By Diane Loupe
Monday, May 23, 2011
The problem of child sex-trafficking is widely associated with foreign countries such as Thailand and India. Advocates hope new sex-trafficking laws like the one passed in Georgia will focus concern on U.S. girls.
Kirsten Widner, director of policy and advocacy at the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory Law School here, helped draft the law. She says it provides ways for prostituted adults and children to escape criminal charges if they can demonstrate they were coerced into sexual servitude. Forms of coercion include threats and providing drugs or shelter in exchange for sex.
Like the privacy provisions of a rape shield law, this aspect of the law prevents prosecutors from using the sexual history of an exploited girl or woman against her in a criminal trial, says Widner.
Georgia State Sen. Renee Untermann, a Republican insurance executive, has championed the latest Georgia law, along with previous laws against child trafficking. A Democrat wouldn't have gotten far in the Republican-controlled Atlanta legislature, Untermann says. Even she had to work to persuade her conservative colleagues that girls were being victimized in their state.
"People don't want to hear about 50-year-old men having sex with 12-year-old girls," says Untermann.
In Georgia, Wellspring Living provides 45 beds for exploited girls and teens, the largest number of any state. But it's still not much "for a state of 8 million people," says Untermann.
She has received help from several large Christian churches and has worked with the National Conference of State Legislatures to pass model legislation on the topic.
New laws on sex trafficking are bringing the problem to light, says Samantha Vardaman, senior director of Shared Hope International in Washington, D.C., which is compiling a report card of such laws. But the nation, she says, "has a long way to go."
Diane Loupe is a freelance writer based in Decatur, Ga. She has an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri and teaches writing and communication at the Interactive College of Technology in Chamblee, Ga.
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