DeKalb, Fulton win grants to fight child exploitation

The Justice Department on Tuesday announced it is awarding grant money it hopes will help topple Atlanta from its rank among the top child prostitution capitals in the nation.

"This funding will assist in the fight against unfathomable crimes," said Bernard Melekian, director of the agency's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

More than 150 jurisdictions nationwide sought shares of $9.2 million in grant money to enhance investigations and prosecutions of child predator crimes. Two grants were awarded here -- $496,793 to DeKalb County and $352,803 to the Fulton District Attorney's Office.

Kaffie McCullough, of the Atlanta nonprofit Juvenile Justice Fund, welcomed the funding, estimating that 7,200 men every month in Georgia are purchasing sex from adolescent girls.

"As a community, we must all be saying, ‘This must stop,' " she said. "The children deserve protection and their exploiters must be brought to justice."

DeKalb Police Chief William O'Brien said his force will use the money to buy a mobile forensic unit to take to crime scenes of child sex crimes. It will also be used to help train officers on the intricacies of child exploitation that begin on the Internet.

"As we all know," O'Brien said, "the Internet's a dangerous place. Children are on it everyday, predators are on it everyday."

Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard said his office will use the money to hire a specially trained prosecutor and investigator to work in his Crimes Against Women & Children Unit.

This year, Howard said, that unit obtained its 47th conviction against a child pimp. The office will also use the money to help educate the community about "boyfriends" -- individuals who begin seeing women "so they can try to creep into homes with little boys and girls" and then take advantage of them, he said.

Metro Atlanta is one of the top five cities nationwide with regard to the sex trafficking of children, GBI Director Vernon Keenan said.

"There is no higher priority in the state of Georgia than the protection of our children," he said. "Sexual predators deserve our attention and they're going to get it."