Genise Shelton: “Our Children’s Keeper”
One woman’s quest to prevent and save children from sex trafficking.
by Jamie Rollo
The “Land of the Free” is coincidentally home to a multi-million dollar underground slavery industry. Referred to by researchers as the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST), the industry pulls in thousands of minors across the United States according to Shared Hope International, and the repercussions are not only highly physical but deeply emotional as well.
Horrified by the personal anecdotes she heard from affected families at a benefit dinner in Washington D.C, one Atlanta native decided she needed to put her efforts toward this growing problem. Genise Shelton, a star of Bravo’s reality television show Married to Medicine, created her organization “Our Children’s Keeper” in 2017.
“As I did my own research, I came to find out it’s a true epidemic, not only in D.C. but across the country,” Shelton said. “These traffickers here in Atlanta are selling the innocence of our children. Being a mother of six kids myself, there is no way that I can sit back and be silent.”
Shelton had always been a communicator and public figure. She started out modeling and acting in Los Angeles before becoming a television producer for Turner Broadcasting. She then married her wife, Dr. Courtney Shelton, and became a cast member on Married to Medicine.
“Our Children’s Keeper” is Shelton’s pride and joy. Through her Atlanta-based organization, Shelton hosts all types of events including 5K’s and benefit dinners in the community. The money raised from these events is used to help families pay for private investigator fees, attorney fees and burial costs. Her organization also helps victims who have been returned get therapy, counseling and anything they might need to recover and to feel confident in themselves in order for future success.
Shelton also takes to social media to raise awareness of those who have gone missing. On the organization’s website and social media pages, she shares identifying information about victims, including their height, weight, appearance and where they were last seen.
In order to fully help victims, Shelton has learned a lot about the underground culture that runs sex trafficking, and the inner workings are truly horrifying. According to Shelton, predators come in all shapes, sizes, colors and genders depending on the victim they are trying to obtain, and will typically track the victim’s patterns.
Predators will notice if a victim has a bad home life, if they are frequently home alone (and at what exact times that victim is alone) and any other weakness that can be an opportunity for them to capture the victim.
Predators can look like a young man wooing a girl into a relationship, establishing a dependency and trapping her from ever being saved. In these situations, it becomes difficult for people to intervene because these victims do become attached to their “pimp”, which makes it challenging for officials to step in.
They can also come in the form of a female with a mother/grandmother complex. Younger children are typically drawn to those with motherly instincts and will more likely listen and trust a mother-type character allowing traffickers to easily lure them.
Atlanta currently has safe houses for these victims, however, according to the Shelton those places are not exactly “safe.”
“I’m actually locating real estate now so that I can actually create a safe house,” said Shelton. “The one thing about Atlanta is that there are only a few safe houses, and the unfortunate thing is that the predators know exactly where these safe houses are.”
When Shelton is able to open this new safe house, she is going to offer counseling and physical health services, including OBGYNs, for the victims staying there. Victims are often referred to doctors in some safe houses, but the services are never offered on site, which is what Shelton plans to do.
Shelton’s main goal for running “Our Children’s Keeper” is to ensure that those coming to her for help are coming to her with legitimate cases; anytime she is contacted she requires a police report of some sort. Occasionally, Shelton will have predators contact her looking for children, and often exploit her aide in order to get to victims. She always makes sure to look for the obvious red flags that victims may be waving.
“There are certain things that you look for in a child,” Shelton explained. “Anytime I’m talking to a child and I’m asking them for their cell phone numbers, the fact that they can’t give me their cell phone number is a red flag. Anytime I’m talking to them and they can’t give me direct eye contact, is another red flag. Anytime they can’t give me their address, anytime they don’t have a permit or an ID on them, anytime they’re with an adult and they can’t speak for themselves, those are all red flags.”
Sex trafficking has become a large epidemic in the United States. According to Shared Hope International, an organization that researches DMST, this happens because of the country’s “culture that glamorizes pimping and prostitution.”
DMST is a supply and demand business, and those who trafficked victims are typically interested in making the large sums of money within an industry estimated to gross $32 to $92 billion. If caught, predators will face heavy jail time; however, those buying into these services, unfortunately, rarely face any consequences.
This growing criminal market can seem to be a problem that is completely out of your hands. However, through Shelton’s website, ourchildrenskeeper.org, you can donate, find event schedules and get notified of missing children across the country, which you can then share to spread the word about those who have gone missing.
Our Children’s Keeper Foundation, Inc. was created to help end modern day slavery of child sex trafficking and recover abducted and missing children in Atlanta and surrounding areas. OCK works to prevent the sexual exploitation of youth and helps current victims find confidence, strength and stability beyond the limitations of their current lifestyle. For more information and to get involved, visit ourchildrenskeeper.org.