Sex trafficking is a gruesome subject. The horrifying nature of the issue is perhaps a large reason why the problem is so pervasive and yet so low-profile. It is difficult to properly discuss the details of what happens to a woman…or a child, in many cases…who has been forced into sexual slavery.

We are loathe to admit that it happens here in this great country, but it does.

One Atlanta-area advocacy group is taking a new approach to fighting the scourge of human trafficking. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the International Human Trafficking Institute (IHTI) recently launched a shocking new billboard campaign aimed at addressing the root of the problem – perpetrators.

The campaign launched May 21 and is a series of pictures showing bruised and haggard looking dolls, meant to represent the victims of trafficking, particularly children. Each billboard includes a message to those abusers who pay to degrade children.

“Once you’re in prison for raping me, you’ll see what it feels like.”

“You found me on the internet, your family will find you in jail.”

“Molested at 12. Sold by dad. Forced on drugs. Raped 8X a day.”

The mastermind behind the campaign is Michael Dunn, CEO of Legend ad agency. He says the goal is to speak directly to predators.

The billboards, he said, were designed to get into the predator’s mind, deconstruct his motivations and destroy his justifications. He doesn’t see his behavior as destructive but rather transactional. He has blinded himself to the truth, the horrors he creates, the irreparable damage he does to these innocent children who have absolutely no choice — and never have.

Not only are we numb to that pain, Dunn said research shows predators rarely even see children as human but rather objects.

What’s more, the ads are strategically placed along the highways that lead to some of the wealthiest areas of Atlanta. This is no accident. Executive Director of the IHTI Deborah Richardson says it is important for people to understand these predators walk among them daily.

 …a national study by U.S.-based Demand Abolition, which campaigns against the sex trade, indicates only a small percentage of people — mostly men — buy sex with children, but here’s the real problem: They do it a lot.

They are, in fact, responsible for 75 percent of the market. What might surprise most of you is here in Georgia, the majority of men buying sex with children live north of I-285. The vast majority have incomes of $100,000 or above. They’re privileged, upstanding businessmen.

“If we can get the public to come out of denial about who is perpetrating this crime, then there would be more outrage and a public will to arrest these predators,” Richardson said, “but because they operate in anonymity, there is no societal pressure to stop.”

Richardson goes on to say that it is no longer acceptable to simply keep patching up a leaky boat. Arresting the traffickers themselves is only a small part of the equation. We must go straight to the root of the problem in order to end the demand.

“We can’t continue to put a Band-Aid on this,” she said. “This is a serious gaping wound in our city and our state, and we need to focus on the source of why it’s happening in the first place. We’ve got to go up the river with this.”

The campaign will run until mid-June.