Main content

Emory Law News Center


Emory University receives $1 million NoVo foundation grant to advance systems-based solutions to end commercial sexual exploitation

Melissa Carter
Director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center

Emory University’s Barton Center and Rollins School of Public Health, in partnership with youthSpark Inc., and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights LGBTQ and International Human Trafficking Institutes, today announced a $1 million grant from the NoVo Foundation to support systems-based solutions to help end commercial sexual exploitation. The grant will address the immediate needs of those at risk for or experiencing commercial sexual exploitation in Fulton County, while transforming systems to prevent it. 

The funding is part of The Life Story Grants, a $10 million, three-year investment in survivor-centered programs in the US. The Atlanta-based project is among 15 projects awarded funding to address the systemic failures that allows sexual exploitation to thrive and harm the most marginalized communities, including girls and women of color, as well as trans, LGBTQ, immigrant, and Indigenous girls and women. 

A key feature of the project is a new multi-sectoral partnership between Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health and Barton Child Law and Policy Center; youthSpark; and the National Center Civil for Human Rights LGBTQ and International Human Trafficking Institutes. Dabney P. Evans PhD, MPH, an associate professor at Rollins and lead investigator on the project stated,” Through this collaboration, we are uniquely situated to provide direct services to survivors and at-risk youth, as well as to create the systemic change necessary to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Atlanta.”

Emory Law’s Barton Child Law and Policy Center will provide legal expertise, technical skill in policy analysis and development, and reputational capital to catalyze systemic change.  The Barton Center will analyze the relevant administrative, legislative, judicial, and policy factors; develop strategies for addressing policy gaps and overcoming implementation barriers; and provide the needed legal research, analysis, and direct advocacy to support the partnership’s objectives.

“The Barton Center’s role is to help ensure that child-serving and justice systems respond to the needs of child victims of commercial exploitation in effective, compassionate, and developmentally-appropriate ways, said Melissa Carter, director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center housed in the Emory University School of Law, “As a result of this work, instead of being known as a hub of sex trafficking, Atlanta will be known as a leader in ending commercial sexual exploitation.”

The project was selected based on its targeted approach and its commitment to survivor engagement. It responds to vulnerabilities through expansion of the youthSpark comprehensive model which shifts the focus from a traditional victim narrative to a response inclusive of the broader experiences of most at-risk youth of color-- particularly Black and Brown youth-- to a survivor centered model expanding notions of exploitation. Taking a multi-pronged approach to improve direct service programming and effecting policy change, the project’s end goal is a robust model of intervention that can be replicated in other jurisdictions.  

Key strategies and initiatives include: 

  • Expanding early intervention systems to widen the safety net for at risk girls -- including trans youth -- on the commercial sexual exploitation continuum (led by youthSpark);
  • Leveraging the International Human Trafficking Institute Metropolitan Atlanta Coalition to End Human Trafficking to strengthen the region’s public-private, community-based response (led by the National Center for Civil and Human Rights International Human Trafficking Institute);  
  • Empower survivor leaders, including transgender people to inform project planning and implementation (led by the National Center for Civil and Human Rights LGBTQ Institute);
  • Rigorously evaluate and enhance the early intervention system and public policies needed to effectively close trafficking on-ramps, minimize barriers to services, and package this evidence-based response into a roadmap for other jurisdictions (led by the Rollins School of Public Health and Barton Child Law and Policy Center); and
  • Disseminating promising practices and scientific research findings to local, state and national human trafficking stakeholders.

Questions about the work underway in Atlanta can be directed towards Dr. Dabney P. Evans (, as well as on