For the better part of an hour, 42,000 college students stood in the frigid Atlanta night, patiently waiting for a statue illustrating the fight against human trafficking to be illuminated.
They filled the Georgia International Plaza next to the Georgia Dome stadium and stood in the crisp 40 degree air this week staring up at the 100-foot high hand reaching toward the sky. Just a few minutes after midnight, they lit candles and the lights below the statue came on. The students cheered then started to softly sing. A chant of "FREE-DOM! FREE-DOM!" grew momentum.
The event was one of the final gatherings during the Passion 2012 conference, an annual meeting of 18 to 25 year olds. The students were encouraged to donate money to causes that battle trafficking.
The statue, covered in items made by slaves like clothes, represents many things said the man responsible for coordinating the outreach efforts with the organizations that will receive portions of the more than $2.6 million raised during the four-day conference.
Working across international borders to clamp down on sex abuse is no easy task, especially when it involves young children. But as a U.S. official told CNN's Richard Quest, it's a task that's made easier with the help of the public.
In the past eight years, the United States has prosecuted 90 pedophiles who went overseas to abuse children. John Morton, the director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says discovering these criminals is hard work because it involves tracking people who are doing everything they can to keep a secret and also means working with a local police force in a foreign nation.
He said that most of the tips in these cases come from the public.
"We don't generate the vast majority of the leads in these cases," he told CNN. "We get them from non-governmental organizations, from people who are paying attention on an airplane and notice that a child is traveling with someone that they really shouldn't be traveling with, who see something amiss and report it to authorities or to a group that specializes ... in this kind of work. And then we get involved."
The children are too scared or too young to report the crime, so it is vital that if someone suspects something suspicious, they need to report it.
"We are not talking about some ordinary crime. We are talking about the assault and abuse of small children, as young as three or four years of age, usually in circumstances of grinding poverty, very difficult cultural conditions," he said. "And if they don't speak up, chances are the crime is going to go uncovered and that child's life is ruined. They need to say something. They need to allow us to get in there and investigate and put these people away.
"We all have to stand up and vindicate those children, because they can't stand up for themselves," he added.
CNN is joining the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on the horrors of modern-day slavery, amplifying the voices of the victims, highlighting success stories and helping unravel the complicated tangle of criminal enterprises trading in human life. WHY WE'RE DOING THIS | MORE ABOUT THE PROJECT