International Women’s Day – Human Trafficking

By State Representative Sheila Jones (D-Atlanta)

International Women’s Day on March 8th will be a celebration of strides made for women’s and girl’s human rights, as well as a reminder of the challenges that still lie ahead. In a recent article published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC), there was a compelling story about a young girl who was kidnapped from the streets of Arkansas, taken to Atlanta and repeatedly forced to have sex with men.

An Atlanta police officer found the young girl trembling, barely clothed and took her to the police station. She told investigators she was from Arkansas and her journey to the streets of Atlanta began when she climbed into the car of a relative’s boyfriend. Mariece Sims and another man drove her to a Texas hotel room and raped her. They left Texas for Mississippi, where Sims told her to make money by having sex with men at a truck stop. Then later, in Atlanta, he told her to do it again. He hit the girl when she did not make enough money or tried to escape. The young girl was a victim of human trafficking.

Shocking acts of violence against women around the world are headline stories more and more frequently. More than 27 million people are enslaved in the world today, more than at any other time in history, and the majority of those enslaved are women and children who are victims of the ever-growing sex trafficking trade that occurs in almost every country and territory of the world.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately one out of three women in the world will experience some sort of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. In the state of Georgia thousands of women and girls are victims of domestic violence, human trafficking and rape.

The AJC has reported that trafficking is a hidden crime. Gay runaways duck police to avoid being sent home. Girls confuse investigators by calling pimps their “boyfriends,” and foreign victims stay in the shadows because they fear deportation.

Last month, the U.S. Congress took a critical step in combating this problem by voting for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), first passed in 1994, to protect victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. I want to personally thank my own representative, Congressman John Lewis, and both of Georgia’s Senators for doing the right thing and voting for VAWA.

Next, our leaders in Congress have the opportunity to support the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) to address violence against women and girls globally. This legislation will direct the U.S. government to implement the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender Based Violence. Passage of this law would make ending violence against women and girls a top U.S. diplomatic priority, and has specific provisions to protect and aid victims of human trafficking.

On this International Women’s Day, let us remember that violence against women and girls is a human rights violation and a public health epidemic. As a woman legislator, I believe we have a moral obligation to ensure the rights of women and girls are protected and supported by legislation. It is indisputable that we must stand together and take all necessary measures to ensure that violent attacks against women and girls are no longer tolerated.

Please join me in urging members of Congress to strengthen the penalties associated with human trafficking and domestic violence against women and girls and children. The progress and development of our societies and nations depends on our ability to affirm and safeguard the human rights of all people, including women and girls.

As lawmakers, we have to do everything in our power to ensure that our children have the opportunity to lead a successful and productive life, start a family and live the American dream.

Representative Sheila Jones represents the citizens of District 53, which includes portions of Cobb and Fulton counties. She was elected into the House of Representatives in 2004, and currently serves on the Appropriations, Health & Human Services, Juvenile Justice, and Transportation committees. Rep. Jones Sheila is an active member of the Women Legislator’s Lobby – a program of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND).