Jada Pinkett Smith leads CNN special about Atlanta sex trade

CNN is using the power of celebrity in the form of actress Jada Pinkett Smith to draw more attention to a serious documentary about child sex trafficking in Atlanta airing Tuesday night.

“As a mother, as a human being,” Pinkett Smith intones into the camera as the special opens, “this is something that is simply unacceptable. I want to show you traffickers, girls affected and the people fighting back against modern-day slavery.”

Called “Children for Sale: The Fight to End Human Trafficking,” the one-hour special is a collaboration between CNN’s documentary unit and its Freedom Project, a long-term effort that began in 2011 to shed light on a tragic worldwide phenomenon. Over four years, CNN and CNN International have aired more than 400 stories and documentaries on the subject.

Michael Bass, vice president of programming for CNN, said Pinkett Smith is deeply passionate about battling this problem.

“Jada was fully committed,” Bass said. “She’s a really smart lady. This is not a superficial celebrity appearance, saying a few words, in and out. She’s passionate, very knowledgeable. She’s an expert. She did the research with our team. She dove in and asked great questions.”

Pinkett Smith got involved after her daughter Willow, at age 11, told her about a story she had read about kids her age being traded for sex. Smith didn’t believe it until she did her own research, and soon became an advocate against it. She did the special for no compensation. She acted as both journalist and commentator, squeezing time last year in between her acting jobs such as Fox’s “Gotham.”

At one point, CNN interviewed Pinkett Smith herself. She becomes teary-eyed talking about the victims: “They’re not throwaways. … They are human beings and they are lights and they have power and they have so much to offer if we just have the love and the humanity to give them a chance.”

CNN followed Sgt. Torrey Kennedy, head of the Internet Crimes Against Children Division in DeKalb County, as he conducted undercover raids to arrest suspected traffickers and rescue underage girls. Pinkett Smith confronted a convicted female trafficker. And they interviewed one teen victim who recalled being forced to have sex with almost 40 different men in one night.

Leif Coorlim, who heads the CNN Freedom Project, said human trafficking rings all over the world use similar psychological tactics to draw unsuspecting girls into their fold. Atlanta, he said, is one of the larger hubs for the sex trade, fueled in part by the size and scope of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

He said he hopes specials like this will help people see these girls more as victims than criminals or prostitutes and to stop using terms like “john” and “pimp” for those who lord over them. Instead, CNN used the term “exploiters” or in some cases “child rapists” or “pedophiles.”

Dalia Racine, an assistant district attorney for DeKalb County, is featured in the special. “She’s a powerhouse,” Coorlim said. “Her entire docket is filled with human trafficking.”

Coorlim said progress is being made, especially in Fulton and DeKalb counties. And Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill in May tightening child sex trafficking laws.

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