In March 2014, the Urban Institute, a Washington D.C. based research institute focused on economic and social problems encountered in American urban areas, published the results of a study conducted for the U.S. Justice Department concerning the underground commercial sex economy in eight major U.S. cities – Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Miami, Seattle, San Diego and Washington, D.C. Through this study, they showed that, between 2003 and 2007, Atlanta was the city with one of the largest profits for sex trade, with a general income up to $290 million for the year 2007 – which was more than the illegal gun and drug trade combined[1]. Since the construction of the Georgia World Congress Center in 1976, Atlanta has been considered as one of the biggest economic hubs in the Southern Region. Its international airport – the Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the “worlds’ busiest airports” – and its numerous conventions have since attracted a number of people from around the country, and even the world. The international dimension of the city is considered to be one of the reasons why sex trafficking is occurring on such a massive scale in metro Atlanta, a city that was also ranked by the FBI among the top fourteen cities in the U.S. where domestic minor sex trafficking occurs the most.

Over the last decade, actors from the government as well as from civil society have tried to make a change regarding this issue. Public policies have been implemented and organizations have been created in order to have a better coordination in the fight against sex trafficking. It is in consideration of these changes that Georgia has been recognized as a “Tier 1 State” by the Polaris Project, meaning it has passed significant laws to combat human trafficking and is on the way to continue its improvement. So, what legislative changes have been make in regards to sex trafficking in Georgia over the last 10 years ?

 

Raising Awareness

As said above, a problem often encountered in the fight against sex trafficking is the misconception of the term itself. It is therefore important to define a clear notion of the term – which was the goal of the Trafficking and Violence Protecting Act (TVPA) – as well as to raise awareness on this issue. Indeed, many problems are encountered with law enforcement agencies such as mistaking the victim with the offender and not being able to differentiate trafficking with simple prostitution or considering a child as a consenting participant in transactional sex. And even when the victim is recognized as such, it can be hard to find the appropriate safe place to take the victim, as there aren’t many safe houses. If the TVPA was the first step in the fight against such issues at the federal level, it was important to clarify the state legislation itself. It was in 2011 that Georgia’s government, as a response to those observations, passed House Bill 200, which recognized minors who were survivors of human trafficking as victims and not as criminals and required that every law enforcement officer investigating human trafficking related crimes should be trained to recognize signs of trafficking – such as being able to identify and report incidents as well as to provide assistance and suitable facilities for victims.

 

If such awareness-raising policies aiming to establish an obligatory training for law enforcement officers was an important first step, it was also urgent to sensitize victims themselves to the problem and most importantly to advertise the different types of services provided by the state for them. It is from this initiative that in 2013, House Bill 141 was enacted and entered into force on September 15 of the same year. As part of this law, it is required for certain businesses and establishments, including hotels, adult entertainment establishments, bars, airports and bus and rail stations to post in a conspicuous area near the entrance and in their public restrooms, a notice displaying the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline. The notice should also include information concerning the hotline (that it is anonymous, confidential, free, available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and is accessible in 170 languages)  and be written in both English and Spanish, as Atlanta is a major Spanish-speaking city. The first goal of this initiative is to provide information for victims that do not have internet access, or any general access to the outside world, but it can also be a way to remind the other clients of those establishments that trafficking isn’t just a modern form of slavery that occurs far from home. It can happen in the bar you go to on Friday night, or in the hotel where you stay during vacations.

However, it has been observed that House Bill 141 hasn’t really been enforced and that most of the targeted businesses and establishments in Atlanta didn’t respect this code, although a violation of this law can result in a $500 fine for their first violation and $5,000 for their second. The International Human Trafficking Institute, a human-rights program founded by the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in 2014 in Atlanta, worked with volunteers to establish a list of businesses in compliance or non-compliance with this legislation. It was found that important establishments such as the Omni Hotel CNN Center, the Crown Plaza or the Four Seasons Hotel were still not in compliance in early 2016, approximately three years after the bill was passed.[2]

 

Offering Better Services for Rescued Victims

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to imply that the situation hasn’t changed. As a matter of fact, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline, a nationwide hotline founded in 2007 and dedicated to provide human trafficking victims and survivors with access to services to get help and stay safe, received almost 22,000 calls in 2015[3], out of which more than 5,500 human trafficking cases were reported. In the State of Georgia, the fifth state where cases were reported the most, 191 cases were reported, including 159 related to sex trafficking or sex and labor trafficking. This center offers initial assistance and emergency services to the victims and survivors, such as emotional support and a connection to state emergency services. The latter depends, however, on what the victim wants which could depend, for example, on her or his previous experience with law enforcement officers. These services are important but limited and can’t provide a long-term solution.

[4]

As an answer to the need for a more sustainable solution, the “Safe Harbor Law” was created, a set of new legislative tools that can offer  better protection for minor victims. This project is carried through House Bill 244, also referred to as “Rachel’s Law”, named after a sex trafficking survivor who testified before members of the Georgia State Senate supporting the effort to tighten Georgia’s sex trafficking laws. This legislation aims to offer better protection as well as better services for child victims of commercial sexual exploitation. In addition to the legislation to increase penalties on perpetrators, there is an additional  constitutional amendment to create the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund. Since survivors are no longer recognized as criminals but as victims, and are therefore not prosecuted and placed into Youth Detention Centers but instead into safe housing, the demand for safe houses has dramatically increased. This fund will meet the costs of care as well as rehabilitative and social services – such as physical and mental health care, housing, education, job training, legal help, and would come from penalty assessments for violations relating to certain sexual crimes ($2,500 fines), but also from an annual $5,000 fee on certain businesses (such as adult establishments). This constitutional change has not been made for now and will be put to vote on November 8, 2016.

 

Prosecuting Traffickers and Clients

More and more is done each day to both raise awareness and create safe places where better services can be provided for victims. While we can be pleased with those improvements, there are still important inequalities in the legislative treatments of prostitution-related crimes. There has been a huge improvement regarding the status of minor victims of sex trafficking, but an important omission of adult victims – while children are automatically considered as victims, trafficked adults are still being unfairly prosecuted. And among those adults, it is the women who are the less protected by the actual system. Women and children comprise the majority of victims and are the most targeted by law enforcement officers. They stand under the pressure of their traffickers and under the fear of legal authorities.

 

Traffickers, unlike prostitutes, are less likely to go to prison, for it is harder to prove that they were involved in criminal activities. And when they are arrested, there is a lack of testimony against them, most of the time because of the gang’s logic and the fear of reprisals, but also because many victims are afraid to testify – considered most of the time as prostitutes, and therefore as criminals, they fear they won’t be taken seriously and may be prosecuted when they turn to legal authorities. Moreover, there isn’t a legal recognition of the seriousness of the crimes of pimping and pandering. Indeed, in Georgia’s legislation, the acts of pimping, pandering, and keeping a place of prostitution are considered as “high and aggravated” misdemeanors.[5] Thus, these crimes have the same status as the act of prostitution, and in the eyes of the law are then considered as being equal.

 

As far as the clients of prostitutes are concerned, available documentation and reliable statistics are rare. We do know, however, that each month, 12,400 men in Georgia pay for sex with a young woman – 7,200 of them ending up exploiting an adolescent female.[6] The prosecution of clients is infrequent – most of the time, they only have to pay a fine. In many big cities, programs aiming to raise awareness among clients of prostitutes were created and referred to as “John Schools”. Those “schools” are usually a one-day program were the clients attend a seminar on the negative consequences of prostitution, its inherent violence, and its impact on the lives of prostitutes and their families. In 2005, the city of Atlanta had engaged in an effort to launch such educational programs but have not continued the effort.

 

Even if men control Georgia’s sex-trade, it is still the women who are the more likely to be sentenced for prostitution-related crimes. Indeed, the latest statistics of the Georgia Department of Corrections show that women represent 94% of the persons who have been prosecuted and went to prison for prostitution-related crimes, where only 6% were men.[7] It is of course difficult to measure the exact number of sex trafficking survivors included in those statistics, and therefore considered as criminals instead of victims. Nonetheless we can say that the number of pimps and clients being prosecuted for their crimes remains minimal.

 

[1] DANK Meredith, et al. « Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy in Eight Major US Cities »

[2] International Human Trafficking Institute

[3] National Human Trafficking Resource Center Statistics

[4] Polaris Project, Statistics, 2014

[5] Criminal Defense Lawyer, « Prostitution, Pimping and Pandering Laws in Georgia »

[6] The Schapiro Group “Men who Buy Sex with Adolescent Girls: A Scientific Research Study”, February 2010, p. 8

[7] O. HANSEN, Jane “The Pimps; Prostitution’s Middle Man Slides by in Court”, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 2015