First Lady of GA Marty Kemp visits Micah's Promise

From left to right : Elizabeth Glass, Dr. Brett Murphy-Dawson, Grace Glass, Bobbi Starr, Marty Kemp, Dr. Kim Glass, Landy Sudduth, Cindy Sparks, Pam Bone, Betsy Ramsay, Catherine Trotter, Worth Williams, Olivia Perkins, and Karon Henderson

From left to right : Elizabeth Glass, Dr. Brett Murphy-Dawson, Grace Glass, Bobbi Starr, Marty Kemp, Dr. Kim Glass, Landy Sudduth, Cindy Sparks, Pam Bone, Betsy Ramsay, Catherine Trotter, Worth Williams, Olivia Perkins, and Karon Henderson

Earlier this summer, the Micah's Promise Board, Executive Director, Bobbi Starr, and several dedicated advocates had the opportunity to host First Lady of Georgia, Marty Kemp for a luncheon to discuss the efforts being made in the Columbus area to combat sex trafficking and Mrs. Kemp's vision for a stronger collaboration across the state.

Mrs. Kemp has worked hard her first year in the Governor's mansion to bring awareness to the issue of sex trafficking. One way has been through the creation of the GRACE Commission.

The GRACE Commission is comprised of public officials, law enforcement, for-profit and non-profit organizations, faith-based institutions, and subject matter experts to tackle human trafficking, seek justice for victims, and hold bad actors accountable.

Fundraising Update

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At the end of September, we reached $1.3 Million towards our goal of $1.5 Million to build a therapeutic treatment center for girls 12-17.

From Bobbi Starr, Executive Director of Micah's Promise :

Dear Freedom Fighters,

I am excited about the updates and progress I have to share with you! The Lord has been moving in mighty ways and bringing strategic advocates who have helped us reach $1.3 Million of the $1.5 Million dollars we need to break ground on our therapeutic treatment facility!! Once we complete our Capital Campaign, we expect to be providing care to child survivors within a year. This is the most exciting time in my 10 year journey of studying and fighting the issue of DMST. Micah’s Promise is actively engaging at the state level with the Georgia Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force as well as continuing to provide evidenced based, trauma informed trainings to our community.

Along with our encouragement and excitement is also the hard reality that the need for this therapeutic treatment center is only growing greater by the day. Already this year, over 1,000 children in Georgia, have been identified as victims of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking. I know these numbers make this issue seem daunting, but I also know the power of one person’s persistence and the change that is possible when caring people engage and work together for the good of the most vulnerable and worthy amongst us…our children.

We have many exciting events on the horizon and will be hosting an “On the Table” event at 8:30 am on October 22nd at Christ Community Church and would love to see you and would appreciate you sharing with friends, family and colleagues about our work.

In closing I pray that each of you remain blessed, protected, and especially encouraged that you have played a role in the advancement of our mission to see the Restoration of Stolen Childhoods.

Blessings,

Bobbi Starr

Hebrews 10:35-36

So do not throw away your confidence (hope); it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.

WE PRESS ON!!!!


NORTHSIDE HIGH SCHOOL COMMUNITY TRAINING ON UNDERSTANDING DMST

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Northside High School has been implementing a public relations campaign to bring awareness and education to the issue of Human Trafficking.  They have invited Micah's Promise to provide a FREE evidence based training night for parents, teachers, and students to learn actionable steps to put into place.

The upcoming evidence based training is on February 6th at 6 PM in the Northside Auditorium.  At the training we will discuss:

  • How predators lure children from online interaction on sites like Snapchat and Fortnite.

  • The life of a child victim - the national average age of first trafficking is 11!

  • Which children and teens are most vulnerable to trafficking.

  • Rules for online safety

  • How we can reduce demand

  • And more!

The presenter will be Micah’s Promise Executive Director Bobbi Starr.  Ms. Starr holds a Masters degree in Public Administration & Justice. She has been a victim advocate and community activist in Columbus, Georgia for over 20 years.  She has taught a Human Trafficking course for the Criminal Justice Department of Columbus State University. Micah’s Promise is part of the official Georgia State Human Trafficking Task Force. To learn more visit www.micahspromise.org

If you have questions about the upcoming training please email Emily Styers at styers.emily.v@muscogee.k12.ga.us

New Human Trafficking Legislation shared with Columbus City Council

Executive Director Bobbi Starr went before Columbus City Council on 23 July 2019.

The city council meetings are an excellent opportunity to keep our city officials up to date on the fight to end Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking, and the victories won along the way.

On this day, she shared the news that Governor Kemp passed legislation that means no children will be charged with prostitution. This change in law ends the criminalization of children. Under 18 they are a child, the victim of a crime, and should be treated as such. The Department of Family and Children Services has to provide therapeutic services for children identified as victims of DMST.

The buyers of sex-trafficked children now reach a higher penalty. Traffickers of children can now face 25 years to life in prison.

Micah’s Promise is a partner organization with the Georgia Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force.

As a partner agency with the task force, we created a flyer for Work Group II (Youth Aware and Safe) which promotes the identified best practice curriculums for our school systems. There are seven identified best practice curriculums for Preventing Childhood Sexual Abuse and Exploitation and schools can access this information here: https://georgiacenterforchildadvocacy.org/learn-more/resources/targ-access.html

We created a flyer for our school systems and are working collaboratively to disseminate this information throughout the state by providing our school Superintendents the info. (School TARG Flyer)

To have the most powerful impact, we created a flyer to inform parents. The brochure allows parents to engage and advocate for the identified best practice curriculums as well as learn more about the prevalence of sexual abuse, exploitation, and prevention. (Parent TARG Flyer)

The most important thing is the fact that not only are we fighting to restore sex-trafficked children, but we also need to stop it, we need to prevent it! And prevention is key. Building Towards Wellness Coalition received Columbus Crime Prevention grant funds to offer the Stewards of Children curriculum free in our community. Stewards of Children curriculum teaches adults “how to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.”

If we can prevent childhood sexual abuse, we can prevent the majority of trafficking because the majority of trafficked victims were first sexually abused in early childhood. Shelley Hall, the Director of the Victim's Witness, was conducting a Stewards of Children training. She made the point that if those at the leadership level of our community (City Council) would required city employees to attend stewards of children discipline, we would reach our tipping point.

Micah’s Promise wants to challenge the city council to take the training. The city is already paying for it. Columbus made it free to the community. It's just a two-hour training. We will bring it to you.

“I don't see why we can't get our HR department to see if we can orchestrate some of these training events throughout the city and we'll see if we can get involved in that as well.” - Mayor Henderson

Congratulation Wellspring Living on opening Tiny House Village for Graduates

Recently, we celebrated the completion of our mentors, Tiny Home Village for Wellspring Living graduates at their ribbon cutting ceremony!

Officially named "J & J Village," this beautiful nine-home community is a solution to the housing need for Wellspring Living's adult women program graduates. As survivors continue building their new life, this transitional housing provides them with a safe place that gives them dignity, respects their recovery, and further impacts their families' futures.

Eighty companies, 29 churches, and over 2,000 volunteers are a part of the fantastic efforts in making this three-year dream a reality! We are inspired by what can happen when people come together.

Micah's Promise is also grateful to have the chance to thank First Lady of Georgia Marty Kemp, who was in attendance for her support in the fight against trafficking! Micah's Promise loves our Mentors at Wellspring Living and the hopeful example they set in helping others.

Find out more about Wellspring Living at wellspringliving.com

10 Signs your Child Could be Talking to an Online Predator

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There’s nothing more deceitful than having an adult predator infiltrate the safety of your home through your child’s screen. Below we listed some red flags that your teen could be talking to an online predator.

Spending Excessive Time Online During Late Hours

Although predators prowl the internet at all hours of the day, children are at the greatest risk for being exposed to a predator in the evening. This is because most predators work day jobs and navigate the web at night after work. Children who have 24/7 access to the internet through a phone or computer are also more secluded in their room at night  when there is no parental supervision.

Constantly Receives Phone Calls and Texts from People you Don't Know

If you see a random name or number keep buzzing your child’s phone, don’t hesitate to ask them who their new friend is, how they met, their name, and where they live.

The New Friend Comes out of the Blue

Predators normally find children and initiate conversation with a simple “hello”, then progress to asking about their age, school, address, etc. Most of the time this person is a new player in an online game or a new follower on social media.

Get Irrationally Upset when they Can’t Get Online

Don’t assume your child is just being a brat when they throw a fit about no internet, there could always be a deeper reason. Victims of online grooming often think the predator is their friend or significant other, because of this they don’t want them to get mad if they aren’t online to chat. 

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They Switch Screens or Hide Their Phone When you Walk by

Often times, the predator urges the child to keep their relationship a secret or they could be talking about things your child knows is inappropriate. In these cases, they will try and hide what they are doing online when you are around.

They Start to Withdraw from Activities they Once Loved

One tactic a predator does is isolate and separate the child from family, friends, and activities they once enjoyed. They may convince them that their family doesn’t understand them, and then assert that the predator does. This is a trick used on lonely teenagers, especially when they are going through a hard time or may not have many friends.

Gifts Received from Unknown Sources

Predators try to win over teens with gifts, compliments, and faux kindness. They give children their undivided attention, sympathy, and affection. They normally seem too mushy after only a few messages and want to appear as the knight in shining armour.

You Find Pornography on their Device

A study by Crimes Against Children Research Center revealed that 25% of children have been exposed to unwanted pornographic content online. Predators will send a victim pornography to try and normalize and desensitize sex to them.

Turning Normal Conversations Sexual

Predators like to turn average conversations into physical intimacy. They often share explicit photos and videos, and try to convince the victims to engage in pornography or cybersex.

They’re Keeping the Relationship a Secret

Since the predator knows what they are doing is wrong, they have the child promise to keep their relationship a secret. Victims are unlikely to be transparent about their new “friend” with an adult because they feel uncomfortable and because they feel like they are betraying their “friend”.  

We should note that just because your child ticks one or two of these boxes doesn’t mean that they are talking to an online predator. However, if they are showing a few of these signs, then you should step in and have an honest conversation with them.

To read more about online safety, click here.

What’s Online Grooming and How Can I Protect my Child?

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As insidious as it is, the largest danger to your child could be right inside your house as your child plays on their phone.

With the rise in social media, online gaming, and digital technology, chatting with people across the globe has never been easier. Especially since most kids make their profiles public to gain more followers. The problem is, people are not always who they say they are. The danger? Children talking to predators online and not recognizing the red flags.

What is online grooming?

Online grooming is a term used to describe an adult predator who befriends children online through social media, online forums, and gaming with the purpose of taking advantage of them sexually. This is often a purposefully slow and methodical process. Below are the steps groomers  take.

Targeting

The groomer first has to get a point of contact. They do this by creating fake accounts on sites that target younger audiences and gaining their trust and friendship. They tend to target vulnerable children or children with less parental supervision. However, any child of any race, religion, and socioeconomic background is susceptible to becoming a victim.

Gaining Trust and Control

Once the groomer has the child’s trust they often urge them to keep their relationship a secret and may try to turn the child against their parents. Remember, groomers are ultimate manipulators and disguise their ulterior motives with charm and faux helpfulness.

Many times victims of grooming actually believed the predator was their significant other or friend. 

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Exploiting

Now that the groomer has trust and control over the child they start to push boundaries. They start off with small actions like, talking about sexual subjects, then move on to sending nude pictures, and then may ask to meet in person. This is all a process of desensitizing sex to the child and normalizing these kind of behaviors.

What are some Signs my Child is Being Groomed?

As a parent, it’s important to keep your eye out for certain behaviors that may signify your child is talking to a predator. Here are some common behavior changes:

●      Hiding their phone or switching windows on a laptop as you walk by

●      Increased obsessive behavior with spending time on the internet

●      Using sexual language you wouldn’t expect them to know

●      Emotionally lashing out or becoming more secluded

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What can I do

The most important thing you can do to prevent this is to have an open and honest conversation with your child about online safety and red flags.

Another popular preventive step is to download the app Bark. Bark is a service parents can use that monitors texts, emails, social networks, ect. for signs of harmful interactions and content. You then get alerts when the app detects a potential threat.

Moral of the story, be preventative, know the red flags of online grooming, and make sure your child knows these red flags too.

For more information on grooming and how to talk to your child about it, click here.

How to Talk to your Kids about Online Safety

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Nowadays parents are having “The Talk” earlier than ever. This talk used to be about the birds and the bees, but now it’s focused largely on online safety. It’s up to us as parents to help our children navigate this new online world and prepare them for cyber bullies and online predators.

A Pew Study revealed that 95% of teens now report they have a smartphone or access to one. Because of these connections, 45% of teens now say they are online on a near-constant basis. With all the time spent online, it’s crucial to have a plan in place. Below we give you tips on how to talk to your children about online safety.

Don’t Be Technophobic

It’s important to stay up-to-date in this digital era, you want to be relatable to your child. New technology can be a little daunting, especially if your nine-year-old is way more tech-savvy than you. Start with Youtube videos on topics you are unsure about as they are a great tool for educating and getting you up to speed on technology.

Don’t be afraid to sign yourself up for social media accounts like Instagram or Twitter. Even if you have no intention of posting, it’s worth getting one so you can understand the platform and follow your children and see what they are posting, and what others are commenting on their content.

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Educate Yourself 

First things first. Get educated about some of the main topics of online safety. 

Cyber bullying is one of the topics that have come to light since the internet exploded, it’s easy for kids to hide behind a screen and be mean to one another. According to a Harford County Examiner study, around half of teens have been the victims of cyberbullying and only 1 in 10 victims notify an adult about it. Being bullied online can lead to low self-esteem, depression and suicidal thoughts if not addressed.

Another topic of concern for most parents is the rise of social media. Some kids put their profiles on public so they get more followers. This allows anyone to be able to contact them and see their content. A study recently confirmed that 70% of groomers used Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook. It’s important to make sure your child’s profiles are private and that they know the danger of sharing personal information online.

Finally, as mentioned above, online grooming is an issue that all parents should be educated about. This is when an adult targets children, gains their trust, and exploits them for sexual reasons. The Internet Watch Foundation found that 98% of victims are 13 or younger, and 96% of those victims were girls.  Most children who are groomed online believe that these predators are actually their friend or significant other. If the groomer gets far enough with a child, they can convince them to meet up and this is when abduction may occur. Long story short, tell your child to never chat with someone they don’t know online and never agree to meet a stranger or someone who they believe is a friend, but they met online. 

Other topics to research include online gaming like Fortnite, forum sites like Reddit, and chat rooms like Omegle.

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Establish Family Rules

Being on the internet can eat up a lot of time, and is unhealthy. Make some ground rules around online usage in your home. Some new rules could include:

●      The amount of time and the time of day that can be spent online

●      Have your child agree to never share personal information online and never agree to meet with a stranger or someone who they believe is a friend, but they met online

●      Always respect others online

●      Let an adult know if they feel uncomfortable with a website or person online

Have an Open Conversation

Establish your home as a safe space for your child to open up about questions and issues they have. Make sure to let them know if someone makes them feel uncomfortable to immediately let you know and to save the messages. Go through the different topics as listed above and have a genuine, non-judgemental conversation. It doesn’t matter how old your child is, it is never too late to have a conversation about online safety.

For more information on internet safety, click here.

8 Warning Signs of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking

Know the Warning Signs

Child Sex Trafficking can hide in plain sight.

8 Warning Signs Learn the signs to be a better advocate for children in our community.

1. An older boyfriend.

A significantly older boyfriend creates an unequal power dynamic where a child can be easily controlled.

2. Change in mood or behavior.

A child is not able to process why and how they are in this situation. The trauma may manifest in changes to their personality.

3. Sexually explicit media presence or profile.

Sexually exploited children may appear sexually aggressive in their social media postings.

4. Material possessions they cannot afford or account for

It is illegal for a child to profit from sexual activity yet predators may manipulate, control and continue to exploit children by providing them phones, clothes, nails & hair.

5. Multiple sexually transmitted diseases.

Children should not contract STDs - especially multiple cases or occurrences of STDs.

6. Chronic runaway or homeless.

Children that repeatedly runaway may be trying to escape a bad situation or unknowningly returning to a controlling predator they believe will care for them.

7. Tattoos or branding.

Traffickers treat children as property and may mark the child with the trafficker's name or money signs.

8. Family history in commercial sex industry.

A family normalization of sex work makes a child especially vulnerable to being trafficked.

Learn more about how traffickers lure kids online, how traffickers manipulate kids, and how we can fight to end this! Take the FREE Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking 101 prevention and awareness class.

5th Annual Community Roundtable on DMST with Kevin McNeil

This year’s Annual Community Roundtable Training was a SOLD OUT EVENT.

Micah’s Promise had the privilege to welcome in a special keynote speaker. Former Special Victims’ Detective Kevin McNeil is an author and speaker that uses his unique combinations of experiences to share a powerful message about Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking.

Former Detective Kevin McNeil was presented with a proclamation from the City of Columbus. Mr. McNeil presented us with his personal survivor story and insight on how the judicial system treats other survivors. He shared the difficulty of boys and men to disclose child abuse. Finally, he ended strongly with a call for proactive demand reduction efforts.

Kevin McNeil has also written several books for advocates, families, and children that walk the reader through the signs, effects, and ways to combat the sexual abuse of children.

Community Advocates from around our city and state were in the room as well. It was a great time to see the collaborative nature of our community in action: sharing knowledge, motivating each other, and addressing the big picture.