Georgia’s Safe Harbor Law is Consistent with Federal Trends
By Eliza Reock, Director of Programs, Shared Hope International
The proposed “Safe Harbor” fund in Georgia is consistent with a growing national movement to build better and more specialized services for young people who have been trafficked. Louisiana, Illinois, Kansas, Hawaii and Arkansas that have enacted similar laws, and in 2015 the U.S. Congress passed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA). JVTA recognizes the need for trauma-informed, comprehensive services for victims of trafficking and included the creation of a dedicated fund for services. Like Georgia’s proposed “Safe Harbor” law and previously mentioned state laws the fund is populated through criminal fines applied to perpetrators who violate the federal trafficking law. It also clarified that trafficking penalties and associated fines apply to buyers of sex with children.
Victims of sex trafficking face severe shortage of funded services tailored to meeting their unique form of trauma. Laws are needed to ensure these children gain access to services they so desperately need and deserve.
Shared Hope’s Protected Innocence Challenge outlines 41 components of law that must be addressed to effectively respond to child sex trafficking. Based on these components, each state receives legislative analysis and recommendations and a corresponding “grade.” Georgia has a “B,” receiving 81 out of a possible 102.5 points. In the section of the analysis that looks at protective responses, Georgia received 17 of a possible 25.5 points– in other words a “D” in victim response. Previous “Safe Harbor Laws” did provide Georgia child sex trafficking victims an opportunity assert a defense to prostitution charges, but they still remain subject to arrest and adjudication for delinquent offenses that are a result of their victimization. Thus, available services that provide alternatives to juvenile detention such as those that would be provided through “Safe Harbor” are critical.
Georgia is a recognized leader in tackling the toughest issues around child sex trafficking and this bill, that has been shaped by this longstanding commitment by the state and many trailblazing local organizations, provides an opportunity to continue this precedence. The Junior League of Atlanta’s ongoing leadership not only reinforces the message that children being bought and sold will not be tolerated, it tells the children who have survived this horrific crime that some of the most influential women in Atlanta care about them, believe in them, and will fight to ensure that they can not just survive, they can thrive.