Monthly Archives: February 2014

Pimps and “John” of 14-year-old girls sentenced in Atlanta this week

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“The last of three men charged with trafficking, prostituting and sexually abusing two teenage girls was convicted by a Fulton County jury and sentenced to life without parole on Thursday, February 27…..”

Read this article from YouthSpark!, one of the most-effective advocacy organizations in Atlanta.  (Get on their email list… http://www.youth-spark.org)

Remember!  Similar stories will be told in the “Facing Sex Trafficking of Children in Atlanta” free theatrical performance at UUCA on Thursday, March 6, at 7 PM.

Join us for a compelling performance of the stories you’ve never heard…until now.  Theater, mime, dance and song… Atlanta artists use their voices to tell true stories of girls who have been victims of sex trafficking in our city.

The event was developed by an Atlanta group and is supported by UUCA’s Promise the Children advocacy and action group.

Pimps and “Johns”  Sentenced in Atlanta This Week

 Atlanta- The last of three men charged with trafficking, prostituting and sexually abusing two teenage girls has been convicted by a Fulton County jury. Jurors returned guilty verdicts Thursday against 34-year-old Derek Spencer on charges of Human Trafficking, Statutory Rape, Aggravated Child Molestation, Pimping, Pandering, Sexual Exploitation of Children and Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor in connection with the case.  

 

The charges against Spencer date back to October 2012. The defendant approached the victims, 14-year-old runaway girls, as they were walking away from a Southwest Atlanta convenience store. Spencer offered the teens a place to stay in his Fletcher Street home. Soon after, Spencer and 33-year-old Kynne Shuler, his previously convicted co-defendant, began supplying the victims with drugs and alcohol and arranging paid ‘dates’ with various men either at the defendant’s house or a local hotel. The victims were forced to turn over their money in exchange for clothes, food and personal hygiene products. When they were not being forced to service ‘clients,’ Spencer also took turns having sex with each girl.

 

Spencer and co-defendant Shuler were arrested on October 20, 2012 inside an Old National Highway hotel following an anonymous tip that underage females were involved in suspicious activity inside one of the rooms. Police rescued the victims from the hotel bathtub where they were hiding.

 

Following his conviction, Spencer was sentenced to life without parole by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter who presided over the case. Co-defendant Kynne Shuler, who entered a guilty plea prior to trial, was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

 

A third defendant, Hossein Sharifi, the ‘John’ who paid to have sex with the victims, also pleaded guilty to Human Trafficking charges in connection with the case. His plea is significant because he is believed to be the first ‘John’ convicted of Human Trafficking in the State of Georgia. Sharifi was sentenced to five years in prison and an additional five years on probation.

 

The case was prosecuted by the Human Trafficking Unit led by ADA Camilla Wright with assistance from DA Investigator Amanda Pritchett. The DA’s Office also worked closely with Special Agent Joe Fonseca, head of the FBI’s MATCH Task Force to identify Defendant Sharifi and bring him to justice.

 

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February 28, 2014 · 2:33 pm

Good Food, Good Conversation: Volunteers Meet with HHES Principal and Assistant Principal

Ms. Maureen Wheeler (right) and Ms. Leah Goodwin-Black (left)

Maureen Wheeler (right) and Leah Goodwin-Black (left)

Good food and good conversation are a winning combination in promoting good relationships. With this in mind, the Hope-Hill Advisory Team recently sponsored a Potluck Supper for UUCA members/ friends who volunteer at the school. In addition, Maureen T. Wheeler, Hope-Hill Principal and Leah Goodwin-Black, Assistant Principal were invited guests.

Our hardy and hungry group of 17 converged at the historic Inman Park home of Oren Mann on Feb. 21st. (Thanks Oren for your generous hospitality.) The agenda for the evening was to enjoy each others company and to get to know one another better. And as you’d imagine, much conversation revolved around our shared interest…that of the education and well-being of the children, teachers, and staff of Hope-Hill School and how the UUCA/Hope-Hill Partnership could be strengthened. 

 

Leah Goodwin-Black (right) Radine Robinson (middle) Judy Shaklee (left)

Leah Goodwin-Black (right) Radine Robinson (middle) Judy Shaklee (left)

Principal Wheeler expressed her deep appreciation for the work of UUCA volunteers and for our commitment to the children at Hope-Hill. She know many of us by name and by sight due to the frequency with which she encounters us in the hallways and classrooms. Our one-on-one tutoring and our after-school math and science clubs are an invaluable support to the children and teachers.

While acknowledging that much more needs to be done, Ms. Wheeler noted the following accomplishments during her first six (6) months as principal.

  • Implementation of Eagle Expectations, the school’s code of conduct for students, teachers, and staff. The Standards have contributed to a more positive, caring, and supportive atmosphere and culture.
  • Adoption of a token/reward program to recognize and reinforce positive actions and behaviors. The program is wildly popular with the kids. “Lunch with the Principal or Assistant Principal” is one of the hottest tokens to be earned.
  • Qualification and placement of six (6) children in special education services.
  • Creation of working relationships with Old Fourth Ward neighborhood organizations who care for and about Hope-Hill children and their families.
  • Selection of Ms. Goodwin-Black as Assistant Principal whose special talent is data analysis. She’s expert at identifying gaps and trends in student and teacher performance. Her work in this area has enabled Ms. Wheeler and the teachers to make important, data driven decision that benefit the children.

Ms. Wheeler and Ms. Goodwin-Black shared with us their “wish list” of services and programs that UUCA and other volunteers could offer.

  • More tutors to work with children one-on-one and in small groups. Many children are in need of individual help in math and reading.
  • Additional after-school academic enrichment clubs, such as art, music, dance, dramatics, photography, writing, chess, sewing, sports, etc. Many children and their families have few or no resources for life enrichment experiences like these.
  • Support for parents who need help with gaining employment and career advancement, such as resume preparation, computer job search skills, employment interviewing, and GED preparation. Helping parents be successful is a direct, positive benefit to their children.

    UUCA volunteers enjoyed hearing from with Ms. Wheeler and Ms. Goodwin-Black and in sharing their experiences working with the kids, teachers, and staff. Most enjoyable for all was the opportunity to “break bread together” and celebrate our work on behalf of the children at HHES. It’s highly likely there will be future Potlucks as we continue to build the UUCA/Hope-Hill Partnership.

    Maureen Wheeler (right) Barbara Burnham (middle) Beth Davis (left)

    Maureen Wheeler (right) Barbara Burnham (middle) Beth Davis (left)

     

     

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Update: “Facing Sex Trafficking of Children”

 Update: “Facing Sex Trafficking of Children”

From Promise the Children at UUCA:

        Here is an article from a recent New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof.  It tells the story of one 15-year-old girl  who found herself being pimped for sex.

       The story is from Boston, but it takes place daily on the streets of Atlanta.

        Similar stories will be told in the “Facing Sex Trafficking of Children in Atlanta” theatrical performance at UUCA on Thursday, March 6, at 7 PM.

        Join us for a compelling performance of the stories you’ve never heard…until now.  Theater, mime, dance and song… Atlanta artists use their voices to tell true stories of girls who have been victims of sex trafficking in our city.

        The event was developed by an Atlanta group and is supported by UUCA’s Promise the Children advocacy and action group.

 When “Emily” Was Sold For Sex  by New York Times Columnist

BOSTON — Emily, a 15-year-old ninth-grader, ran away from home in early November, and her parents are sitting at their dining table, frightened and inconsolable.

The parents, Maria and Benjamin, both school-bus drivers, have been searching for their daughter all along and pushing the police to investigate. They gingerly confess their fears that Emily, a Latina, is being controlled by a pimp.

I’m here to try to understand the vast national problem of runaways, and I ask if they have checked Backpage.com, the leading website for prostitution and sex trafficking in America. They say they haven’t heard of it. Since I’ve written about Backpage before and am familiar with how runaways often end up in its advertisements, I pull out my laptop — and, in two minutes, we find an ad for a “mixed Latina catering to your needs” with photos of a semi-nude girl.

Maria staggers and shrieks. It’s Emily.

A 2002 Justice Department study suggested that more than 1.6 million American juveniles run away or are kicked out of their home each year. Ernie Allen, a former president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, has estimated that at least 100,000 kids are sexually trafficked each year in the United States.

Perhaps they aren’t a priority because they’re seen as asking for it, not as victims. This was Emily’s fourth time running away, and she seems to have voluntarily connected with a pimp. Based on text messages that her family intercepted, Emily was apparently used by a pimp to recruit one of her girlfriends — a common practice.

“Made about 15 or 16 hundred,” Emily boasted to her friend in one text. “Come make money with me I promise u gonna be good.”

So it’s true that no one was holding a gun to Emily’s head. Then again, she was 15, in a perilous business. And, in this case it turned out, having sex with a half-dozen men a day and handing over every penny to an armed pimp.

A bit more searching on the Web, and we find that Emily has been advertised for sex in four states: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The ads say that Emily (the name used in the ads, which is not her real name) is “fetish-friendly,” and that’s scary. Pimps use “fetish-friendly” as a dog whistle to attract deviants who will pay more for the right to be extra violent or abusive.

“We don’t care what she did,” says Benjamin, in a shattered tone. “We just want her back.”

The ads for Emily include a cellphone number to set up “dates,” and we pass the information to the authorities. The pimp’s phone number should make it easy to find the girl, so we wait to see what will happen.

Maria is bitter that the police haven’t done more. She has been pleading for months for help, hounding the police — and now she finds that her daughter has been advertised in four states on multiple prostitution websites and no one seems to have checked or noticed.

“I feel very strongly that it was racism,” Maria says. In fact, the Boston police force is admired nationally for its three-detective unit that fights human trafficking. This is the gold standard, yet, even here, a missing 15-year-old girl seemed to slip through the cracks.

Every day, more than 4,000 children run away or are kicked out of their home — and there’s negligible interest. We feel outrage when Penn State or the Roman Catholic Church ignore child sexual abuse, but we, as a society, avert our eyes as well.

Partly the problem is that many see sex trafficking as serious only when the victim is dragged off in chains; we don’t appreciate Stockholm syndrome or understand that often the handcuffs are psychological. Attitudes are changing, just as they have toward domestic violence, but too slowly.

There are failings here beyond law enforcement. You wonder about the men paying to have sex with a girl who looks so young. About the hotel clerks. And about why we tolerate websites like Backpage.com that peddle teenage girls.

A few hours after I sent police the link, officers located Emily in New Hampshire. Police raided a hotel, rescuing her and arresting a man, Andy Pena, 19, who, they said, was her pimp and took all the money she made. Police said that Pena was armed.

Pena is in jail in New Hampshire; his public defender declined to comment.

Emily is ambivalent about her rescue. She’s in a group home, getting support from other survivors of human trafficking through a group called My Life My Choice. She’s still rebellious, but it’s a good sign that she hugged her mom. Maria wept.

Today Emily is safe, but there are hundreds of thousands of other runaways out on the streets. These are our kids, in danger. Shouldn’t they be a national priority?

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Facing Sex Trafficking of Children in Atlanta – March 6 at UUCA

 “Facing Sex Trafficking of Children in Atlanta”

On Thursday, March 6, at 7 PM, join us at UUCA for a free theatrical performance:  “Facing Sex Trafficking of Children in Atlanta.”

Join us for a compelling performance of the stories you’ve never heard…until now.  Theater, mime, dance and song… Atlanta artists use their voices to tell true stories of girls who have been victims of sex trafficking in our city.

Every city has its dirty secrets!  One of Atlanta’s is: It is very well known for sex trafficking. Sad to say, many of its victims are children and teenagers, mostly girls, from all walks of life in all kinds of neighborhoods.

The event was developed by an Atlanta group (Atlantasextrafficking.facingproject.com) and is supported by UUCA’s Promise the Children advocacy and action group.

Please come. Entrance is free and there will be a reception afterwards which will give you the opportunity to talk to the people from various organizations which have rallied around this cause that affects all of us!

UUCA’s role in Ending Childhood  Sexual Exploitation

UUCA is part of the youthSpark  movement of youth and adults committed to ending child sex trafficking.  We work to transform the lives of children who have been exploited, abused and neglected, because NO CHILD wakes up at 16 and chooses to be prostituted.

According to the FBI, Atlanta ranks near the top of cities with prostitution involving children.  These children are coerced for profit. Many are runaways who are  exploited for the basic needs of life: food, shelter or clothing.  A new local study showed that 42% of the men who purchase sex with young females come from the north metro Atlanta area, outside I-285.

UUCA has supported an active legislative agenda over the last five years that caused the Georgia legislature to pass important legislation regarding child sex trafficking.

Now the focus has begun to shift to an effort to reduce the “supply” with youth- empowered education and advocacy.   youthSpark, in partnership with Fulton County Juvenile Court, works with at-risk girls, to prevent them from becoming trafficking victims.

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HB 875 – Gun Carry Bill is now in the Senate .

HB 875 – Gun Carry Bill is now in the Senate .

Express your feelings! But so it today, tomorrow or Wednesday… to make a difference

 

HB 875, the gun carry bill, which passed the House last week, now resides in the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.  By now almost everyone knows this gun carry bill is one of the most lenient in the country.

Faith communities, schools and libraries, airports, bars and government buildings ( but not the State Capitol ! ) – are all places where the public will be subject to the presence of guns.

 

If the legislative calendar remains as it is, this will be a short week, with no session Thursday or Friday.

Take Action NOW!  

1.  Call Governor Deal and let him know that HB 875 is not what Georgians want for their children.  

Contact Governor Nathan Deal   404-656-1776 

 

2.  Call and write to the members of the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee and speak up on behalf of the safety of the children of Georgia.  Vote “Do Not Pass” on HB 875!

 

Please be sure to contact Committee Chair, Sen. Jesse Stone.

E-mail:  jesse.stone@senate.ga.gov

Phone: (404) 463-1314

Fax: (404) 463-1388

 

3.  Call and write to your State Senator and let him/her know that you need him/her to stand with you for peace and for the safety of our children.

 

Find my State Senator

 

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Take an Advocacy Moment for Children today.   Your voice WILL make a difference!be a voice for children

The Georgia legislature is in session…. And they’re in a hurry to get their 40 days over with and start campaigning for re-election… That means it is more difficult than usual to stop the BAD bills and get the GOOD bills voted on…

So. Speed is the name of the game for advocates too!

Today, we are contacting the Rules Committees about 5 bills that will improve child policy. “Rules” job is to schedule the bills for votes. With only 10 days left, the pressure is on. So PLEASE act on the action alerts at the bottom of this blast asap and please stay tuned for more as the week progresses!

2 Minute Advocacy Ask for the Week:

The “Ask”: Choose one (or more!) of the bills below which you support and contact (phone calls work best, but emails are fine also) the members of the appropriate Rules committee (noted below) and ask them to put the bill on the House or Senate floor for a vote this week.

The Why: Once a bill has passed out of its subject matter committee (such as Education or Health and Human Services, etc.), the Rules Committee of each chamber determines which bills go to the chamber floor for a vote. If a bill does not get a floor vote by the end of Crossover Day (Monday, March 3), its chances of passing are GREATLY reduced.

The Message:

Bills in House Rules Committee     Click here for contact information

Please get HB 674 to the House floor for a vote this week. This bill establishes a formula to fund certain positions in juvenile court. Currently there is not a reliable mechanism for juvenile courts state funding, which can leave our youth (and the state) without resources for proper representation and court services. Thank you for your consideration and for all you do for Georgia.

Please get HB 290 to the House floor for a vote. This bill allows an employee to use existing sick leave to care for an immediate family member without the worry of losing a job or having to deceive an employer. Thank you for your consideration and for all you do for Georgia.

Please get HB 804 to the House floor for a vote this week. This bill makes it possible for a judge to allow a child under 18 to testify via closed-circuit television outside of the presence of the person accused. Children can be extremely susceptible to adverse experiences and we need our courts to function in ways that do not inflict further trauma on our young witnesses. Please support this legislation. Thank you for your consideration and for all you do for Georgia.

Please get HB 923 to the House floor for a vote this week. This bill moves the Child Fatality Review Panel out of the Office of the Child Advocate into the Georgia Bureau of Investigations. Child fatalities need an effective investigation in order to prevent further tragedies from happening. The GBI has the training and the capacity to improve the collection of this important information. Thank you for your consideration and for all you do for Georgia.

Bills in Senate Rules Committee    Click here for contact information 

Please get SB 364 to the Senate floor for a vote this week. This bill revises and corrects errors or omissions to the Juvenile Code (which was passed last session as HB 242). This bill furthers the work of the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform. Passage of this clean up legislation will implementation of the new juvenile code to continue in a way that helps courts and kids. Thank you for your consideration and for all you do for Georgia.

Useful links:
Key House and Senate Committee contact lists
House and Senate Leadership contact lists
Find your Lawmaker
Legislative Dictionary

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Youth Sex Trafficking: Recommended Reading

Hello PTC Followers!  

In today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Feb. 16th) there is an informative article in the Opinion/Editorial section (page A19) on the subject of youth sex trafficking.  The tile is, “As a society, we avert our eyes from sex trafficking”.  The author is Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times.  If you Google his name, you’ll find that he’s written extensively about youth sex trafficking.  The AJC article is about a 15 year runaway named Emily and how she got caught up in the sex trafficking “trade”.  Of particular value to me were Mr. Kristof’s thoughts as to why we, as a nation, are willing to ‘avert our eyes’ and not see youth sex trafficking as a human tragedy that deserves our attention.

I checked AJC.com in hopes of finding a link to the article I could post here.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find one.  So, to read the article, you’ll have to do it the old fashioned way by finding a copy of today’s AJC.   Doing so will be worth your time. 

 

Youth Sex Trafficking is a form of Modern-Day Slavery.

Youth Sex Trafficking is a form of Modern-Day Slavery.

Like a lot of folks, I’ve thought of youth sex trafficking as one of any number of social ills that “somebody-ought-to-do-something about”.  I’ve now begun to think that perhaps that somebody could be me. 

At UUCA, Ines Hoster and Mary Moore are spearheading a PTC action team focused on youth sex trafficking.  Be on the lookout for information from them on upcoming opportunities where we can learn about youth sex trafficking and how we, as a faith community, can become involved in fighting this horror.

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Filed under Ending Childhood Sexual Exploitation, Our Stories