BY: Brianna S. Powell
Human trafficking is known to be the second oldest illegal profession falling behind drug trafficking and is a $32 billion business worldwide. According to Traffickingproject.org, Atlanta is now ranked the highest in child prostitution and human trafficking within the United States.
Lina Thompson, a student and advocate for A Future Not a Past, a campaign against child prostitution and the sexual exploitation of young girls, says that she got involved two years ago after hearing Jennifer Swain, state coordinator for A Future Not a Past, give a speech at her church. Thompson says that she was inspired by Swain’s passionate call for action and the testimonies of the victims.
“Thirty-three girls, as young as 11, are sold on Craigslist.com, every month in Georgia alone. After hearing that, you think to yourself that it must be the inner city kids, but the truth is, the suburban girl next door is taking sexy pictures, posting them and the suburban dad next door is buying sex from his neighbor’s daughter,” Thompson said.
Thompson says that it scares her to think that the kids growing up in her neighborhood, in Cobb County, are getting sexually exploited and she was never aware of it.
“You think you are making a good decision by taking your children out of the city away from all the drug dealers, drug abusers, and street walkers and moving them to the so-called nice area, but the majority of ‘John’s’ are your doctors, lawyers, clergymen, and professors who have the money to buy these girls at a price that the pimp likes,” Thompson said.
Thompson says that after hearing what happens to the girls, sometimes no older than 13, she feels compelled to rescue them.
Thompson now volunteers at local safe houses, donates clothing and money to feed the girls, and is an active mentor to those recovering from traumatic experiences with prostitution.
Victims not Criminals
For years, prostitution has been viewed as an illegal action therefore requiring all violators to be entered into the justice system and convicted for their crime. In cases of child prostitution, young girls were no exception to the law.
Jennifer Swain believes that not all the young girls are criminals. Swain was vocal about her feelings against the law and how the police do not take the time to question the girls and see if they were forced to commit the act against their will.
Swain believes that children do not have the cognitive ability to make the decision on whether they want to commit the act or whether they are being coerced into the act. According to her speech, pimps can use violence, mind control, threats, and other means in order to get the children to commit prostitution and sometimes the children feel like they have no other choice.
Swain is relentless on her mission to make sure the children have a voice against being called criminals as opposed to being treated as a victim and plans to have it written into the laws across the nation like it has been done in Georgia.
House Bill 200
House Bill 200 passed in the Georgia House of Representatives in March. The bill makes it easier to target and convict pimps and others who sexual exploit children. The bill proposed that sexually exploited children would be treated as victims not criminals. The bill also expanded the definition of coercion to include physical force, threatening financial harm, and drug use. House Bill 200 forces pimps to be accountable for their actions and face up to 20 years in prison for victims between 16 and 18 years old, and face up to 30 years in prison for children under 16. The state may also seize any property or assets acquired with proceeds of the crime.
In 2006, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin launched a program called “Dear John”. “Dear John” is a public education campaign to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children. “Johns” are simply people who buy sex and the program was created to purposefully attack the problem of child prostitution in the city of Atlanta. The campaign seeks to educate and activate audiences to help stem the problem, which also results in children withdrawing from schools and their families, entering into poverty and becoming more susceptible to health risks.