I have spent more than half of my career as a prosecutor solely devoted to prosecuting human trafficking. Even before I got my first job in the trafficking field heading the Fulton County District Attorney Office’s Human Trafficking Unit, I left a prosecution position to get an LLM in International Law, in an attempt to make myself more valuable to non-profit organizations working to end human trafficking.
I know so many victims not only by name, but by face. I’ve seen more private body parts than many porn addicts. I’ve trained 1000s of law enforcement officers to work trafficking cases and taught prosecutors all over the country how to prosecute the most difficult cases. I’ve participated in more law enforcement stings and rescues than I can count.
I loved my job. I loved my colleagues in the field. I loved my victims.
Then, on June 1, 2016, my husband was killed in a failed carjacking while I was sleeping. I’d fallen asleep rather than stay up texting him, because I had a 6:30 am meeting scheduled to plan the first Human Trafficking Conference focused on training Georgia’s judges. I didn’t make it to that meeting. Around 5:00 am when I was driving around trying to find him in the streets of Atlanta using Find My Phone, not knowing he had been killed hours before and his phone was already back at the police station, I had text then AG Sam Olens and told him I wouldn’t make the meeting and would need someone to fill in for me.
After taking six weeks off, I decided I wanted to return to work and I don’t think that was a bad decision. The support I received and continue to receive from the human trafficking community has been incredible. I kept working in trafficking for about six months, but the continued secondary trauma of prosecution did not pair well with my primary focus processing the grief and the trauma of my husband’s murder. I took a job in another field for a year and a half, and then following God’s leading and the advice of many, I took a full break, not knowing what would come next.
After a month, fully respecting my need to have a minimum of a month to not think at all about what was next, but rather fully be present and focused on the day at hand, I sat down with the CEO of Street Grace to talk about coming on board. Or I guess more precisely , coming off the advisory board and on to the staff. It has been a perfect fit.
Why Street Grace?
While I was prosecuting in Fulton County, and even more when I was at the Attorney General’s Office, we frequently partnered with Street Grace on projects. Street Grace partnered with the Attorney General for the Not Buying It campaign, now Demand an End, that debuted when the Final Four came to Atlanta six or seven years ago and has grown on a huge scale since that time. Street Grace was the original trafficking non-profit created to coordinate the efforts of the churches to fight human trafficking in Atlanta. They have always focused on Protection and Prevention, and also have a very Demand-Centered approach.
Like so many in law enforcement and victim services, I live with the trauma of hearing too many stories of exploitation and abuse. I am a huge proponent of awareness and care for secondary trauma and vicarious trauma. People do not realize that the trauma stories services providers see and hear day after day after day, traumatize the hearers as well as those who directly experience the abuse. But it was really after my husband was killed that I realized law enforcement and victim services can only do so much. There is no amount of ‘justice’ or healing that can ever undo the murder of my husband. There is no amount of justice or therapy that can undo the suffering of a trafficking victim. We can heal and we can become stronger than ever, but healing can never do what prevention can do.
I don’t have the strength to be in the human trafficking recovery arena any more. I love my friends in that arena and do all that I can to support them as we partner together. We have the same goal. But this is my time to be in the prevention arena. This is my time to devote myself to making sure no children are victimized and that no traffickers need to go to jail.
In addition to parent and child education, addressing the demand side of the human trafficking equation is one of the most powerful ways to prevent trafficking. Trafficking is all about supply and demand, and the product is the vulnerable child. The seller-pimp-trafficker-exploiters know exactly what they are doing and expect to spend a portion of their life is jail. They know that is a cost of doing business. The buyer-trafficker-exploiter often hides behind the innocuous name ‘john’ and believes if he is ever caught, it will be a slap on the wrist at most. The buyer of sex does not always know that what he is doing is trafficking, though lack of knowledge is never an excuse. The buyer is often a married man and a businessman, because you have to have a certain amount of expendable income to purchase sex. By addressing demand we can prevent the greatest number of children from being exploited.
There is a portion of sex buyers who would not buy if they realized they were likely purchasing a trafficking child. There is an even larger portion of buyers who would stop if they realized no matter how old the girl said she was, if she was under age 18 they could be arrested for human trafficking no matter how old or willing the girl appeared. Georgia law is awesome. Buyer Beware.
Lock up a pimp for trafficking and you scare a few parents. Lock up a CEO for trafficking and you scare every single buyer out there fueling the trafficking of our most vulnerable children.
I’m so happy to be back in my field. I’m so happy to be an expert again and to know what I’m talking about. I’m so happy to be working with my trafficking friends in so many organizations. I took a break for many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is that I needed to get away from the daily evil. I needed to step out of the fight while I tried to learn to live again.
Until I started seriously considering working with Street Grace, I hadn’t thought through the implications of working on the prevention side of things. I’d always been a prosecutor. We get involved after the evil has been done. Yes, we are trying to prevent the evil from happening to another person, but by nature of my job, it was my business until something truly horrendous had already occurred.
My boss often points out that people can more easily envision themselves caring for a broken crying child than they can preventing the unthinkable. Prevention can feel very vague. My hurt victims are very concrete. My bad guys in jail are very real. But if it were your child, would you rather the damage was prevented or that a team tried to help you restore?
Prevention is a very real thing. We prevent trafficking two ways. We protect by enabling parents, children, church leaders and school officials to protect children; and we protect by eliminating the danger by eliminating the demand.
I love being back in the human trafficking field and I love being on the side of prevention. I’m home again. I’ve decorated a bit and changed my office, but the home is the same and I’m back with my family.