The worst of the underbelly of Atlanta, the sexual trafficking of children, some as young as 9, has become widely known in recent years.
It was bad enough in 2006 that Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin launched a “Dear John” program “to purposefully attack the problem of child prostitution” in Atlanta.
In January 2007, CNN’s Clinton Anderson reported that drug dealers had started pimping young girls because, as a recovery counselor told him, “you can only sell a dime bag once; you can sell a 10-year-old girl over and over again.”
Anderson noted then that he couldn’t get comprehensive numbers for such offenses. Pimping a minor wasn’t upgraded from a misdemeanor to a felony in Georgia until 2001. Even then, he quoted a Fulton County prosecutor as saying that the change in the law had mainly driven child trafficking from the street to the Internet, and that prosecutors needed to be better organized to fight the problem.
The website of Human Trafficking Atlanta, a child-protection advocacy group, bears that out. It still calls Atlanta “a global hub of human slavery” and the “number one hub of human trafficking and child sex exploitation in the United States.”
It says that adult men, instead of traveling to Thailand to have sex with children, fly into Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport, are picked up by pimps who take them to have sex with child sex slaves, and are then taken back to the airport for their trip home in time to have dinner with their family.
Maybe that will begin to change, now that Georgia has finally passed, and begun implementing this month, what is arguably the toughest law in the country to combat the commercial sex slavery of children.
The law attacks the problem at both ends, substantially changing the traditional approach to prostitution that locked up the sex slaves and prostitutes along with the johns. Georgia’s new law — passed this year after four years of legislative dithering while the problem worsened — socks the pimps and human traffickers of children with heavy criminal penalties. At the same time, it provides counseling and help to the child and adult victims of sex slavery and violence. Such help may include state money for medical treatment if the victim cooperates with prosecutors.
The law also prohibits prosecutors from charging adult prostitutes with sex crimes if they were victims of trafficking or coercion when the crimes occurred. Coercion is broadly defined, to include destruction of immigration documents and financial and familial retaliation as well as violence.
For traffickers, pimps and johns, the law specifies a 25-year minimum sentence for people convicted of trafficking minors under 18. It imposes a 5-year minimum sentence on offenders convicted of paying for sex with children 16 or older. Offenders caught seeking sex with children below the age of 16 are subject to a sentence of 10 years.
Given the horrific damage of sex slavery, the new law is not too harsh. If diligently enforced, it may provide a useful national model, as well. Atlanta certainly needs it. The shame is that Georgia waited so long to attack the rampant sexual slavery that has made its capital infamous.