Mike Klein Online

Georgia’s Intense Focus on Children Sold for Sexual Services

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

The video is black and white except for one dramatic effect; the very attractive young woman is wearing bright red lipstick.  The image of a man lurks in the background as she says, “I’m an exotic dancer.  I wanted to be an actress.”  Then another girl, “I’m an addict.”  Then another girl, “I’m being sold for sex.”  Then the man says, “Now they are living my dream.”

This video to create public awareness about sexual exploitation of juveniles was released in April on YouTube by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s Office for Children and Families.  In March, Attorney General Sam Olens announced “Georgia’s Not Buying It,” a coordinated federal, state and local law enforcement crackdown on adults who purchase sexual services with juveniles.  A website was created.  A video was produced.

These initiatives are part of an intense effort to identify and protect endangered juveniles who are usually young girls, crack down on the adults who sell their sexual services and target the sexual predators who purchase children.  The initiative includes public, private, non-profit and faith-based organizations together under the umbrella of a Governor’s Office task force.

Now it’s time to go to school.

Monday and Tuesday, the Georgia Department of Education will host “Human Trafficking: Not Just a Global Problem” in partnership with Bryan College and many Georgia public sector and non-profit organizations who are named on the conference website.  Registration was closed at 300 participants for the two-day meeting at the Carter Center in Atlanta.

There is so much demand for information on this subject within the education community that Georgia Public Broadcasting will record the conference and DOE will create a classroom curriculum to educate students about sexual services trafficking.  With video, DOE wants to reach “anyone who has contact with a child during the day,” said DOE spokesperson Dorie Turner Nolt.

Georgia's Not Buying ItThe Atlanta metropolitan area has been described as a hub for child sexual services in part because the international airport provides easy access for persons who want to purchase sex with children, although the airport is clearly not the only reason for predatory activity.  One of the challenges ahead for the task force is to refine the data to understand the scope of the problem.

“Georgia is way behind in statistical information because we have not had a mechanism in place to capture the data from all the law enforcement agencies to victims’ services agencies to non-profit agencies,” said Sandra Putnam, special agent in charge of the child exploitation and computer crimes unit at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.  She will speak on Monday.

The GBI focuses primarily on domestic child exploitation.  Federal organizations including the FBI and Homeland Security focus on international angle prosecutions.  The GBI launched a stand-alone human trafficking unit in July 2011 that was folded into the computer crimes unit last November.  “A lot of child sex trafficking is done through the Internet,” Putnam said.

Between July 2011 and December 2012 the GBI child exploitation unit worked 468 investigations, recovered 51 juveniles who were being used for sexual services and made 55 arrests.  But an arrest does not necessarily mean a conviction and sometimes, it does not even result in a court case.

“In order to go through with prosecution you have to have a victim who is willing, understands that she is a victim and has the ability to testify,” Putnam said.  “Once some of these girls get rescued and get treatment they don’t want to go through that process, they don’t want to testify.  A lot of these girls wind up back on the streets.”

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center reports it received 446 Georgia calls last year with 172 calls originating from Atlanta numbers.   “Operation Guarding Innocence” coordinated by the GBI and 46 other federal, state and local agencies announced 98 arrests last month.  Almost 1,000 persons were charged with internet sex crimes in Georgia since 2002.

“Trafficking is happening in Georgia all areas, not just in Atlanta,” said Fulton County senior district attorney Camila Wright.  Some studies have estimated that thousands of cases occur monthly in the Atlanta metropolitan area but professionals have begun to walk away from those estimates and they are clearly only comfortable with the hard data that their agencies develop.

“We are finding that the more law enforcement gets trained to spot it the more cases we have,” said Wright who speaks on Monday.  “I have four times as many cases now as I did last year just from training, learning to spot it and develop more cases.  I do not think that is because there is an increase.  We’re spotting what is there.”

Wright said the idea that children being sold for sexual services is an inner city problem is wrong.  Sexual service buyers tend to come from “north or south of the perimeter.  When girls are listed in Atlanta (buyers) tend to be people with expendable income.”

Nationally, the internet has become a haven for juvenile sexual images.  The National Center for Missing and Exploited children website reports that in the 2011 calendar year it viewed 17.3 million images and videos of suspected child pornography, a 400 percent increase since just 2007.

Wright recently spoke at a Fulton County sheriff’s department meeting.  “A lot of the speakers clearly thought the girls know nothing,” Wright said.  “The girls know.  The kids see this stuff.  They are approached.  They are solicited.  People try to recruit them all the time.”

Putnam said she wants to help educators “just understand that some of these girls may be true victims.  A lot of times we have these high school girls who are delinquent, they are acting out, they don’t do good in school but if you really get in there and start asking the right questions, it’s not too hard to make the connection that they may be a true victim of being trafficked.”

The conference does not include young women who were sold for sexual services.  “We’re not in it for the shock level,” said Nolt.  “We want educators to realize this affects them, too.”

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May 9, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,

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