Legislators prep bills to tackle Georgia's sex trade 'underworld'|
K. Patrick Jensen
Georgia Online News Service
State Sen. Renee Unterman began a long, eye-opening journey when she became interested in the issue of child prostitution.
"I started three years ago to work on it and it's taken that long to get senators to talk about it. It's very difficult to get senators to talk about sex and sex trafficking" that involves girls some 12 years of age, the Buford Republican notes.
"It's the underworld you don't want to think about existing. It's not rich or poor, Democratic or Republican. It's kids who come from all segments of our society and a lot of them get dumped here in Atlanta. But places like Columbus and Savannah have the problem, too," Unterman said.
Legislators are talking now and preparing to act on a package of three bills designed to help stem the tide of filth that robs girls and boys of innocence.
Unterman, who co-chaired the joint Commission on Sexual Exploitation of Minors last summer, is sponsoring two of three bills designed to create a no-tolerance zone in Georgia for prostitution of kids.
Atlanta is one of 14 cities in the nation with the highest incidents of child exploitation. She said Atlanta has a reputation for sexual tourism.
The commission found an estimated 200-300 girls are sexually exploited monthly in the state with as many as 129 girls being prostituted on a typical weekend night. Twelve to 14 is the average age of entry into pornography and prostitution in the nation.
The commission, which heard from experts all around the nation, also found pre-adolescent boys are prostituted.
"This legislation will protect innocent children and teens from abuse and provide the resources necessary to combat these crimes much more effectively," she said.
The legislation will "create a coordinated, state-wide campaign that will raise awareness and
stop the prostitution of children in Georgia," she said.
The legislation includes:
- Amending the child-abuse reporting law to require mandatory reporting of all commercial-sexually exploited minors as child sexual abuse through Senate Bill 69. Current law only mandates a report of sexual abuse if by a parent or caretaker, but the study committee found that many adolescent girls are solicited by non-family members.
- Raising the minimum age requirement of exotic dancers from 18 to 21 with Senate Bill 74, which also requires that any other employees in adult entertainment facilities, such as waitresses, be 21 as well. Unterman explained the legislation as important since sometimes girls using false IDs are hired as waitresses and later are enticed to strip, with some earning $100,000 a year. The strip clubs also become a draw for prostitution.
- Charging a $5 entry fee for patrons at adult entertainment businesses and venues. Sen. Jack Murphy (R-Cumming) has introduced what some have called a "pole tax" with revenue going to fund services for children who have been prostituted. The fee is not a tax since its revenues go directly to the Crime Victims Emergency Fund rather than the state general fund, advocates say.
- Unterman said the fee is a way to make the adult entertainment industry pay for legal and health expenses caused by prostituted young people, much of which is now paid for by taxpayers. "My contention is society is paying for this with tax dollars. We're already taking kids off the street and rehabbing them. And it's a very expensive proposition."
Unterman views childhood prostitution as part of a larger issue of young girls being pressured by society and peers to act and dress older. "My stance is they deserve their innocence," she said. "That to me promotes the sex industry. Little girls are no longer little girls anymore."
Senate Bills 69 and 74 have been referred to the Senate Judiciary committee while Senate Bill 91 has been assigned to the Senate Finance committee.
K. Patrick Jensen is a former editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes about faith and suburban issues. [full bio]