Georgia has passed one of the nation's toughest laws on human sex trafficking, giving victims advocates greater hope that other states will follow suit.
The intent of the law is to impose tougher penalties on criminals and provide more treatment options for victims. The new law is the result of a four-year battle that sought to satisfy religious conservatives who argued the changes could in essence legalize prostitution, and children’s advocates who maintain a safety valve was needed for victims forced into the sex trade.
“This is America’s dirty little secret, these are crimes the public doesn’t see, that the public doesn’t want to believe exist; these are hidden victims,” said Ernie Allen of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to The Associated Press.
“Historically, what law enforcement has tended to do is to arrest the kid,” Allen said. “We’re trying to ensure that they focus on the pimp and the customer.”
Senator Renee Unterman (R-Gwinnett) told The Christian Post that she first began working on the legislation more than five years ago.
“The first bill we passed three years ago mandated that anyone who had knowledge of sex trafficking would be required to report it,” said Unterman. “I brought the tougher legislation because Atlanta is a known hub for the sex trade for both boys and girls since Atlanta is a major hub city.”
After educating her legislative colleagues about the real problems of sex trafficking in Georgia, members of both sides of the aisle began to support her efforts.
The bill enforces a 25-year minimum sentence for anyone convicted of using coercion to traffic someone under the age of 18, and imposes a minimum sentence of five years on those who pay for sex with a 16 year old. People trying to have sex with someone even younger face a minimum of 10 years behind bars.
In order to satisfy her colleagues and the conservative groups who opposed and defeated the bill last session, Unterman added stiffer penalties.
“My biggest challenge came from the conservative women’s group who were concerned I was trying to lower the age of consent in Georgia,” said Unterman. “Believe me, that’s the last thing I was trying to do. I don’t think for a second any young person wants to be a prostitute. I believe most are forced into the trade or are trying to survive on the streets. I think this bill will give them a fighting chance.”
Keisha Head knows first-hand the damaging impact sex trafficking can have on a young teenager. She was lured into a life of prostitution at the age of 16 after she ran away from home. Throughout her ordeal, Head was repeatedly raped and abused by her pimp and others.
“I became numb to what I was doing,” Head told AP. “I guess that is the survival instinct to become numb when inflicted with such an ordeal.”
Media outlets, including the Associated Press, do not normally identify victims of sexual assault. However, Head agreed to let her name be used to illustrate the dangers of child prostitution.
“They need to turn up the heat,” she said, “and start convicting the predators or the pimps who are exploiting the children.”
A Future. Not a Past (AFNAP) is a statewide campaign to stop the prostitution of girls in Georgia and is spearheaded by the nonprofit, Juvenile Justice Fund. They are putting up billboards in the Atlanta area to educate the public about the dangers of child prostitution and to scare off potential predators.