In addition to choosing the country's next president, voters on Nov. 8 will be asked whether or not to pass an amendment to provide dedicated funding toward rehabilitative services for child victims of sex trafficking.
If passed, Amendment 2 of Senate Resolution Seven will establish the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children fund, which could provide up to $2 million annually dedicated to restorative services and support to children who have been victims of trafficking.
Instead of raising or creating new taxes, the funds would come from a new $5,000 annual tax on adult entertainment businesses and from additional penalties, up to $2,500, on those found guilty of being involved with trafficking, prostitution and exploitation of children.
“We have been working on this issue since 2008, and this fund would culminate all the work we have done so far on sex trafficking in general and child trafficking in particular,” said Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, who gave a presentation at St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church in Dunwoody. Unterman sponsored resolution seven.
Unterman said while there is money in the current budget for child victim services, this amendment would establish a fund in perpetuity that can not be taken away by future legislators.
Agencies, faith-based organizations and non-profits that provide services to child victims of sex trafficking will be eligible to apply for the funds. They could use the funds to provide additional programming, living facilities and independent living services.
A new commission, appointed by the Georgia general assembly and the governor, will develop guidelines and oversee the distribution of monies to ensure they are used where they can have the greatest impact, according to Unterman.
Unterman said this issue is not one happening far away, but all over Atlanta and DeKalb County. According to a 2014 study by Urban Institute, Atlanta has been a hub for trafficking in the United States.
In 2007, at the height of trafficking in the state, Unterman said between 200 and 300 adolescent girls and boys were victimized per month throughout Georgia. She said the average age of those entering into the sex trafficking world is between 12 and 14.
Detective Robert Barrett with the Dunwoody Police Department said he has been a part of five prostitution stings just since last year. Through those operations, he said they recovered three youths between 15 and 16 years old, one 17-year-old and five adults.
“We have been targeting the prostitution aspect in Dunwoody,” Barrett said. “Believe me, it is here.”
Barrett said hotels and apartment complexes in Dunwoody are the worst areas where they see trafficking and exploitation go on. Their tactics have included placing fake ads soliciting sexual acts with minors and sending in undercover detectives to order the services of a young girl, make the deal and then make an arrest, he said.
Unterman said 65 percent of men purchasing sex with female children live in suburban areas like Dunwoody that fall outside of I-285. She said this is attributed to more disposable income and a greater ease of mobility.
According to Unterman, the conversation about sex trafficking has grown in the past decade in Georgia.
“I Had no idea how difficult it would be over the years and that I would have to nibble away at the laws to create a system of care,” she said.
From that conversation, the non-profits offering programs to serve minors impacted by the sex trade has gone from almost non-existent to nearly two dozen, she said.
One of those is the statewide nonprofit Georgia Cares which uses public-private partnerships to help victims of child trafficking and exploitation. Since its inception in 2009, the nonprofit has taken in close to 1,600 youth, serving almost 500 in 2015 alone.
“When I started out, these kids were treated as criminals, not as victims and it was a huge controversy to change that status,” Unterman said. “These kids do not want to be in trafficking — they are looking for a place to go, a safe harbor. This is about putting them in a therapeutic setting where they can get help.”