By Guest Columnist DEBORAH RICHARDSON, executive director of the International Human Trafficking Institute.
Georgia is a case study of Margaret Mead’s words: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Since 2000, when our first anti-human trafficking bill was passed, committed Georgia citizens, including our business, multi-faith, and civic sectors, have fueled the movement to end child sex trafficking.
While January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, we are challenged by a current movement that could derail our collective efforts to end human trafficking. Throughout the past year, media reported the rapid spread of debunked QAnon conspiracy theories, using the hashtag #SaveTheChildren in an attempt to legitimize unverified claims regarding child sex trafficking.
Among QAnon misinformation, there are three claims that are false:
- Save the Children, is an international relief organization founded in 1919, and has worked in over 100 countries including the United States “in the hardest to reach places where it is the toughest to be a child.” There is no connection between this 102 year old organization and QAnon’s #SaveTheChildren campaigns;
- QAnon’s social media posts claim over 800,000 children have been kidnapped. While even one missing child is too many, the actual number is closer to 400,000 and, in 2020, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported 91% of abductions or runaways (children missing because of family conflict) are eventually reunited, while less than 1% involves an unknown abductor;
- QAnon claims that ending human trafficking is a partisan, political issue. It is not. Child sex trafficking is a horrendous human rights violation that occurs in this country and throughout the world. Our federal and state elected officials have consistently and persistently left party ideologies at the door when introducing and passing anti-human trafficking laws.
History confirms that social change movements do not achieve their goals quickly, always taking longer than desired or planned. Women’s suffrage and gay marriage activists needed many generations to achieve their goals. Some social issues, such as correcting racial inequity, are yet to be resolved. However, we know that those committed to change do not stop the work. As barriers arise, we identify, then remove them.
The vision of the International Human Trafficking Institute, an initiative of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and the convener of the Metropolitan Coalition to End Human Trafficking, is that not even one child is exploited for labor and sex. Please join our efforts by signing onto our statement denouncing QAnon’s rhetoric. In his last words, published on the day of his funeral, the Honorable John Lewis asked that we: “Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.”
Please sign on to our statement denouncing dangerous and false claims, so we may continue the work of making human trafficking history, during our lifetime. This is the complete statement:
- “As active participants in the Metro Atlanta Coalition to End Human Trafficking, convened by the International Human Trafficking Institute of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, we reject the false claims that undermine the tireless work of our members. We represent over 200 entities from the public, private, multi-faith, education, advocacy, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors, who firmly stand against any group that politicizes and misinforms our communities. The trafficking of persons is an egregious human rights violation, and will only end if our actions are guided by facts.
- “QAnon and its use of #SaveTheChildren hashtag is built on misinformation and false claims. As a result, support and attention is diverted from organizations with proven impact. This also hampers our community’s commitments to prevent human trafficking, and addressing the needs of those who are, or are at risk of becoming, victims. Unsubstantiated claims and accusations can spin out of control and mislead well-meaning people into doing more harm than good, declared Polaris, who operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline.”
Note to readers: Deborah Richardson, the executive director of the International Human Trafficking Institute, has testified before Congress, opened the first safe house for exploited girls in the southeast, coordinated national campaigns to end online trafficking platforms, and continues a 20-year quest to change laws, policies and hearts to end the trafficking of persons. The Atlanta City Council in 2019 presented Richardson with a recognition of her, “dedicated effort to stop sex trafficking and compassion and support for helping vulnerable survivors in Atlanta and beyond.