Sexual assault victim shares experience during minor sex trafficking roundtable event in Columbus

Sexual assault victim shares experience during minor sex trafficking roundtable event in Columbus

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Every 10 seconds is how often advocates say sexual assault or abuse happens in America.

April is highlighted as Sexual Assault Awareness Month to shine a light on the issue locally. Organizers put together the fifth annual Community Roundtable Training on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking in Columbus.

The keynote speaker Thursday morning, Kevin McNeil, was sexually assaulted at only 12 years old. His main message was educate, teach our youth what is okay and what is not.

“Well my story, at the age of 12, I was walking home from a friend’s house and I took a shortcut because I was missing curfew and I didn’t want to make my mom upset. I was abducted by a grown man," McNeil said. "He dragged me under a set of bleachers to sexually assault me and rape me, then once he was done, he got on top of me and tried to murder me, kill me.”

McNeil, an army veteran, former special victims’ detective, is also a survivor of sexual abuse. He helps victims who share similar experiences as well as those trafficked.

“Trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation of children, or domestic minor sex trafficking is when you exchange anything of value with a child in exchange for a sex act,” according to Bobbi Starr, executive director of Micah’s Promise.

McNeil said no one talks about sex trafficking and sexual abuse enough, even though it is happening every 10 seconds in America.

“So last year, Georgia Cares identified through work with law enforcement almost 800 children who were trafficking victims in the state of Georgia,” said Starr.

“There’s a market for it. We’re not punishing them enough," McNeil said. "It’s amazing we’ll confiscate houses and cars of those who sell drugs, but we won’t do the same for those who buy children.”

The goal behind the training is education, raising awareness about the issue, and teaching parents to talk to their children at a young age about what is appropriate and what is not.

“Each time I tell my story, I have to go back under those bleachers and visit that little boy again" McNeil said. "So that becomes difficult but it’s worth it. It’s worth it to see other people come out of their prisons when I show them how I came out of mine.”

There is a child advocacy center at the Columbus Police Department. McNeil said he hopes trainings like this will prompt more organizations to take initiative. Micah’s Promise, the organization that hosted this event, is actually raising money right now to build a treatment center that would have beds for 12 girls.

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