Just as they led the fight to enact legislation to crack down on child sex trafficking, two Jewish elected officials played key roles at the launch of a campaign to pass a constitutional amendment to help the child victims of that sex trade.
Safe Harbor Yes kicked off its drive for Amendment 2 to the Georgia Constitution with a news conference Wednesday, Aug. 24, at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights downtown.
“Every voter in Georgia can stand up for the children by voting yes in November,” said Evia Golde, a co-chair of the Safe Harbor Yes Committee.
“I’m here because I’m voting yes for Safe Harbor,” former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin said.
The amendment would create the Safe Harbor Fund to provide restorative services such as housing, counseling, and medical and psychological treatment for child victims of sex trafficking. It would pay for the fund with two new dedicated sources: fines on people convicted of sex crimes and a fee on establishments that serve alcohol while providing nude entertainment.
Those sources are expected to produce $2 million a year.
“To our children, this fund is life,” said Bob Rodgers, the president and CEO of Street Grace, a faith-based organization battling child sex trafficking.
The legislation putting the amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot, along with a companion bill clarifying that minors forced into sex work are victims, not criminals, passed the General Assembly in 2015 under the sponsorship of Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) with the strong backing of Attorney General Sam Olens.
Those measures were the culmination of legislative work by Unterman and others going back to 2009 to counter the child sex trade in Georgia. It was a crusade joined by Olens after his election in 2010. As a result, the state has some of the toughest penalties for the buyers and sellers of children for sex.
“If you’re buying a 12-year-old child, you deserve to spend a long time in jail, just like the seller,” Olens said, adding that in the child sex trade “there are no such words as pimps or johns. You’re a trafficker.”
One of Georgia’s keys is to educate the public and the judiciary about that message to create deterrence and change behavior.
But the vote in November is about helping the exploited children more than punishing their abusers.
“That’s restoration,” Olens said. “That’s helping those children who have had their innocence taken, often for years at a time, sold up to 20 times a night, just as it will occur tonight throughout our state.”
The constitutional amendment is necessary to protect those restorative programs from elected officials tempt to redirect the money, Unterman said. “This is our one-time opportunity.”
She urged supporters of the amendment to spread the word of the necessity to go to the end of the ballot to find the four constitutional amendments.
“We cannot forget that this is a human issue,” Rodgers said. “Our children are being bought and sold by our neighbors.”
Dorsey Jones told the packed conference room, which included Steve Chervin from Ahavath Achim Synagogue and Noah Appley of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta, that poverty forced her at age 12 to trade sex for money to buy food in South Georgia.
The effort to save children from sex trafficking “brings so much joy to me because I know that there’s somebody out there fighting for all the children who look like me,” Jones said.
The opposition to the amendment is coming from the adult entertainment industry, such as operators of strip clubs, because of the new fee the amendment would place on those businesses.
But as long as the amendment passes, Unterman is confident that the fee would survive any court challenges because the law is modeled on one in Texas that has passed legal muster.
The next step, Unterman said, will be to work on the system of care for trafficked children.
“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow additional penalties for criminal cases in which a person is adjudged guilty of keeping a place of prostitution, pimping, pandering, pandering by compulsion, solicitation of sodomy, masturbation for hire, trafficking of persons for sexual servitude, or sexual exploitation of children and to allow assessments on adult entertainment establishments to fund the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund to pay for care and rehabilitative and social services for individuals in this state who have been or may be sexually exploited?”