Georgia set to open first residential center for sex-trafficked youths

Gov. Brian Kemp and his wife, Marty, attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, for the Receiving Hope Center, Georgia s first residential intake center for trafficked youth. (credit: Georgia governor’s office)

Georgia’s youngest victims of sex trafficking now have a place to call home while they get the medical and psychological help they need. The state’s first residential intake center for trafficked youth will open its doors next week.

Nearly 300 people, including state leaders, attended Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting for the Receiving Hope Center, located in Paulding County. Gov. Brian Kemp, accompanied by his wife, spoke to the crowd inside the center’s gym.

“This is a historic day in our state,” Kemp said. “There is no one else nationwide that is doing as much as our first lady of Georgia Marty Kemp, the GRACE Commission, local and state partners to address the issue of human trafficking. Survivors will have a foundation of healing that will kick-start their journey to recovery.”

The facility is Georgia's latest step in the fight against sex trafficking. The Kemps founded the GRACE Commission — or Georgians for Refuge, Action, Compassion, and Education — shortly after the governor took office. In January, Kemp introduced legislation to target "modern slavery" by toughening the penalties for sex traffickers. Fighting trafficking requires a collaboration among various groups, including both government leaders and community groups, Kemp said Tuesday.

» RELATED: 4 Atlanta-area hotels face federal sex trafficking lawsuits

State Attorney General Chris Carr, GBI Director Vic Reynolds and Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Tyrone Oliver also attended the event.

“We’re not going to take it in Georgia anymore,” Carr said.

The Receiving Hope Center, Georgia’s first residential intake center for trafficked youth, has 20 bedrooms, classrooms and living spaces. (credit: Alexis Stevens / astevens@ajc.com)

The center will be run by the nonprofit Wellspring Living and will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Victims who are referred to the center will be given medical care and psychiatric evaluation, along with any needed treatment. The center has 20 private rooms with bathrooms, each individually designed to create a comforting environment. Trafficking victims ages 12 to 17 can be housed at the center, according to Wellspring Living.

“We are excited that we can welcome anyone across the gender spectrum,” Lee Hendrickson, the group’s chief operating officer, said Tuesday.

The Receiving Hope Center, Georgia’s first residential intake center for trafficked youth, has 20 bedrooms, classrooms and living spaces. (credit: Alexis Stevens / astevens@ajc.com)

The center also has classrooms, a kitchen area and various living spaces, all designed to provide a temporary home while the young victims get the help they need after being rescued.

The Receiving Hope Center, Georgia’s first residential intake center for trafficked youth, has 20 bedrooms, classrooms and living spaces. (credit: Alexis Stevens / astevens@ajc.com)

One by one, staff members of the Receiving Hope Center were introduced Tuesday, along with various community leaders who have worked on preparing the facility.

And Lisa Stierwalt, volunteer manager with Wellspring Living, sang a song during the event that delivered a poignant message about the importance of rescuing vulnerable victims.

“I will send out an army to find you in the middle of the darkest night. It’s true. I will rescue you.”

Those attending the ribbon-cutting were given maroon, silver and white balloons and asked to release them while thinking of the estimated hundreds of young trafficking victims in Georgia.

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