A group of around 20 people gathered in Coolidge Park to raise awareness for child sex trafficking on Saturday afternoon. Many carried signs bearing messages like “Children don’t just disappear” and “Save our children.” Organizer Mandy Gladden was one of the first to arrive, and she succinctly described the goal of the rally.
”This is just to bring awareness of human trafficking to our community and child trafficking,” Ms. Gladden said. “Once I became a mom, I really kept my eye out on stuff that’s happening around me, and it’s been brought to my attention that it’s an ongoing problem.”
One of those in attendance was Jesus Walker, who said he knows family and friends who have been affected by sex trafficking and other similar crimes. He said he hoped he “can have a positive impact or footprint on our city and hopefully the world. It’s as simple as ‘End pedophilia’ and ‘end the sex rings’ and put more funding to doing that.”
Another rally-goer was Amy Hodgson, who echoed these sentiments. She said the issue of sex trafficking is not a partisan one, and that she hoped for unity on this front. She advocated for harsher penalties for those involved in trafficking children.
“We don’t’ feel like this is being taken as seriously as it needs to be taken, and once it is, maybe all of us can start coming together,” Ms. Hodgson said. “I just read an article where a guy got one year for raping a child. How does it make sense when you can go to jail for 20 years for having marijuana. Where does that make any sense at all?”
Fellow organizer Kindred Miller took the microphone shortly before the march started. She said the rally was strictly about raising awareness of child trafficking, and said the issue is far more widespread and common than many believe.
“We all have a responsibility to watch out for one another and take care of each other, and thank you all for coming out for this,” Ms. Gladden said. “No matter how big or small, we know that the children need us and that needs to end. I hope all of you can make it out [to future events] and we can make a change in our community.”
Georgia native Joshua Abernathy said this march will not the be last event hosted by this group. He said he hopes to hold a rally every month, starting with one in Calhoun in September. The ultimate goal is to march with 1,000 people in Atlanta, in order to put pressure on the government to pass legislation that would more harshly penalize child traffickers.
“Human sex trafficking is not a conspiracy,” Mr. Abernathy said. “It’s a problem that disproportionally affects north Georgia and the Chattanooga areas. What we’re doing forward is we’re starting a campaign called ‘Let Them Know.’”
He said the campaign will be a three-pronged one. He said the campaign will support victim, let communities know what they can do to fight child and sex trafficking and the signs of sex trafficking, and letting the government know there is a want and need for reform in how sex trafficking is handled.
“We’re going to be in Calhoun Ga. on Sept. 26. We’re going to get local elected officials and local leaders there,” Mr. Abernathy said. “This is not a partisan issue, so don’t let it become one.”