CUMBERLAND — While he now leads Kennesaw State University, Sam Olens’ address to the Cobb business community Monday centered on two topics that were a focus in his previous role as Georgia’s attorney general: sex trafficking and prescription drug abuse.
The KSU president was the keynote speaker during the Cobb Chamber’s First Monday Breakfast held at the Cobb Galleria Centre. Prior to taking over the university, Olens’ time as attorney general saw him working with Gov. Nathan Deal and the state Legislature to strengthen penalties for sex trafficking.
But his remarks on sex trafficking seemed to tie into the current topic of sexual assault, instances of which have made headlines in recent weeks as several high-profile celebrities and politicians have faced accusations ranging from sexual harassment to assault.
Olens said the issue begins at home.
“We as a community, and I’m principally talking to men now, need to ensure a culture of respect, because you and I both know that a lot of times when you’re watching those commercials on TV during a football game, and that lady is not dressed fully, you’re smiling at your teenage son and sending the opposite advice, the opposite counsel. If you don’t think there’s a correlation between dating violence, dating rape, sex trafficking, sexual assault — it is all part of the same continuum, and we as men need to educate our sons about respecting women,” Olens said, which drew loud applause from the audience.
Olens said the sex trafficking trade has become a form of “modern-day slavery” for children, often between the ages of 12 to 14 who may have experienced prior sexual abuse, face mental health problems or addiction, and/or who may have run away from home. Signs of sex trafficking, he said, may include habitual truancy, unexplained physical trauma, branding on one’s body and traveling with an unrelated older person.
On the topic of prescription drug abuse, Olens recalled his youth as he said that only in recent years have the dangers of the medicine cabinet been more fully presented.
“When I was growing up, I lived with my aunt and uncle and my uncle liked scotch, and one time he told me to take a sip, and after I finished coughing about a minute and a half later, I decided that stuff was not going in my throat again. How wrong I was,” Olens said, which drew a roar of laughter from the crowd.
Though he said his aunt and uncle “knew what a belt looked like” when it came to threatening him with physical punishment if he partook from the liquor cabinet, “there were no discussions about the pills in the medicine cabinet and the fact that many of those prescriptions can kill you.”
According to Olens, more than 64,000 Americans died last year from opioid overdoses, making it the leading cause of death of Americans under age 50. Of those deaths, more than 1,400 were from Georgia.
Locally, the Cobb County Medical Examiner’s Office’s 2016 report says the county saw last year 141 drug- and alcohol-related deaths. More than half of those deaths, 73, involved heroin or fentanyl, a substance similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent.
The impact of sex trafficking is evident in the eight to 10 cases currently pending in the county, Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds said.
Reynolds said he believes the two topics Olens presented were crucial for chamber members to hear, and he hopes the local business community will partner with law enforcement and local nonprofits who focus on those issues in order to make the Cobb community safer.
“I think he did a good job of highlighting to an audience that perhaps, through no fault of their own, they just are not aware of some of the issues that law enforcement and part of our community is dealing with on a daily basis,” Reynolds said. “We have a high number of overdose deaths here in Cobb based on opioid and heroin addiction, so these business people need to know about it ... and they need to hear the fact that there is human trafficking occurring in the metro area, and Cobb is not exempt.”
In addition to Olens’ address, Monday’s event also featured the annual awarding of the Sam Olens Business Community Service Awards, presented by Georgia Trend magazine. The awards, which have been given for nearly two decades, recognize charitable businesses who are often nominated by the Cobb nonprofits which they support.
This year’s award winners were the Elder Law Firm and JE Dunn Construction. The latter was recognized for supporting more than 300 philanthropies last year and creating an environment for employees that encourages them to get involved in the communities in which they live and work, according to the firm’s award application submitted by The Orange Duffel Bag Initiative.
Elder Law Firm, according to its nomination by the Acworth Business Association, commits a minimum of 25 percent of its gross revenue to various charities and volunteers time, money and resources to numerous nonprofit organizations.
Recognized with the Health Hero Awards, presented by Cobb & Douglas Public Health, were Missy Owens and MetroAtlanta Ambulance Service. The annual awards are given to an individual and organization deemed to have made a significant and positive impact on the health of the Cobb community.