This post is the first part of a series discussing the impact of legislation on trafficked women in Georgia.

It is believed that today 4.5 million people are victims of commercial sexual exploitation throughout the world. 98% of these victims are women. When one refers to sex trafficking, or human trafficking in general, it is commonly assumed that these kind of actions do not happen on domestic soil, or that it’s not a large-scale issue. However, in a 1999 Central Intelligence Agency Report, it was estimated that 45,000 to 50,000 women and children were trafficked annually in the United States. Public services reported that on an average basis, minor sex trafficking victims were 15 years old when they were rescued and that most of them had already been prostituted for some time before that. They also reported that in 2008, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the youngest domestically trafficked minor who was rescued from sex trafficking by the public services, was an eight-year-old child.

As a result of these startling statistics, in March 2012, President Obama doubled the administration’s effort to fight every sort of human trafficking. His most recent effort was to sign S.178 – Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, in May 29th of the same year. This legislation extends the federal funds available for a broader and deeper fight against human and sex trafficking and improves the public services that assist trafficking victims.

However, while one can appreciate the progress that has been made concerning this issue, sex trafficking is still occurring on a massive scale in the United States. As an example, between 200 and 300 girls are being trafficked for sexual purposes in the state of Georgia each month, a state that was recognized as a “Tier 1 State” by the Polaris Project for its progressive legislative framework on the fight against human trafficking. There are various reasons that can explain the government’s inefficiency to properly fight sex trafficking, such as the difficulty to recognize and track the criminals down or the ever-growing demand side factors that facilitate the extension of businesses. But one of the often-cited reasons for inefficiency is the law enforcement’s inability to properly identify victims; a large majority of sex trafficking victims caught by the police were arrested and charged for prostitution.

It is indeed acknowledged that one of the most encountered problems regarding sex trafficking was both the confusion behind the term and the difficulty to determine whether or not a prostitute was a victim of sex trafficking. The persistent misconception of the term “trafficking” makes it difficult to have a clear understanding of the difference between sex trafficking and prostitution. In the State of Georgia, prostitution is defined as the act of offering, performing or consenting to sexual conduct in exchange for payment and solicitation is defined as the act of seeking sexual services for hire. Both are defined as being acts of free will. They both are considered as an illegal activity in the United States, with the exception of eleven Nevada Counties. In Georgia prostitution is punishable by a maximum of one-year imprisonment and/or a $1,000 fine.

While prostitution and solicitation are defined as acts of free will, sex trafficking is in the most common sense, understood as a modern-day form of human slavery, which, according a UNODC’s estimation, accounts for 53% of the human trafficking in the world. In December 2000, the definition of both sex and human trafficking was established by the United Nations during the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, also known as the Palermo Protocol. This protocol defines trafficking in persons as being “the recruitment (…) of persons, by means of the threat, (the) use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, (…) to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include (…) the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

In the same year, the United States enhanced their federal legislation with an expanded version of this protocol, named the Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA). This act takes a like-minded approach on the definition of sex trafficking, which is listed as the use of force (violence or threats of violence), fraud (deceitful labor recruitment or debt bondage) and coercion (emotional manipulation, threat of law enforcement or threat against family) in order to sexually exploit someone for commercial use. It also includes a clause designed to protect minors that states that every person under the age of eighteen being caught for prostitution will be considered as a victim of sex trafficking. In 2011, the State of Georgia also enhanced their own legislation with House Bill 200 that, amongst others, provides training for law enforcement, increases the punishment for human trafficking and makes victims of human trafficking eligible for victim compensation regarding mental and emotional trauma.

Both on the federal and state level, progress has been made in the fight against human and sex trafficking. However, in spite of all the legal progress, the problem remains more or less the same. While sex trafficking victims are still arrested for prostitution, there is a minority of traffickers and customers being arrested and prosecuted for their acts. If those findings are striking, they make us also wonder about the prostitution law’s impacts on the lives of sex trafficking victims. How can that legislation inhibit victims from going to the police in order to seek help? Can we actually say that this legislation increases inequalities for victims? Would substantial legislative changes offer a solution to the problem? The purpose of this series of blog posts will be to try to answer these questions by first acknowledging that, although there has been some real progress regarding the State of Georgia’s laws on sex trafficking, sex trafficking still occurs on a massive scale. Following these observations, we will study the impact of the Georgia prostitution laws on the lives of trafficked women. And, finally, we will try to see why and how a change in the legislation can be a sustainable solution.

This series of blog posts will investigate the following topics:

1. An overview of the current legislation related to sex trafficking in Georgia.

2. The impact of this legislation on trafficked women.

3. Proposed legislative changes to improve conditions for survivors.