For more information on Wellspring Living and how you can help, visit www.wellspringliving.org.
The leader of an organization that works with women and girls who have been victims of sexual abuse and underage prostitution shared her story Thursday in Forsyth County.
Mary Frances Bowley, president of Wellspring Living, addressed members of the Rotary Club of Forsyth County during the group’s lunch meeting.
Bowley said by age 18, one in four young women have been victimized sexually in some way.
She founded the organization in 2001 to help women from metro Atlanta who had been victims of childhood sex abuse.
For the next six years, the program, which she said focuses on healing “the body, soul and spirit,” saw great success.
In 2007, Bowley said then-Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin asked if she would help with the issue of sex trafficking of young girls in the city.
Bowley said she began to research the issue, and discovered that about 400 girls between ages 12 and 17 are lured into prostitution every month in metro Atlanta.
“These young girls are expected to perform eight to 10 sex acts every night and bring in at least $1,000 for their pimps,” she said.
“Once they get involved in this, their expected life span is only seven more years due to the violence and issues with HIV and AIDS. I just couldn’t know what I knew and not get involved.”
In December 2007, Bowley said she and other volunteers at Wellspring began a partnership with the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home in Palmetto.
Through the partnership, Wellspring was provided several cottages on the Children’s Home property to house sex trafficking victims.
In March 2008, Bowley met with Gov. Sonny Perdue about the Wellspring programs.
“I’d heard that you’d go in and talk for 15 minutes and he’d smile and pat you on the back,” Bowley said. “But 37 minutes later, he wanted me to meet with Mary [Purdue] and other government officials. He said, ‘We need to do something about this.’”
Bowley said a task force was formed and Georgia is now the only state in the nation that has “a broad scope approach and response to the issue of child sex trafficking.”
The efforts have brought Wellspring national and international acclaim. Bowley said groups from Houston, the United Nations and Romania will visit in the next few months to learn more about how to run successful child rescue organizations.
Wellspring’s success rate is about 84 percent, she said.
While some may think child prostitution isn’t an issue in Forsyth County, Juvenile Court Judge Rusty Jackson said he does see such cases.
One case was sent to Wellspring Living, he said, and the girl successfully completed the program.
“Since she’s completed that program, I haven’t had any more dealings with her, as opposed to about once every month having her file back on my desk,” Jackson said. “I’m assuming no news is good news.
“These things do affect Forsyth County, and I’m sure there’s many more cases out there that we’re just not aware of.”