Oconee benefits from trafficking forum - Oconee Enterprise: Online Features

     Watkinsville, Oconee County, Georgia

Oconee benefits from trafficking forum

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Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2018 12:00 pm

In bringing attention to an upcoming human trafficking forum, I’ve wanted to get something off my chest. 

Not a week goes by I don’t think of a mistake this newspaper made almost five years ago. 

It was unprincipled, cruel, and for some people, unforgiveable. 

In November of that year, The Oconee Enterprise printed the names of underage victims of a sexual molestation. The now-retired writer and editor responsible for this journalistic failure apologized the following week, but truthfully, no repentance could undo the harm inflicted on those girls.

What The Oconee Enterprise did was an assault against victims of abuse. The public shaming of this newspaper, in my opinion, was completely justifiable at the time. 

“I’m embarrassed that our community paper has so little respect for the innocent,” one person wrote. 

“You should be ashamed of yourselves!” another person opined. 

“I don’t know why people continue to subscribe,” someone said. “They have no respect.”

“A totally classless move, and I expected as much,” one woman wrote. “The exact reason that I will never give The Oconee Surprise a darn dime.” 

Here’s the one that hurt the most: “They should be put out of business.”

I, too, shared the anger of these people. But while some citizens wanted The Oconee Enterprise to fail, I wanted to fundamentally change the journalistic standards of this institution.  

When I became editor in January 2017, my primary goal was to restore a high standard of ethics in our daily work. This is not to say I haven’t printed stories that have elicited negative responses from readers. Those stories still exist. It’s very likely that I have offended people, and in retrospect, there are stories in which I believe I could have applied more sensitivity and less sensationalism. 

But you have my word that I will always think about how a story impacts a victim. Journalism should call attention to the crimes that happen in a community. But good journalism should also give a voice to survivors of violence while respecting their privacy and their emotional wellbeing. 

I was a year and a half out of journalism school when I witnessed a community turn against its newspaper. 

The lapse of judgment by the then-editor haunts me, but as a result, the error has motivated me to earn the trust of the community and build up The Oconee Enterprise’s reputation. 

More importantly, it has driven me to use the power of the pen to do good for Oconee County. 

While re-reading the stories of five years ago, I came across a case of an Oconee County man who was sentenced to 20 years for sex trafficking. He forced a 13-year-old into having sex with people for money. 

Real-life stories like that prove that the North Oconee Rotary Club’s Oct. 25 forum on human trafficking is crucial for this community. The forum will begin at 5 p.m. at the Oconee County Civic Center. 

“Our goal is to inform parents, teachers, grandparents and others of the methods used to lure and break a child for sexual and labor exploitation,” said co-chairwoman Laura Leiden.   

“We can’t live in denial,” said Sheila Hunter, pastor of Watkinsville First Christian Church.  “I believe we are ready to deal with this in our county.”


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