The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota (WFM) recently announced the launch of a five-year campaign to end the sex trafficking of girls in the state through a combination of grants, research, public education, convening and evaluation.
The A FUTURE: Minnesota Girls Are Not for Sale campaign will award grants between $40,000 and $70,000 per year for:
- efforts to change state laws to recognize prostituted girls as victims of crimes, not criminals.
- Creating and maintaining shelters for survivors.
- Training youth and youth outreach professionals about sex trafficking prevention.
To be eligible for the grant, programs must focus primary on directly reducing sex trafficking of girls (or gender non-conforming youth) under the age of 18 within Minnesota.
Applications for year-one funding of the five-year initiative runs Feb. 1, 2012 to Jan. 31, 2013. Year 2-3 and 3-4 funding are contingent on organizational performance.
Information for this particular grant is not yet available on the WFM website, but details are available through a downloadable PDF.
The Juvenile Justice Fund’s A Future. Not A Past. effort has a new tool in its ongoing campaign to “disable the demand for child sexual exploitation” in Georgia.
The Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia has agreed to donate space to the Atlanta-based non-profit victim’s advocacy group to run billboard ads throughout metro Atlanta. Unlike previous efforts by other organizations focused on raising awareness among victims, these ads are unique in that they will target the demand side – specifically the pimps and johns who partake in child prostitution. The overall goal, supporters say, is to educate the public on the consequences of purchasing prostituted children.
“This probably is the first of its kind, I’ve never heard of a billboard campaign targeting the demand side,” says A Future. Not A Past. State Coordinator Jennifer Swain. “We want people to know that with the passage of HB 200 in the state legislature that they can now get up to life in prison for purchasing sex with a minor. We feel that if you take away the demand side it will no longer be as big of a problem.”
The traditional vinyl and electronic boards due out later this week warn that pimps and buyers could face five years to life in prison under Georgia's new sex trafficking law, which substantially toughens the penalty for buying underage sex. The ads urge Georgians to text "DEMAND" to 313131 for more information.
“We’re not promoting texting while driving, we want them to text it once they get to their destination,” explains Swain. “That’s why we chose a number that was easy to remember. We haven’t made a final decision on what the final message will be, but they will probably receive a text back with Georgia’s statistics.”
“It’s really good to get people not just talking about the girls, but the men who buy them,” says Swain, of the ads.
“It feels great for us to be a part of this effort to let drivers know about the laws in Georgia – especially those who are engaging this activity," says Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia Executive Director Conner Poe. "This was already a strong campaign, but getting the state law passed parlayed perfectly with this. It put some teeth behind this campaign and it’s letting folks engaging in this know, ‘you’d better watch out.’”
The human trafficking bill that toughens the penalty for sex traffickers and seeks to improve outcomes for victims has been officially signed into Georgia law.
A small crowd of supporters gathered around Governor Nathan Deal Tuesday afternoon as he signed HB 200 at My Sister’s House in the Atlanta Mission. The legislation was introduced this year by Rep. Ed Lindsey (R-Atlanta) and passed within the same legislative session, which wrapped up last month.
The governor and his wife, First Lady Sandra Deal, shared encouraging words to the families of trafficking survivors during the signing event. Both commended child advocates for remaining vigilant in their work to eradicate child sex trafficking.
The bill’s signing is being touted as an especially critical victory because Atlanta is a known hub for human trafficking. Representatives from Street GRACE, a non-profit consortium of churches that provide volunteer support and advocacy initiatives for at-risk children statewide, say about 375 girls are exploited in Georgia each month, with the majority of the illegal incidents occurring in Atlanta. Within the same time frame, the organization estimates, about 7,200 men knowingly or unknowingly purchase sex from teen girls in the state.
Key provisions in HB 200 include:
- Provides an expanded definition of “coercion” in the human trafficking statute, to include causing or threatening financial harm.
- Prohibits defense by blood relation – such as parents exploiting their children – or by marriage – such as a husband “selling” his wife.
- Significantly beefs up penalties for human traffickers who target minors. If the victim is at least 16 but less than 18 years old, the crime is a felony and punishable by 5-20 years in prison and a fine of $2,500 to $10,000. If the victim is under 16 years old, the crime is a felony and punishable by 10-30 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
- Treats those in sexual servitude as victims, not criminals, by offering them recovery under the state crime victim’s fund.
- Provides an affirmative defense for victims when coming forward to the sexual crimes of prostitution, sodomy, solicitation of sodomy and masturbation for hire, if the defendant was being trafficked for sexual servitude.
- Allows the state to seize any real or personal property that a trafficker used for, or bought with the proceeds of the crime.
- Requires law enforcement agencies to receive training on how to relate to human trafficking victims.
Rep. Lindsey’s bill built upon the foundation established by a failed measure introduced last year by Sen. Renee Unterman, who also supported HB 200. Sen. Unterman’s bill had pushed for children 16 and under to be treated as victims and not criminals in prostitution cases. Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens had members of his staff work with Rep. Lindsey in strengthening the legal framework for HB 200, in hopes of helping it avoid a similar fate.
On the heels of the legislative victory, supporters of the measure have told JJIE.org they will begin focusing their efforts on ensuring the law gets implemented and enforced.
A small study out of Chicago indicates that many pimps were forced into the sex industry and trafficked as children, leading to a horrible cycle of abuse. Researchers at DePaul College of Law surveyed 25 pimps, finding that 68 percent were trafficked as children and 76 percent were sexually abused.
According to the survey by researchers Brenda Myers-Powell and Jody Raphael, many pimps now traffic kids themselves and “earn” between $150,000 and $500,000 a year, often by taking all the income of some of their prostitutes.
The authors admit the survey was imperfect, but you can read the full report here.
A bill that toughens laws against sex trafficking was voted out of a Georgia State Senate committee this morning, despite calls by conservative activist to add an amendment. HB 200 now moves to the Senate Rules Committee before heading on to the Senate floor for a vote.
Sue Ella Deadwyler, the author of the Georgia Insight newsletter, who claims to have been “called by God,” wanted to change language that provides an affirmative defense for victims of sex trafficking under the age of 18. Proponents of the measure say the language concerning affirmative defense defines minors as victims of the sex trafficking industry, rather than criminals that participate in it.
But Deadwyler disagreed, arguing that the bill legalizes child prostitution. She wants to reduce the age that children are prosecuted from 18 to 13, otherwise Georgia will become “a haven for male and female participants in various sexually explicit professions, including prostitution, masturbation for hire and pornography,” according to her website, GeorgiaInsight.org.
At a press conference in February, 2010, Deadwyler said, “Sure there are those who are forced into prostitution, but I think most of them volunteer . . . Many, many children have been scared straight because of arrest.”
Mary Frances Bowley, president of Wellspring Living, a program that provides safe haven to girls caught up in sex trafficking, said she is “thrilled” the bill passed without amendment.
“This is strong and progressive legisalation,” she said.
Some unlikely Atlanta women are spending hours on the Internet looking for child prostitutes, but not for personal gratification. They’re volunteers who are monitoring websites that advertise children under categories such as “escorts” as part of a new front in the war against sexual trafficking.
“We have found every quarter an exponential increase in the number of girls being exploited,” said Deborah Richardson, executive vice president of the National Center for Civil & Human Rights. “One reason is the internet. Anyone can sit at home and order a young girl for sex as easily as ordering a pizza.” And just as a customer can specify pizza toppings, children can be ordered online by skin color, hair color and age, she said.
Richardson spoke on a panel Friday at Atlanta’s North Avenue Presbyterian Church as part of a town hall meeting called “Take a Stand Against Demand.” The breakfast gathering was sponsored by the Atlanta Women’s Foundation and A Future Not a Past, a campaign spearheaded by the Juvenile Justice Fund.
Speakers emphasized the need to target traffickers, pimps, customers and online advertisers.
Traffickers have found a lucrative business in selling children for sex, Richardson said. “Unlike drugs and guns, girls sell over and over again.”
After the online advertising site Craigslist came under fire last year and shut down its “adult services” section, many of the illicit sex ads moved to a site called Backpage.com, Jennifer Swain, state coordinator of A Future Not a Past said Friday. Volunteers in Atlanta are searching Backpage sites targeted to Atlanta, Saint Louis and Houston for possible child sex advertisements and forwarding suspicious cases to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The cases aren’t hard to find. In a single four-hour session last week, a handful of volunteers found dozens of possibilities. The monitoring will continue for eight weeks, Swain said. “We’re going to give Backpage a run for their money,” she vowed.
Local law enforcement agencies and courts are also stepping up efforts to curb the sale of children for sex, panelists said.
Det. Carol Largent of Cobb County’s Crimes Against Children Unit said her department made a commitment last fall to pursue such cases more intently through methods such as following up on runaway reports. “Within a couple of months,” she said, “we were averaging a case a week of girls involved in prostitution.”
Police agencies need to work with schools, juvenile courts and social service agencies, she said, because children who are truants or runaways can become victims of exploitation.
Fulton County Assistant District Attorney Sonja Brown said her office currently has three open trafficking cases, seven open pandering cases and 17 pimping cases, nine involving juveniles. Fulton prosecutors pile on charges such as rape, child molestation and cruelty whenever possible to try to increase prison sentences for people charged with exploiting children for sex, she said.
On the federal level, U. S. Attorney Sally Yates pointed out that on February 1, Attorney General Eric Holder and other Obama administration officials announced a national crackdown that will involve inter-agency “anti-trafficking coordination teams.” But child trafficking has “long been a priority in our office,” she said.
The same assets, such as transportation, that make Atlanta a business and convention hub make it appealing for child traffickers, she said. “One real problem in Atlanta right now is young women brought in from Mexico.”
State Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Gwinnett), an outspoken advocate of treating juveniles caught up in the sex trade as victims, not criminals, said she is encouraged by all the grassroots organizations in Georgia that are taking up the cause. The only Republican woman in the Senate introduced a bill last year that would have kept juveniles under 16 from being charged as criminals, diverting them instead to treatment or therapy. The bill died without a hearing. Unterman did not say whether she would reintroduce it, but she urged advocates to continue to speak up for children in the sex trade. “I believe children are victims,” she said. “There’s a certain segment out there that believes they’re criminals. That’s why the legislation is being blocked.”
Richardson of the National Center for Civil & Human Rights also spoke optimistically. “I believe we have come to a tipping point with this issue where we can stop it,” she said. She cited the civil rights movement and the crusade against drunk driving that succeeded when enough people became concerned and involved.
“But shame on us for allowing this to happen,” she said. “Shame on us.”
For the first time since Craigslist suddenly blocked sex ads 12 days ago, the company is talking about the decision. William Clint Powell, director of customer service and law enforcement relations at Craigslist, testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. Powell promised the Adult Services Section will not re-open. This could cost his company an estimated $44 million in annual revenue, according to The New York Times
Child advocates fighting the epidemic of child prostitution in Georgia and across the country are cheering the decision. According to Kaffie McCullough, campaign director for A Future Not A Past, “[Craigslist is] definitely the market leader in [prostitution] and as they go, others may go.”
Rep. Chris Smith (R- NJ) called the move “the responsible thing to do for the sake of the children.”
Powell warned that people who posted prostitution ads on Craigslist will move to other websites. As cnet.com reports, he said Craigslist has done more to deal with legal and safety concerns than any other venue, calling it “one of the few bright spots and success stories in the critical fight against trafficking and child exploitation.”
State Senator Renee Unterman of Buford already has the distinction of being the only female Republican in a male-dominated Senate, but she really became a standout during the last legislative session when she introduced a bill that asserted that young prostitutes in Georgia should be deemed victims, not criminals.
In fact, she set off a firestorm of controversy with SB304, which declared that boys and girls under the age of 16 shouldn’t be charged with prostitution, but instead diverted to treatment or therapy. Child welfare advocates championed the move as a step in the right direction for sexually exploited young people in Georgia. Opponents, however, accused Unterman, of attempting to “decriminalize” prostitution. The age of sexual consent in Georgia only seemed to complicate the issue further. Sen. Unterman spoke to JJIE’s Chandra R. Thomas about the latest on the controversial measure.
Let’s begin with a recap of what happened with your bill.
The bill died because it did not get a hearing before the judiciary committee. So, the bill is dead. I’ve got to start all over in January with a new bill. I have not made up my mind if I will reintroduce it.
Any other updates to share on it?
I didn’t have much success on the state level but I am making some headway on the national front. I recently got a similar, larger measure passed regarding a variety of sex crimes at the National Conference of State Legislatures. It includes a lot of things like human trafficking, forced slavery and the sexual exploitation of children. It went through for all of the 50 states. It’s the first time a national policy got adopted by elected officials in the state legislature nationwide. It took me a year to do it.
What does this nationwide measure entail?
It’s a policy that can be adopted into law by the legislators in their individual states. They can change it up to address specific needs in their state, so it’s essentially a template that lawmakers can use to strengthen laws addressing human trafficking.
You faced a lot of opposition for your state bill, what was that like?
When it was introduced, that particular bill had a lot of opposition from the religious right. My contention was that a child under the age of 16 [who is selling sex] is a victim, not a criminal, who needs treatment. The Christian conservatives feel that they should be locked up.
What was your response?
I tried to change it (the bill) so that the conservatives would like it, but it never got a hearing. Unfortunately our juvenile code is so complicated. The juvenile code is so messed up in Georgia. It’s being rewritten right now. One of the main issues of contention is when is a child a victim and when is a child a criminal?
What do you think?
I believe that when a child is 12 or 13 years old, that the rest of their life should not be ruined if they end up in jail. If so, they should be sent to a juvenile detention center where their record can be expunged when they’re older.
What kind of positive reaction did you receive regarding the bill?
It’s been very positive. In a couple of weeks Fox News in D.C. will be taping an interview here for a documentary featuring my bill. The Washington Post has written a story on [the bill]. It is really bringing the issue to the forefront for Americans.
What inspired you to write the bill?
I had a preacher to come and see me in Atlanta. He told me what was happening. He said just down the street from the state capitol this was going on. He said children were getting off the bus at the Greyhound station and literally getting picked up by pimps. I wanted to do something about it.
Do you agree that the fact that 16 is the age of sexual consent in Georgia only seems to complicate this matter further?
Yes. It is state law that a child under the age of 16 cannot consent to sex. It’s just a very difficult issue here in Georgia due to our Juvenile Code. It’s very complicated.
What do you plan to do moving forward?
I haven’t started deciding yet if it will be reintroduced. Even if I don’t get something passed it raises awareness. This is a really important here in Georgia because Atlanta is a known hub for child prostitution.
JJIE.org staff writer Chandra R. Thomas is an award-winning multimedia journalist who has worked for Atlanta Magazine and Fox 5 News in Atlanta. The former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow and Kiplinger Public Affairs Journalism Fellow may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Georgia’s child prostitution problem will get some new attention from the Justice Department. Attorney General Eric Holder spells out the first National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention in a 280 page report. The plan focuses on child prostitution, child pornography, sex tourism and child exploitation in Indian Country. It’s a multi-agency effort that includes a national database to allow federal, state, local and international law enforcement to work together better and analyze trends. The Justice Department is adding 38 new Assistant U. S. Attorneys devoted to child exploitation cases. And the U.S. Marshals Service is targeting the top 500 most dangerous sex offenders in the nation.
The extent of Georgia’s child sex trade came to light last spring, when a study done for A Future Not a Past revealed that an estimated 7,200 men are paying for sex with teenage girls every month in the Atlanta area. Child prostitution is also a big problem in Connecticut, Washington, DC, Florida, New York and Texas.
Holder lays out the problem with this stark description:
“Children are being recruited and coerced into the world of prostitution in our own cities. Teen runaways - who are often trying to escape abusive homes – may turn to prostitution as a means of survival. They also frequently fall prey to “pimps” who lure them in with an offer of food, clothes, attention, friendship, love, and a seemingly safe place to sleep. Once the pimps gain this control over the children, they often use acts of violence, intimidation, or psychological manipulation to trap the children in a life of prostitution. Pimps will also cause the children to become addicted to drugs or alcohol (or will increase the severity of a pre-existing addiction) in order to ensure complicity. These children are taught to lie about their age and are given fake ID. They are also trained not to trust law enforcement and to lie to protect their pimps. As a result, these victims are often not recognized as victims, and may be arrested and jailed. The dangers faced by these children– from the pimps, from their associates, and from customers—are severe. These children become hardened by the treacherous street environment in which they must learn to survive. As such, they do not always outwardly present as sympathetic victims. These child victims need specialized services that are not widely available given that they often present with illnesses, drug additions, physical and sexual trauma, lack of viable family and community ties, and total dependence – physical and psychological – on their abusers, the pimps.”