The number of sexually exploited children in Sandy Springs may seem low, but even one is one too many.
Carl Fredrik Skow, who lives in Norcross and works at Cox Enterprises in Sandy Springs, is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court, today, on federal charges for sex trafficking of a child.
The arrest was a result of an investigation by the GBI’s Human Trafficking Unit, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Sandy Springs Police Department.
“He was trying to purchase a child online for money,” said SSPD Det. Elizabeth Concepcion, a lead investigator on the case. “This individual made contact via the internet with purchasing a child for sexual purposes.”
works on Internet crime cases and investigations that involve the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.
A new law that fights human trafficking; provides greater support for victims; and training for law enforcement investigating such crimes went into effect this month.
State Rep. Ed Lindsey sponsored legislation of House Bill 200. During a Sandy Springs Town Hall meeting in May, Lindsey, who represents Sandy Springs and Buckhead said the Atlanta metro area is hub for human trafficking.
“Most of us in Sandy Springs and Buckhead don’t usually think about it, but it has turned out to be an enormous problem for our area,” Lindsey said. "Keep in mind this is not a situation where you are talking about these young people having a choice. They are brought into this by the use of drugs; the use of physical violence; by the use of threats of physical violence and deception.”
A Victim’s Advocate in Sandy Springs
What is human trafficking?
“In this context, it’s the selling of a person or coercion of them to do anything sexually, be it house to house, state to state, neighborhood to neighborhood,” said Elizabeth Goatley, a victim’s advocate, who works within the Sandy Springs Police Department. Last year, she worked with 14 girls under the age of 17 who were sexually exploited.
“Some of the girls have been pimped out; forced into prostitution; forced into taking drugs,” said Goatley. “[Often it’s] a runaway that got caught up with a pimp. Or they knew the pimp but didn’t know that’s what they were getting into. And they are usually forced into some type of sexual behavior. Sometimes they are kept. Sometimes they are allowed to go back home."
Goatley provides emotional and moral support for victims as their cases are investigated. Some victims go to safe haven homes. Others return to their families, but trauma remains. Goatley says victims need a constant face throughout the investigation, and even afterwards, that they can trust. That’s where she comes in. Victims can call her 24 hours a day.
One of the victims Goatley worked with had met an older man on a chat line. The victim met him and was unable to return home. She was located but would sometimes leave home again, unable to get back.
“Every so often I would get a phone call late at night, or I would get a text late at night saying, ‘Miss Elizabeth, I’m stranded somewhere. I can’t get home. Can you come get me.’ I would put the services in place to go get her,” Goatley said.
SSPD fights against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children
In 2009, Sandy Springs Police Det. Jeff Thomas wrote a proposal for a grant to help the city protect sexually exploited children.
During the course of police work, Thomas said there were several cases of young runaway girls who were being sexually exploited. He was an investigator on the case of Johnathan Terry, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for raping and pimping out a 14-year-old Sandy Springs girl.
That case drew the attention of several victims’ advocates, Thomas said. One of them informed him of a Georgia grant for victims' services though the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children - a division of Georgia Care Connection.
“My motivation was that once [the runaways] would go to juvenile court, the judge would send them back home,” Thomas said. And many times the girls would runaway again and again.
“I researched what it would take to provide services for counseling and a safe haven,” he added.
The CSEC grant, which is $120,000 per year for three years includes Goatley’s salary, a partnership with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for medical exams, and arrangements for counseling and a safe place to stay, if needed, through Wellspring Living.
What Parents Can Do
Although every child may not be a runaway, all sexually exploited children are not necessarily runaways either.
Goatley and Dets. Concepcion and Thomas advise parents to stay aware of their children’s activities. Know who they are texting and talking to online.
Human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children is very clandestine and underground, Goatley emphasized. “Nobody is going to knock at your door and say, 'Can I steal your child and exploit them?' " she said.
Practically all of the victims that Goatley has worked with have been sexually, physically or emotionally abused, which eats away at the victim’s personal power and self-esteem, and makes them vulnerable to coercion and exploitation.
Goatley says her goal is to make victims aware that they have options in life.
“I never want my victims to say, ‘Miss Elizabeth, the only option I have is to be a stripper. Or the only option I have is to sell myself, or use my body as my only option to get anything,” she said.