Georgia announces child sex trafficking crackdown

mlee@macon.comMarch 18, 2013 

ATLANTA -- The state of Georgia is expanding its war on child sex trafficking with a new campaign targeting the men who buy sex with children, aiming to make law enforcement’s message as loud as the massage parlor billboards on the interstate.

“We’ll continue to go after the pimps and rescue the victims, but we know that the only way to truly eradicate this evil by ending the demand,” said state Attorney General Sam Olens, introducing the “Georgia’s not buying it” campaign during an Atlanta news conference Monday.

“Some people call them johns. I just call them child molesters,” said Michael Moore, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia. He drove up to the Capitol building for the announcement along with other prosecutors and law enforcement officers from across Georgia.

“I quit counting the number of spa and massage parlor signs. I think there were more billboards for massages than McDonald’s,” he said of Interstate 75 North between Macon and Atlanta. “I think there are legitimate places to get a massage, but I also know that in a lot of these places it’s basically an in-your-face form of prostitution and oftentimes a place where we have trafficking of young girls.“

In the coming months, those billboards will be matched by state billboards, posters and television public service announcements that will warn would-be sex buyers.

Moore said his office is now hearing of children being bused into rural areas to service farm workers.

Child sex trafficking is “a problem that knows no geographic limitations. It doesn’t discriminate between urban and rural,” Moore said. Some of the victims are U.S.-born, some are foreign born and some are even prostituted by their parents.

It’s sometimes difficult to get victims to give evidence about trafficking, he added, because the pimps have so scared and shamed them that they will not testify. Indeed, in some cases, his office cleans up prostitution and possible child sex rackets through money laundering charges rather than trafficking.

Leigh Patterson, Rome district attorney and president of the District Attorneys’ Association of Georgia, outlined some of the things that pimps do to cow their victims.

“A young lady ... was stripped naked by her pimp and locked in a room with a pit bull. ... Another young lady, because she wasn’t obeying, wasn’t doing what her pimp wanted her to do, was stripped naked, beat and locked in a trunk” for days until she was dehydrated, sick and willing to obey.

The latter is common enough that it has a name: “trunking.”

Ed Tarver, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, has recently announced 25 indictments in a sex trafficking ring that reached from Mexico into Georgia, the Carolinas and Florida. Some of the victims were enticed into slavery. Others were threatened, he said.

His office found girls “as young as 14 who are required to perform sexual acts 25 times a day,” Tarver said.

Georgia has made several legal changes over the past few years meant to liberate and help child sex trafficking victims. A 2011 law established that youths facing the possibility of prostitution charges can plead that they were victims, not perpetrators.

The same law gave the GBI jurisdiction over child sex trafficking crimes, so that law enforcement can more easily reach through jurisdictions into every corner of the state.

This year, House Bill 141 by state Rep. Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, is on track to mandate posting the number of a national rescue hot line for trafficking victims in places such as bars, airports, truck stops, farm labor contractors’ offices and massage parlors that do not employ massage therapists.

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