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Providing a “Safe Harbor” for Georgia’s Children

February 12, 2015
Georgia State Senate Seal

Our children hold the key to a shining future. They deserve to be nurtured, cherished and kept safe from harm at all costs. It troubles me deeply to know that children in Georgia suffer at the hands of criminals who wish to profit from selling their innocence and vulnerability.

Approximately 374 girls are commercially and sexually exploited in Georgia every month, according to the Center for Public Policy Studies. The majority of these victims are not trafficked from other countries; they come from right here in Georgia, some as young as 12 years old.

Victims of sex trafficking are often afraid of potential consequences — ranging from prosecution to homelessness — of coming forward, which makes it difficult to accurately count them, hinders police and prosecution efforts, traps these children in a horrible lifestyle and keeps them on the streets.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation released the most-comprehensive report to date in 2014. GBI analysts with all the resources of Georgia’s premier law enforcement agency pinpointed several common misconceptions, areas where law enforcement requires more training, and the prevalence of sex trafficking in Georgia.

Because of the GBI’s understanding of the issue, this week Director Vernon Keenan spoke in the Senate Judiciary Committee, telling us that from the GBI’s perspective, safe housing, health and social services for victims are tools that will help the GBI more effectively find and prosecute sex traffickers and that the GBI supports passage of Senate Bill 8 and Senate Resolution 7.

Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), which I introduced in December 2014, aims to assist police and prosecutors, and help restore the dreams and shining futures that predatory sex traffickers are stealing from children. Minors who have been trafficked deserve an escape from the punishment and shame that are inflicted upon them by their captors.

SB 8 extends the statute of limitations for children who were sex trafficked to bring actions against those who stole their innocence. The legislation establishes a fund for victims and incorporates federal guidelines for services to these children. It also increases penalties for sex trafficking, requires convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders and allows for the forfeiture of vehicles used in trafficking and money derived from the crimes.

Senate Resolution 7 helps fund the Commission established in SB 8 by increasing penalties for enumerated sexual and sex trafficking crimes and dedicating those funds to pay for services to minor victims.

About the Author

Sen. Renee Unterman serves as Chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee. She represents the 45th Senate District, which includes portions of Gwinnett County. She can be reached at 404.463.1368 or by email.

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