We have more to consider on the Georgia ballot this year than candidates for local, state, and national offices. There are also four amendments to the Georgia constitution to think about as well. I encourage you to do your research ahead of time so you will be prepared to make informed choices.
Amendment 2 is the one I want to talk about here because the state fund and the commission that the amendment creates are key components in Georgia’s statewide strategy to combat child sex trafficking in our state. If you are unaware of the scope of this issue in Georgia, I have previously written about it here, here, and here. On Thursday, October 27, 2016, Senator Renee Unterman and Representative Mary Margaret Oliver hosted a press conference at the State Capitol to outline past efforts to combat the child sex trafficking problem in our state as well as to encourage Georgia voters to support Amendment 2.
The extent of the problem in Georgia is daunting because Atlanta regularly appears on various lists as one of the Top 10 cities in the nation for child sex trafficking. However, sex trafficking in Georgia is not only found in Atlanta. The internet, including websites like Backpage.com, has moved the trafficking issue outside of large cities to every corner of our state. Georgia Cares, the state’s intake agency for child victims, reports victim referrals from more than 100 counties in all regions of Georgia.
Child sex trafficking is not just an Atlanta problem. It is a statewide problem that requires a statewide solution.
As alarming as the problem is here in Georgia, we are fortunate to be a state that is leading the nation in both tackling the problem and providing services for its victims. This has been a team effort spanning almost a decade and involving Georgians from the law enforcement community, the GBI, the Attorney General’s office, legislators, and victim services providers. Strong support from the highest levels of state government–the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker of the House–has ensured that Georgia has laws on the books to punish those who exploit our children as well as to provide restorative services for our most vulnerable victims.
Law enforcement officers and lawmakers have focused on increasing penalties for child sex traffickers and ensuring that children are granted victim status by the court system and are not treated as criminals. Training programs across the state equip our local law enforcement officers to identify victims and investigate cases to ensure convictions of the people who traffic them. Meanwhile, local non-profits have stepped in to provide services to trafficked children to help them restore their lives.
Sex trafficking victims are subjected to extensive mental and physical abuse and require a wide range of services to restore them to health. As much as 80 percent of victims are addicted to drugs and need rehab, many have suffered trauma and require counseling, and others have had their education interrupted and need help getting a GED or additional job training. Victims sometimes need residential housing if their families cannot provide proper care or if they are at risk from retaliation by their pimps. These services are expensive—an average of $80,000 per child—and demand for these services is on the rise.
Our statewide community and law enforcement training programs are bearing fruit as more victims are identified and rescued from their traffickers. Heather Stockdale, CEO of Georgia Cares, reported at the press conference that they have had 469 youth referred to them for services in 2016. Additional services are needed for children with unique needs such as young boys, pregnant youth, LGBTQ youth, and youth with low IQ.
Georgia’s reputation as an innovator in fighting sex trafficking is tied in part to our statewide response to the problem. Amendment 2, the Safe Harbor Amendment, is a vital component in ensuring that funds are available across the state for victim services. Taxes on adult entertainment establishments as well as additional fines added to the judgments against convicted traffickers will generate approximately $2 million per year. The service providers in local communities can then apply to the commission for grants from the fund to help them deliver the treatment needed by trafficking victims.
Amendment 2 gives Georgia voters an opportunity to be a partner in the fight against child sex trafficking across our state. Please vote Yes when you go to the polls this election.
Together we can #EndIt.
You can watch the video of the Thursday, October 27, 2016 press conference on Facebook at Safe Harbor Yes.
Karla Jacobs is the chair of the Georgia Commission on Women and a member of the CJCC Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force. She lives in Marietta with her husband, two kids, a dog, and some fish.
There is a crispness to the October morning air in Georgia now that signals the seasons are finally turning the corner into fall. Leaves will shift their colors soon to the golds, oranges, and reds that lure folks to the mountains and clog the winding roads with leaf peepers out to take in the scenery.
Touring through the mountains in the fall is a great time to check out some of Georgia’s smaller state parks. One of my family’s favorites is the New Echota Historic Site in Calhoun. New Echota was the capital of the Cherokee Nation from 1825 until 1838 when the U.S. government forced the Cherokee to relocate to Oklahoma in what became known as the Trail of Tears.
By the time the Cherokee Nation founded New Echota, their culture looked very similar to that of the European settlers who were their neighbors. They adopted the same dress and became farmers, businessmen, and politicians. They were also the first Native American tribe to create their own alphabet. In 1827, the Cherokee ratified the Cherokee Constitution modeled after the U.S. Constitution, and created a government that was similar to our own—an executive, a legislature with an upper and lower house, and a supreme court. The Cherokee Phoenix newspaper, published in both English and Cherokee, had a circulation that included not just the Cherokee Nation but the United States and parts of Europe as well.
Visitors to the New Echota Historic Site can see 12 original and reconstructed buildings on the site today. You can walk through the Council House and Court House, visit a reconstructed farmstead with barns and outbuildings, see Missionary Samuel Worchester’s home, and get a look inside the restored Vanns Tavern. Our favorite was the reconstructed print shop with a working printing press from that era.
The Visitors Center is not to be missed. It tells the story of the Cherokee Nation and its capital through exhibits and a 20-minute film on the history of the Cherokee at New Echota. It is a tale of progress, hope, and great betrayal. It portrays a dark time in the history of our nation and our state, and it is one we all need to know and remember.
As you head into the mountains to take in the scenery of a beautiful fall day in Georgia, take some time to learn a little about the history of the area and the people who once called it home. You will be glad you did.
Karla Jacobs is chair of the Georgia Commission on Women. She lives in Marietta with her husband, two kids, a dog, and various fish.