An Unholy Tour of Atlanta
by Gaye Clark
Posted 3/17/15, 01:38 pm
ATLANTA—On March 10, a tour bus loaded with lawmakers pulled away from the curb headed toward Fulton Industrial Boulevard. Modern skyscrapers gave way to dilapidated buildings with billboards of half-naked girls in Martini glasses. “Gentlemen’s Club” signs peppered the doorways below.
Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols wanted his fellow lawmakers to see firsthand the ravages of sex trafficking in Atlanta. He enlisted the help of two experts—ex-stripper Kasey McClure and DeKalb County Police Sgt. Torrey Kennedy, from the Internet Crimes Against Children unit.
Echols called the outings the “Unholy Tour,” borrowed from the movie Amazing Grace, in which abolitionist William Wilberforce had members of Parliament tour the London harbor to bring attention to the horrors of the slave trade. The Urban Institute has named Atlanta one of the nation's sex-trafficking hubs, with more than $290 million spent in the metro area in one year.
“It breaks my heart to see children bought and sold. … I had to do something,” said Echols, a fathers of seven, four of whom are girls.
Not the typical Atlanta tour guide, McClure pointed toward the windows as the bus slowed in one of the city’s most dangerous sections: “Right there, I know there are girls in there right now who are forced into prostitution. … It’s blatant.”
McClure now runs 4Sarah, a local nonprofit reaching out to women who work in the sex industry. She visits strip clubs with members of her team to offer them gifts. They also make random calls to women and girls who post ads online, offering them an alternative to their current circumstances.
Smartphone in hand, McClure scanned a Backpage ad and called the number while the tour bus moved through the street. “You can call me anytime you need help, or find yourself in a bad situation, okay?” she told the girl. Passengers looked on, amazed at how easy it was to locate sex ads on the internet.
One grandmother contacted McClure after seeing a news segment about the tours. She wanted to know if her granddaughter, missing since December, could be involved in the sex industry. McClure’s team searched classified ads on Backpage, located the girl, and called the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department. Police rescued her and another minor.
Echols plans to work with the state’s attorney general and the head of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to “come up with new ways to go after the men buying and selling these girls.”
Although Echols plans more tours next winter when the legislature returns, he knows laws alone won’t fix things: “Nothing is more important than sharing the gospel whenever we can and praying that God will intervene and rescue these young women.”
Gaye is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute mid-career course.