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Brookhaven Tackles Child Exploitation Issue

January 8, 2015
Brookhaven Police Chief Gary Yandura (at the podium), Brookhaven city officials and state officials took part in Brookhaven’s signing of Georgia’s “Not Buying It” pledge.

Child sex trafficking happens in towns across Georgia and it is happening right under the noses of city leaders and city law enforcement. That was the message Brookhaven Police Chief Gary Yandura conveyed at a recent press con­ference to talk about the city’s efforts to com­bat Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Chil­dren (CSEC).
 
“You go to different counties and different areas within the state and they say, ‘We don’t have that problem,’” Yandura said. “That’s non­sense.”
 
According to its May 2014 report on human trafficking, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) found that the “majority of human traf­ficking victims…were domestically trafficked where as it is a widely held misconception (amongst law enforcement and the general public) that non-U.S. citizens are the most fre­quent victims of trafficking.”
 
The report goes on to point out that a major­ity of Georgia’s law enforcement agencies do not have enough training on how to recognize or handle human trafficking activity.
 
The reports declaring metro Atlanta one of the largest hubs for human trafficking, not just in the country, but in the world, had a pro­found impact on Brookhaven city officials. The city decided to take action with a great amount of help from Street Grace, Inc., an organization whose mission is to mobilize community re­sources to help individuals and organizations effectively fight domestic minor sex trafficking through awareness, empowerment and engage­ment.
 
On November 10, 2014, city of Brookhaven leaders, flanked by Attorney General Sam Olens and Senator Renee Unterman, became the first city in the state to sign Georgia’s “Not Buying It” pledge.
 
The statewide “Not Buying It” program was developed under the Governor’s Office for Children and Families CSEC Task Force. The program is being implemented under a part­nership formed by Street Grace, the GBI and the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.
 
Georgia’s Not Buying It program was cre­ated to provide awareness and education to cities, corporations and neighborhoods across the state on the problems of sex trafficking. As part of signing Georgia’s Not Buying It pledge, the city of Brookhaven promised to raise awareness by speaking out against the CSEC and train a large majority of city personnel and elected officials on items such as red flag behaviors and identifying factors for sex traf­ficking victims, myths and stereotypes of such victims, risk factors for children who may fall into trafficking and identifying persons who exploit children and others in sex trafficking.
 
“We are going to know how to identify what is going on, we are going to know how to re­act to it very professionally, and our objective is to protect our greatest asset, our children,” Brookhaven City Councilmember Joe Gebbia said at the signing.
 
By joining the task force and signing the pledge, Brookhaven joins more than 80 part­ners that strive to protect children from the CSEC in the state and ensure they are ready for life, college and work. The partners in the pro­gram and the task force work together to help provide general training at no charge for aspir­ing designees and their employees.
 
Upon deciding to join the Not Buying It campaign, Brookhaven partnered with the city Chamber of Commerce to increase awareness in the local business community and to attack the CSEC head-on by not just encompassing city leaders and employees, but by bringing the issues to light in the community at-large.
 
Cities aspiring to join the Not Buying It pro­gram are encouraged to reach out to the Geor­gia Department of Education, the GBI and Chil­dren’s Healthcare of Atlanta to get specialized training for law enforcement and other first responders. Combined, the general and special­ized trainings will provide for greatly increased awareness in city leaders and employees, di­rectly addressing one of the key needs identi­fied by the May 2014 GBI report.
 
The end goal of every organization join­ing the Not Buying It campaign, stated in the pledge of the campaign, is to leave a legacy by mentoring the next generation to walk in in­tegrity and to exhibit the courage to eradicate CSEC.
 
“By having cities such as Brookhaven take the pledge and educate their citizenry we will get a better handle on the problem,” Olens said.

Cities can get involved with the Not Buying It campaign at www.notbuyingit.org.
 
For more information contact Rusi Patel at rpatel@gmanet.com.
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