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.