Monday, February 9, 2009

Legislators prep bills to tackle Georgia's sex trade 'underworld'
by 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]


Editor's note: Hello, Georgia. Kris Jensen, one member of the Georgia Online News Service team covering the General Assembly, has two stories about sin today. More precisely, one of the stories is about particularly vile sin – child prostitution – while the other concerns the more venial transgression of Sunday liquor sales.

About three years ago, I learned that Atlanta was considered one of the child prostitution capitals of the world, and I've written about it several times since. Jensen's report looks into State Sen. Renee Unterman's effort to combat child exploitation.

On the Sunday liquor sales – opposing letting the beer flow is that noted apostle, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine. Now, would anyone believe he'd grandstand the issue in his campaign for gubner? Nah, of course not.

We also have two Soapbox features today. On the Right is Randy Evans, who says of the peanut crisis: "Georgia's leaders will either be George Bush after Katrina, or true leaders focused on helping Georgia get out of this mess."

And, on the Left, State Rep. Stacey Abrams tells Georgia to get real about taxes: "Every penny represents a payment for a healthy, well-educated work force able to get to good jobs on time, without fear of rampant crime or unsafe drinking water."

As always, we'd like to hear from you. Send your comments and any story ideas to executive editor John Sugg at john.sugg@georgiaonlinenews.org. You can also call us at 800-891-3459.


Today's GONSO

Legislators prep bills to tackle Georgia's sex trade 'underworld'

by K. Patrick Jensen
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.
Full Story

Set 'em up Joe for another round on Sunday alcohol sales

by K. Patrick Jensen
The issue of selling alcohol on Sundays is reviving itself for another round of debate in the Georgia Legislature and Statehouse.
Full Story

SOAPBOX

Peanut catastrophe shows Georgia must be aggressive in protecting consumers from food contamination

by J. Randolph Evans
It is clear that Georgia's reputation continues to suffer horribly and confidence in Georgia products continues to plummet. Yet, Georgia leaders seem content to watch as a cornerstone of the Georgia economy suffers the same fate as eight people who consumed Georgia's peanut butter.
Full Story

SOAPBOX

Time for Georgians to get real about taxes

by Rep. Stacey Abrams
Taxes are not fun. But they are necessary. Every penny represents a payment for a healthy, well-educated work force able to get to good jobs on time, without fear of rampant crime or unsafe drinking water. And tax reform is needed. We must fix a broken assessment process that treats a McMansion and a modest 30-year old bungalow the same.
Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
The New Federalism is Old News
by Tom Baxter
Governor's Allies Propose Legal Immunity for Drug Makers
by Maggie Lee
Tax breaks: The state should quit playing favorites
by Alan Essig and Sarah Beth Gehl

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