By Gracie Bonds Staples The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) With her "TrueNorth Freedom Project", Anne Kerr wants to teach families how, in a culture obsessed with sex, to normalize conversations about it.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Recently after a reader introduced me to Anne Kerr, founder of TrueNorth Freedom Project, in an email, I got a chance to meet and talk to her about the work she has been doing around stopping human trafficking.
That work began, interestingly, in 2009 when the youngest of Kerr's three children, then a freshman at Davidson College, returned home for a weekend only to find herself writing a term paper about human trafficking.
The topic horrified Kerr. In all her years, she'd never heard of such a thing.
"I couldn't sleep that night," she said. "The thought of children being sold for sex plagued me."
Kerr needed to know more and soon thereafter read a book titled "Not for Sale," an eye-opening account of the $32 billion-a-year business, including personal accounts of the victims, survivors and activists.
"There were people who needed rescuing, but there was also a bigger system in place that was leading to the exploitation of women, men, boys and girls," Kerr said. "Without demand, without buyers, there would be no sex trafficking."
If you've been keeping up with recent news, you know how that can happen. Children looking for love in all the wrong places. Teens seeking modeling careers. Women, many from foreign countries, seeking a better life only to find themselves trapped in a cycle of abuse.
Just three weeks ago, I told you about efforts to go after "johns" who are fueling these transactions.
After that, I introduced experts who weighed in on why those johns often include rich men like New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who was arrested recently in connection with a sting at a Florida massage parlor.
Kerr's friend reached out to me, but so did a dozen or so others, including Danny Agan Sr., a retired Atlanta police lieutenant.
Agan assured me that no matter their economic standing, men buying sex is really quite common.
"Men want sex and they want it bad enough to go to whatever extremes are available to get it," he wrote in an email.
Many are married men on their way home from work or out for a quick errand, picking up streetwalking women or men for a quick sexual encounter before returning home to their wives. They do this, Agan said, unprotected, disregarding the risk of catching a disease, getting robbed, or getting arrested.
"Sometimes these crimes did not involve the exchange of money, it was just a way to scratch the itch so both parties could go home happy," he said.
Agan recalled the time a South Georgia preacher came to Atlanta expecting the anonymity a big city offers but got caught in a police stakeout targeting male prostitution. Both sellers and buyers were arrested.
Kerr, who after reading "Not for Sale" signed up to volunteer at Not for Sale Georgia, had seen this cycle in full bloom. She was still with the nonprofit when she met Jeff Shaw, founder of Out of Darkness, another anti-trafficking organization.
"I really began to see prostitution differently," Kerr told me. "I began to see how just a few different life circumstances and choices and that could have been me. Interestingly, I also began to see the men who were fueling this needed a rescue too, but of a different kind."
Kerr was serving as the executive director of Out of Darkness when she began to feel God calling her in a different direction.
It happened in 2013 when a friend shared a post about a pimp who was sentenced to life in prison for trafficking a minor.
Kerr thought about all the men who had bought that child for sex. The buyers' lives remained unchanged.
But this girl's life and the pimp's life were forever changed.
Kerr sensed opportunity.
Instead of focusing on pimps and prostitutes, she decided it was time to help parents understand the sacredness of sexuality and the worth of every person created in God's image, and then lead their children to do the same.
Specifically, she wanted to teach them how, in a culture obsessed with sex, to normalize conversations about it, to see it from God's perspective and thus fill a void she saw in the church.
"Most Christians don't know how to talk about sex, the goodness of it nor the struggles related to it," Kerr said. "Sexual desires are good but also powerful. Too often, they lead to risky behavior, including buying people for sex."
Kerr founded TrueNorth.
In 2017, she reached out to a group of young mothers and asked if they could talk. They gathered one evening in one of their homes. Kerr showed them how to have better and more consistent conversations with their children about sexuality, starting when they were toddlers. She introduced them to books that they could read that would affirm their children's sexuality like "God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies" and "The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality." They loved it. They wanted Kerr to speak to their husbands, too.
The more talks she held, the more invitations she received, from churches, Christian schools and parent groups.
She called the conversations "Allies: Parents and Kids Navigating a Sexualized Culture."
"It's hard to walk alone in this sexualized culture, and the stakes are really high right now," she said. "The sex buyers of tomorrow are growing up in homes today. What are they learning? We're all made in God's image, worthy of honor and respect. I just don't know if kids are really learning that."
Kerr suggests parents think back to their growing-up years. If sex was confusing for them, think how their children must feel. She suggests parents read books about healthy sexuality with kids early before they begin to feel shame or experience their own sexual struggles, and become the ally their kids need.
If you want to hear more about that, she'd love to bring her talk to your church or school. You can email Kerr at [email protected]
"Most parents don't really understand the sacredness of sexuality. You can't give away what you don't have," she said. "That's why I think our work is so needed."
I couldn't agree more. ___ FREE RESOURCE 10 Tips for Talking With Your Kids About Bodies, Porn, and Sex, For parents of toddlers through teens Log onto truenorthfp.org.