Of the many issues that go unmentioned around the nation, sex trafficking is one that is not brought out into the forefront for discussion or resolution until now. The Restorative Justice Center of Atlanta has partnered with the “I Am Not Yours!” campaign in the effort to change the lives of young women and children who have fallen into prostitution. This campaign serves to create not only a voice for these women, but a safe haven where they can change their lives and move forward.
The press conference, which was held at Atlanta City Hall on Tuesday, was hosted by Shanti Das, Founder/CEO of Press Reset Entertainment. Das’ presence and involvement as a philanthropist added to the urgency of the cause as she welcomed press and moderated questions.
On October 24, 2013 from 6:00pm-9:00pm the first annual Diamond on the Half Shell Benefit will be held at City Hall in support of Mayor Kasim Reed, Councilmen and Chief Judge and Presiding Judge of The Atlanta Community Court. The benefit will help to raise funds for the initiative whose mission holds high hopes to support survivors of sex trafficking in Atlanta communities. The benefit seeks to raise funding in the effort to provide safe housing and transitional beds for women who have been arrested for prostitution and have been involved in sex trafficking. Within this program, participants will receive assistance such as anger management classes, life training skills, drug treatment and various resources and skills that will help them become successful citizens to the city of Atlanta. The gala will also honor three courageous women who are activists in the community in working to fight the crime of sex trafficking.
It takes true advocates for women and children, as well as a humanitarian perspective to undertake such a battle. Mona Stephen, CEO of Not Yours! Worldwide LLC and Co-Founder of the “I Am Not Yours!” campaign is one of the outstanding women who helped to make this meaningful vision a reality. Jasmine Guy, who serves as the spokeswoman for the project is also a vital catalyst for change. “Our mission is to spread awareness and financially support organizations in the fight against sex trafficking, in particularly child sex trafficking. The Restorative Justice Center have made great strides in restoring lives of which many have been affected by sexual exploitation as children,” said Stephen.
Sharing the same vision, Vanessa Hickey-Gales, President and Board Chair of the Restorative Justice Center shared that resources that were once in place such as the now defunct Women for Women program have left a void and no place to turn for women in this predicament to utilize to break the cycle. Sharing the testimony of a prostitute in despair coming out of jail, Hickey-Gales painted a very vivid picture. “I was talking to one of the ladies and what she said was, Miss Gales the first person I saw when I walked out [of jail] was my pimp. So you know that the beds that we’re trying to provide [are] going to provide that service.
Michael Julian Bond, Atlanta City Councilman and Public Safety Chairperson advised during the press conference that the work necessary will be community focused and essentially grassroots in efforts. “I simply want to remind everyone that there’s an old African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child and we’re very familiar with that. It also takes that same village to protect that child,” said Bond.
In addressing recidivism in regards to prostitution, Caesar C. Mitchell, Atlanta City Council President stressed the importance the alliance organizations will play. “I think it’s so important to support this initiative as a partner because as Mona said, we really have a community that have been incarcerated and are released or are going to be released [and] really need our community to wrap our arms around them. That takes resources; it takes partnership and it takes a willingness to be a part of a solution,” said Mitchell.
Why is this initiative important for Atlanta?
Michael Julian Bond: Well from all the statistics that I’ve even seen, they say that Atlanta is one, if not the center for sex trafficking hubs in the country. I’m a father of two daughters [and] they are now adults. My personal experience… I’m a former corrections officer for the City of Atlanta. So, I saw women and men- majority women come through the revolving door… literally come through the Atlanta pre-trial detention center while I was employed there. If not for having a lack of relationships and resources, most of these women wouldn’t be out there voluntarily. So, this is an extremely important effort because there is no safety net for a person who finds themselves drug into this. Understanding that the city’s responsibilities are limited…the city has to deal with the reality of what it’s faced with. So we have to come up with innovative ways to try to raise the money to try to pay for programs like this and others.
What can people in the community do to be helpful to the mission?
Vanessa Hickey-Gales: One of the things that we have that many of the Atlanta communities can participate in is something called the Restorative Justice Boards. Those are neighborhood boards throughout the city of Atlanta made up of citizens in the communities. What they do is they work with the arm of the court to seek people who have been sent to these boards by the judge to go back into the neighborhoods where they have offended and provide social services there, community services there and gain help them improve their lives. A lot of times these are young women and men who need that guidance. They need that community support around them to help them to become better citizens and to move on forward and stay out of the system.
Why is this initiative important for women in Atlanta?
Mona Stephen: Because of the epidemic of sex trafficking here in Atlanta. There are so many people who don’t understand those drastic numbers that [are] right here in our backyard. And until we start raising awareness [and] raising dollars, people will still be in the dark about this.