Group brings attention to 'voiceless children'

Making people aware
Elizabeth Smith and her brother Tim have started I'm Aware to educate people about human trafficking. The group has outposts in Augusta, where Elizabeth lives, and Charlotte, N.C., where Tim lives, and is expanding to Los Angeles.

It all started with a newscast.

Elizabeth Smith's brother saw a TV report on the work being done to combat sex slavery along the India-Nepal border, and it was just too much to believe.

"It was right there on CNN," Smith said. "My oldest brother, Tim, was watching and it really affected him. He was up all night."

That's when the Smiths learned that human trafficking -- the buying and selling of people for sex or forced labor -- wasn't just a problem in far-off countries.

Atlanta is a hotbed for human trafficking. An estimated 405 young girls are prostituted each month in Georgia, according to a January 2010 fact sheet from the Governor's Office for Children and Families. Most are just 12 to 14 years old.

The report says that Atlanta was named by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as one of 14 cities in the nation with the highest incidence of child prostitution.

In response, the governor's office formed a Care Connection Office to connect sex trafficking victims to essential services and support. A Sex Trafficking Assessment Team was created to identify children suspected to be victims.

The problem, Smith says, is that too few people even know about the problem, let alone offer resources and solutions.

That's why earlier this month she and her brother launched I'm Aware. It's a Christian-based human trafficking organization with outposts in Augusta, where Elizabeth lives; Charlotte, N.C., where Tim lives; and soon, Los Angeles, where a nephew resides.

Their goals are three-fold -- for "today, tomorrow and eternity," Elizabeth Smith said. For today, I'm Aware aims to bring awareness of the global sex trade. For tomorrow, the group hopes to build an organization that forces societal change through the awareness it's built. For eternity, Smith says the founders of I'm Aware want to make the world a better place by enabling everyday people to fight injustice.

"As a Christian, I can chose to sacrifice my time and money, my whole heart for voiceless children," Smith said. "Our God says they have worth. Our God says they are human beings, not a commodity."

Smith, 27, is a member of True North Church in North Augusta and is self-employed. She has long been active in missions, serving on trips to Guatemala, Uganda and southeast Asia.

"Justice issues are important things to us as a church," said Mike Fiedler, the missions pastor of the church. "Our church has taken on issues of injustice, especially water issues. But we can't hit every issue. It's powerful to see our folks going out there and pursuing those other issues of injustice that just break their heart. We love that fact. We need more folks who will go out and do something. Elizabeth is one of them."

On Friday, I'm Aware held its first in-home rally for about 50 people. Others are being scheduled throughout the year, and churches and organizations can invite the group to present.

At each gathering, a film on human trafficking will be shown and attendees are given information to connect them with resources and organizations to support and learn more.

"We don't have the means to go out into countries and get these girls out of brothels. But we can raise awareness, and in turn, people are moved to do something about it," Smith said. "Even if it's just 10 people, some of those will go on to host their own rallies."

The organization's logo reflects that mission. It's a fist in the shape of an octagon, like a stop sign. It's blue and green, reflecting the global focus of the group, and the grass roots ethic of its founders.

"We can't underestimate the power of word-of-mouth and all the ways awareness can spread," Smith said. "I considered myself fairly aware, and somehow I missed this. It's cool to know what's going on in the world. It's not cool to be oblivious."

Although the organization is Christian, Smith said she hopes to work with people of all backgrounds.

"This goes beyond the issues of religious belief. This is an issue of basic human rights, the ones we're all born with," she said. "The greatest commandment God has given us is to love. This is the greatest expression of love I can give."

Learn more

- Learn more about I'm Aware, a new human trafficking awareness organization in Augusta, at imaware.tv.

- For more information on efforts to eradicate child sex slavery in Georgia, visit streetgrace.org or call (678) 990-9513.

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