too well and locals have been actively battling trafficking, prostitution and pimping in recent campaigns.
Conyers Police Department Criminal Investigations Department Commander Lt. Chris Moon and Kasey McClure, founder of the 4Sarah nonprofit which helps women and girls leave the sex industry, are on the front lines in the fight against these activities.
McClure and Moon will be the guest speakers at Thursday's Conyers Rotary Luncheon, starting at noon, at Cameron Hall, 1035 Greet St. SE. The public is invited. Lunch is $13.
Human trafficking covers a wide range of activity, points out Lt. Chris Moon. "Sometimes it's not always human trafficking for sexual acts." It includes forced labor, drug smuggling, and more. "Essentially it's slavery," he said.
Sometimes the victims are undocumented immigrants or young runaways. Other times, the victims can simply be residents recruited from other cities, lured by the promise of work in a strip club, only to have their IDs, phones and resources taken from them. These victims might be bussed from city to city, motel to motel, to keep them from forming relationships with locals.
"It's kind of a hidden problem really. Until the cases come out you don't know anything about them," he said.
Conyers started seeing crimes last year related to sexual trafficking, including armed robberies, an attempted kidnapping, and a 14-year-old who was drugged and pimped out by acquaintances, also teenagers.
"The sex trade wasn't something we were proactively dealing until we started dealing with the major problems that came along with the sex trade," said Moon.
Conyers Police have been cracking down this year with a series of stings on "johns" and prostitutes and more stings in the works.
Like many of today's social transactions, human trafficking and sexual trafficking have moved online, making cracking down more complicated.
"They don't have to walk the streets," said 4Sarah founder Kasey McClure. "They can go straight from their iPhones and post it to Backpage," a classifieds website like Craigslist often used for escort and sexual services.
McClure said her group has noticed some change in activity in Conyers since the crackdowns. "Before they started the sting operations, we had several hundred (posts) online in Conyers working off of Backpage. Now there's 40 to 50." But, she points out, that is out of thousands of posts that go up daily in the Atlanta area.
When McClure started 4Sarah more than a decade ago doing outreach to strip clubs, internet activity was not as big a factor. Now, to meet the girls where they are, the 4Sarah outreach team runs a call center where volunteers make random calls to women and girls that post their services on adult sex websites.
"Most of the time the girls are nice to us. We do have some that hang up on us. We text them our website and tell them who we are and give them someone to talk to."
"They can't do this for the rest of their life. One day they're going to have to make that decision to leave."
Many of the girls that go into the sex industry willingly come from a life of poverty. "They think, ‘This is a way for me to go to school, provide a better life for my family'... They get into it young and naïve. Then they get caught up in the lifestyle, get raped, get on drugs."
The nonprofit gets referrals from law enforcement in Clayton, DeKalb, and sometimes Rockdale and Newton counties. "When the girls get arrested, sometimes being arrested will help them see the bigger picture. We'll have an opportunity to say ‘Do you want to get out or not want to get out?'"
McClure started 4Sarah after she left the sex entertainment industry, naming the ministry after her daughter who was her inspiration.
Both McClure and her older sister were molested by their father at an early age. Her abuse began when she was just three years-old. When she turned 18, she followed in her sister's footsteps stripping at the Gold Club in Atlanta. After five years in the industry, her future husband and church provided the catalyst for to her to leave. Though tempted to return for financial reasons - she was accustomed to making $1,000 a day - she became pregnant with her daughter Sarah and knew she would never return. "I felt a conviction, and I had to give it up," said McClure.
Encouraged by her pastor, Dr. Jerry Patterson of Faith Tabernacle UPC, McClure established 4Sarah in 2005. The group's outreach team, the "Wild Angels," visit strip clubs once a month dispensing gift bags with treats and inspirational materials.
The group runs an intervention hotline that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 470-362-8808.
4Sarah offers quarterly scholarships for girls and women who want to leave the adult entertainment industry and gain their GED or a degree or job training.
To raise funds for the scholarships, the group holds events such as a recent golf tournament at Cherokee Run Golf Club.
The nonprofit is also launching its own special lip gloss, which comes in four flavors - perfect for holiday stocking stuffers. The proceeds from the lip gloss sales go towards the scholarships and outreach materials. The lip gloss is available for purchase on their website, www.4sarah.net , starting Wednesday.
The group is in need of donated beauty care items for its outreach materials. For more information, go to www.4sarah.net