AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Judge Chanette Lewis sits on the bench for Richmond County Juvenile Court. She sees first hand how broken some of the children are who come through her courtroom.
“A lot of times we do have children out here who are doing things because they don’t have shoes, because they don’t have clothes, because our girls out here they want their hair done, they want their nails done,” said Judge Chanette Lewis, Richmond County Juvenile Court.
It’s that want or need that’s putting them at higher risk of becoming a trafficking victim. They’re promised the item or service they want, in exchange for sex. Judge Lewis says it’s a huge problem in Richmond County, which is why in June, she started Project LIFTT – it stands for “Living In Freedom Through Truth”.
“This is a treatment court and we see it as just that. We want you to get the services you need, we want to know if there’s anything you need,” said Judge Lewis.
So here’s how it works. A girl or boy, often from runaway or missing school cases, would be referred by Child Services for some sort of court action. If a forensic evaluation determines they’re at “high risk” behavior of becoming a trafficking victim, they’re put through Project LIFTT.
Every month, case workers meet with each other to get updates on the child’s case and make sure he or she is still following the action plan.
“Holding them accountable means that they’re going to have to show up for the program, and they’re going to have to put their part in for what we’re doing,” said Dr. Audrey Armistad, Juvenile Court Program Coordinator.
Dr. Audrey Armistad oversees these juvenile court programs. She says accountability sometimes means putting an app on the child’s phone to track where they are. They also have daily check-ins.
“The girls that are confirmed are at the school in our after-school program every day. So if they’re missing then we are able to immediately ask ‘where is this kid?’ ” said Dr. Armistad.
While prevention is key an even bigger goal is to keep these children from being locked up – and the reason WHY: the potential victim can quickly become a potential trafficker.
“A lot of girls come from different areas and they’re all in one facility. They’ve been exposed to these type of behaviors. And when they find that a child is there because of runaway issues on an apprehension order, they’re really smart, they know what all of this stuff means,” said Judge Lewis.
It’s learned behavior that leaders of Project LIFTT are trying to get them away from. And it seems that some of these children are ready to get away from it as well.
“They’ve been through so much that they’re finally glad to get in to a place where people are not judgemental, especially getting in front of a judge who is saying ‘I’m not here to punish you. But we’re here to help you but I’m also going to hold you accountable,” said Dr. Armistad.
Right now, 27 children are in the program. For Judge Lewis, that’s 27 she’s managed to help make better decisions. And even if the wins seem small, they all add up to something that will become much bigger and better for their futures.
“When I see a child that has been on the run for weeks at a time or months at a time, and they give us a weekend at home? That is a celebration for me,” said Judge Lewis.
Learn more about Project LIFTT
Briuana Franklin, Case Manager
Work: (706) 796-4965 ext. 1323
Cell: (706) 305-6495
Tubman Education Center – 3rd Floor
1740 Walton Way
Augusta, GA 30904
TUNE IN NEXT WEEK (Tuesday, October 17th): Barclay will share how several local organizations are helping child trafficking victims heal.
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS IN IMMEDIATE DANGER, CALL 911
If you’re a human trafficking victim or have information about a potential trafficking situation:
NHTRC is a national, toll-free hotline, with specialists available to answer calls from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, seven days a week
Submit a tip online: https://humantraffickinghotline.org/en/report-trafficking
To report trafficking in Georgia Call: 1-866-END-HTGA
*Press Option #1 to report a tip to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI)
*Press Option #2 to report a child sex trafficking case directly
*Press Option #3 if you’re an adult requesting assistance from a trafficking situation
South Carolina 2022 Annual Report: Human Trafficking Task Force