Restoration in Atlanta: The Undoing of CSEC

Article originally published on MeetJustice.org on April 21, 2011.

( Read about the first and second steps in the Rescue system, too! )

The Oxford English Dictionary has several definitions of Restoration, one of which is “the action of returning something to a former owner, place, or condition.” In plainer words, to restore is to undo an action or damage that has been done. It also has a place in the rescue system approach to end commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in Atlanta. The first two steps in the rescue system recognize and respond to the damage caused by this crime. The next step is restoration. Undoing the damage.

Sexual exploitation has devastating consequences. Post-Traumatic Stress disorder, anxiety disorders, depression, early pregnancy, STDs, psychotic behavior, insomnia, and other problems have all been identified as typical results of sexual exploitation. Exploitation typically leads to or worsens drug addiction, behavioral disorders, and multiple criminal charges. The legal, medical and psychological consequences of CSEC come at a cost to Atlanta, and we also lose out on the positive contributions these kids could be making to the community. While what has been done can never fully be undone, with restoration, healing replaces suffering and empowerment takes the place of victimization.

In order to maintain control of their victims, exploiters label them as prostitutes, criminals, and pieces of property. By removing these labels, the process of restoration liberates victims from a life of slavery. Restoration reclaims the ownership of a child’s life from pimps, replaces unhealthy addiction and coping mechanisms with therapy, and finally redefines the survivor- not as victim, prostitute or slave- but simply as a kid again.

Restoration is a process in and of itself. It begins with retrieval. Victims are removed from the threatening hold of their abusers and placed into safety where the second step occurs: healing. Often this comes in the form of medical attention, but for many girls, psychological and spiritual healing are the greatest challenges they face. Trained staff must undo the brainwashing, fear mongering, and degradation that have been inflicted on the kids. Finally, they are empowered through education, career training, and confidence building rehabilitation like equine therapy.

A number of organizations in Georgia are engaged in the restoration process. Lady of Prestige volunteers reach out to sex workers to offer resources, support, prayer, education, and career opportunities for those who want get out of the industry. The Georgia Care Connection Office consolidates victim services to decrease the amount of service providers a CSEC survivor must interact with. This expedites their placement in residential facilities or home-based support systems so that healing can begin.

Angela’s House is the first residential safe house for girls in the Southeast, and it teams with Youth Villages to offer education and therapy for girls under the age of 17. Wellspring Living offers residential recovery, education, diploma and GED assistance, career training, and therapy for victims of adult trafficking as well as commercially exploited children. Wellspring Living for Women reports an 84% success rate of graduates from their program, proving that despite the horrific experiences that survivors endure, their lives are fully redeemable.

Unfortunately, space is limited in residential homes for girls and there are no homes for male survivors in the southeast. A study by The Barton Clinic of Law and Policy describes a lack of non-residential victims service in Georgia and recommends that either a governmental agency or a community organization develop an outpatient program for survivors who are released from residential homes and victims who need treatment but not residential placement.

Caring for the children who have been victimized by CSE restores not only their future, but also the future of Atlanta. The Governor’s Office for Families and Children released a cost analysis that determined that the average cost of a child in a secure residential facility is between 9 and 13% cheaper per day than one in a youth detention center. In fact, by investing in the restorative system of care, Georgia averages an estimated overall savings of $65,870-$211,930 per year after factoring in victims who can be served through community foster support.

Restoration can also occur on a very different level. In 1996, San Francisco adopted a unique method of addressing first time solicitors (of adult prostitution) called the John school. Co-founded by former prostitute Norma Hotaling and partnering with the District Attorney, SFPD, and Standing Against Global Exploitation (SAGE), this optional program confronts each “john” with the harsh reality for the women and affirms the fact that prostitution is not a victimless crime. Eligible offenders must pay a fee that is in turn used to sponsor the program. According to Hotaling, the percentage of relapse is as low as 2%, which indicates a change in the men’s behavior and perspectives. A 2008 study by the U.S. Justice Department confirms low reclivism rates. Despite controversy surrounding the John school, at least 39 cities have adopted this model.

Atlanta ranks in the top three cities of child trafficking, and its ample sex venues have earned it a reputation as a sex destination. The city may benefit from a restorative approach to dealing not only with victims of child exploitation, but also with restoring public understanding of prostitution and human trafficking. This includes educating first time customers of adult prostitution who may otherwise knowingly or unknowingly purchase sex from a minor. Such a program might restore some of the criminals themselves, as well as decrease demand for prostitution and clear Atlanta’s name as a sex destination. Like the survivors, Atlanta is fully restorable.

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