Joy Friedman hugs a woman named Lisa who was working as a prostitute in Minneapolis. Friedman was a women’s programs manager for Breaking Free, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that helps women who want to leave the sex trade. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Jeff Wheeler)

Sex trafficking bills move forward in Georgia in bid to up penalties

Georgia legislators are pushing ahead with two bills designed to decrease pimping, pandering and sex trafficking.

Senate Bill 39, which passed the House Judiciary Committee this week, increases penalties for pimping, or those who manage prostitutes and the money they make, and pandering, the crime of persuading or encouraging someone to become a prostitute.

Under current law, for individuals charged with pimping, it’s a misdemeanor — unless the case involves a minor — no matter the number of times they have been charged or convicted.

“Vehicle,” the Phrase of the Week by James Salzer. Video by Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Under SB 39, anyone arrested for the first time on a pimping offense would be charged with a misdemeanor, but if convicted, minimum jail time would increase from the current 24 hours to 72 hours.

“Keep in mind, a judge can sentence up to 12 months in jail, it’s just the minimums we are talking about,” said state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta.

A second offense would result in a felony charge.

People charged with pandering, if convicted, currently face a misdemeanor charge and must serve a minimum of 24 hours. SB 39 would make the sentence for a second offense of pandering a minimum of 72 hours in jail. A third and subsequent offense would bring a minimum sentence of 96 hours.

SB 39 was also amended by the House to change the range of time an individual convicted of pimping would have to serve.

Under the change, second convictions would become a felony and could bring one to five years in prison. A third and subsequent offense could bring up to 10 years in prison.

A second bill would increase penalties for those charged with sex trafficking.

Senate Bill 335, sponsored by state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, was also expanded by the House to give judges more discretion over cases in which teachers or coaches are accused of sexual misconduct.

While Unterman’s SB 39 and SB 335 make their way through the House and Senate, lawmakers have already passed another bill aimed at sex trafficking in Georgia.

House Bill 732 would increase penalties for child sex traffickers and update the state’s definition of human trafficking to include those who patronize by soliciting or offering an individual money to have sex with them, giving a person money to have sex with a third individual, or persuading a person to have sex despite their persistent refusal.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr praised lawmakers for passing the bill.

“Every month in Georgia, 354 minors are sold for sex to 7,200 men. Including ‘repeat transactions,’ these men pay for an estimated 8,770 sex acts per month,” Carr said. “This abuse is appalling and must be stopped.”

For the past few years, there have been multiple national initiatives to combat sex trafficking. One of the initiatives, an FBI-led sting operation known as Operation Cross Country XI, led to  60 arrests in Georgia in October, about half of all arrests in the nation.

The Atlanta FBI’s Metro Atlanta Child Exploitation Task Force and Child Exploitation Task Forces in Savannah and Augusta participated in the operation, recovering four juveniles, and arresting 51 suspects in Atlanta and two in Savannah.

Arrests in Atlanta also included four people charged as pimps and three charged with coming from out of state to engage in sex with a minor.

According to the FBI, metro Atlanta police and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children worked with FBI agents and officers to stage operations in hotels, casinos, truck stops, street corners, and on internet websites.

The youngest victim recovered from Operation Cross Country XI was 3 months old.

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