Nonprofit Voice | youthSpark Leads Policy Push to Protect Child Sex Trafficking Victims

Our Nonprofit Voice blog series is back! These guest posts are written by GCN member leadership about a pressing community challenge they are tackling—whether it's a hot news topic or an issue that's been too long ignored.

This post is the last of a three-part series on policy and advocacy, written by our members who were on the front lines of this Georgia legislative session. youthSpark Interim Executive Director Jennifer Swain shares her organization's path to having a Safe Harbor bill passed by the Georgia legislature, and how that will further protect victims of child sex trafficking in Georgia.

Supporters of the Safe Harbor bill leave slips for Georgia state senators urging them to support the legislation. 

OPINION | by Jennifer Swain, Interim Executive Diretor of youthSpark | May 6, 2015

While Georgia has constantly made national headlines as a hub for child sex trafficking—our coordinated community response to protect exploited youths is on the rise. Keeping our children safe from traffickers using a victim-centered approach is the focus of many groups on the front lines, including the Georgia legislature. 

The 2015 legislative session proves our community awareness and education efforts are far-reaching, and that there is power in numbers. Led by Sen. Renee Unterman and other key legislators, Georgia senators and representatives have helped solidify our framework so that no child victimized by trafficking can be charged as a criminal and that these victims will have access to funding for services to help them heal. Coined as Rachel’s Law, SB 8 and SR 7 (described below) had a real face—a person who was brave enough to share her story with policymakers to keep others from experiencing the pain she once faced.

Every year, youthSpark focuses heavily on legislative advocacy efforts and mobilizing grassroots support.  We keep our supporters informed by sending weekly legislative advocacy alerts and by hosting the annual Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Lobby Day event in February, in conjunction with our community partners. 

Because of the controversy associated with “safe harbor” laws, we called on community members to take action by contacting their elected officials nearly every week. Organizers started working with Sen. Unterman, Rep. Andy Welch, and Rep. Chuck Efstration, well before the new year to ensure that no child would ever have to face criminal prosecution for being a victim.  Opposition groups also started early voicing their concerns about safe harbor protection, but with support from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, prosecuting attorney councils, district attorneys, several faith-based groups, and community members, justice was won at the final hour.

We support Rachel’s Law because we recognize many victims don’t self-identify as victims initially or, oftentimes, are too afraid to speak out against their trafficker.  Georgia previously passed a law stating that prostitution charges against underage victims  can be expunged. We believe that policy should be taken one step farther and passing a true safe harbor measure was only right. 

youthSpark also supports the fee imposed on adult entertainment clubs because of the correlation between that industry and the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Any lawful business that perpetuates the problem even tangentially should be willing to be a part of the solution. Period.

youthSpark believes prevention is the best protection and will continue to reach our children before they are lured, forced, or coerced into trafficking. Working together with policymakers, we can create a world where no child becomes a victim, a pimp or a buyer. For more information on how you can help prevent human trafficking in your community, visit www.youth-spark.org.

Jennifer Swain is the interim executive director of youthSpark, Inc.

 

Safe Harbor Legislation Passed by Georgia Legislature in 2015

SB 8 – Safe Harbor / Rachel's Law Act

- Provides a legal safe harbor provision for children under the age of 18 who are victims of child sexual exploitation and trafficking to be treated as victims and not arrested and charged as criminals;
- Provides for much-needed funding for services for child victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking through an assessment fee on adult entertainment establishments,
- Extends the statute of limitations from age 23 to age 25 for a victim of sex trafficking to take civil action against a perpetrator;
- Requires sex traffickers to be included on the Sexual Offender Registry.

SR 7 – Constitutional Amendment

- Provides that the funds from the assessment be allocated to the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund for the purpose of providing care and rehabilitative and social services for children who have been or may be sexually exploited. 
- SR 7 will need to be passed as a constitutional amendment during the November 2016 election in order to become effective.

 

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