By Laura A. Dean, Guest Blogger*
Georgia voters decidedly adopted constitutional Amendment 2, the so called Safe Harbor Act by proponents and “pole tax” by opponents on Tuesday, November 8. With over 83 percent of the vote in favor, this amendment was approved with a higher percentage than any other constitutional amendment on the ballot in what proponents argued was a true bipartisan grassroots effort. The amendment to the Constitution of Georgia earmarks monetary penalties for perpetrators of certain sex crimes and assessments on adult entertainment establishments in order to fund the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund. The fund will pay for rehabilitative and social services for sexually exploited children in the State of Georgia.
Despite the overwhelming support of 3.2 million Georgians, the local anti-trafficking movement, non-governmental organizations, Rotary Clubs, United Way, the Junior League of Atlanta, and churches around the state, this amendment is not without controversy and criticism. Proponents of the bill argued that the amendment was necessary in order to create a specific revenue stream for sexually exploited children that can withstand state budget crises and to assist victims of trafficking, which they refer to as an epidemic.
Statistics on human trafficking are often cited in the media and by anti-trafficking advocates to demonstrate the necessity of action on this issue. Atlanta has been categorized as a “Human Trafficking Hub” and the FBI named Atlanta as one of 14 cities in the nation with the highest incidence of children exploited in prostitution. But concrete numbers on this phenomenon are difficult to discern. Additionally, the numbers cited by many in the anti-trafficking movement are often flawed, unsubstantiated, or misinterpreted.
Literature from the campaign stated that Atlanta leads the nation in profits generated from the illicit sex trade. This statistic references the Urban Institute study that looked at the sex trade in eight major American cities and found that Atlanta had the largest commercial sex trade between 2003 and 2007. The data from this study were focused on the underground commercial sex trade, however the wording is changed in the Amendment 2 literature to “illicit,” in order to focus on the criminal aspects of the sex trade. The amendment literature also states that this information is current and immediate but the data from the study are almost a decade old and likely do not properly reflect the phenomenon today.
Moving beyond the statistics, the type of victim that can receive assistance from this fund is also problematic since it is aimed at child victims of sex trafficking and leaves out labor trafficking victims, adult victims that cannot prove force or coercion to qualify legally for assistance, LGBTQ victims, and many other types of victims that do not fit into the narrow category outlined in the amendment.
Another problematic element of Amendment 2 is that the dispersion of the funds and how they will be used is unclear. According to the Safe Harbor website “agencies, faith-based organizations and non-profits that provide services to child victims of sex trafficking will be able to apply for funds. A new commission, appointed by the General Assembly and the Governor, will develop guidelines and oversee the distribution of monies to ensure they are used where they can have the greatest impact.” Thus, despite laying the groundwork for this amendment since 2009, anti-trafficking advocates have yet to decide the commission’s membership and how the annual estimated $2 million dollars in revenue from this amendment will be spent.
Critics of the constitutional amendment have labeled it as a government money grab targeting strip clubs because they are an easy target and some have threatened to sue if the amendment was adopted. Others have argued that the Amendment’s funding stream lumps legal businesses in with criminals and makes strip club owners pay for the state’s child sex trafficking efforts. Even the NAACP Georgia initially came out in opposition to Amendment 2 because it was a gimmick creating surcharges on unrelated businesses that will be passed on to lower income Georgians. They changed their views in November because the funds will be permanently protected and used solely for the purposes of providing restorative services to child victims.
A number of feminist scholars and activists were also opposed to the amendment due to the source of the funds. At the World Summit: End Sexual Exploitation hosted by the Carter Center in Atlanta, a presentation on Amendment 2 garnered significant criticism from audience members. Some claimed the amendment aimed to take money from strip clubs who contribute to human trafficking and use that money to help victims, creating an uncomfortable relationship between the two entities. Other opponents, such as Athens for Everyone, said that that the bill would further marginalize people who work in the sex industry by levying penalties and taxes on them. This effectively hurts exploited people, the same people Amendment 2 purports to help, but only if they fit into the narrow category of victim recognized in the legislation.
Despite the overwhelming approval of Amendment 2 in Georgia there are still a number of controversies with the Safe Harbor Fund. Problematic statistics utilized by proponents added a sense of urgency to the adoption of an amendment that was not entirely thought out and does not serve all of the trafficking victims in Georgia. This urgency led voters to approve fines of $5,000 per year or one percent of adult entertainment business revenue, whichever is greater, into a state fund only for child victims of sex trafficking. This fund has no guidance on how the revenue will be spent beyond rehabilitation services and does not address the underlying causes of trafficking such as poverty, abuse, homelessness and other factors that leave people around the state vulnerable to traffickers in the first place. The new Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund Commission charged with allocating these state funds should look to be more rigorous, transparent, and inclusive with its programming, assistance, and rehabilitation services than Amendment 2 because all of the trafficking victims in Georgia depend on it!
*Laura A. Dean is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Millikin University. She is a member of the Georgia Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force. She blogs at Eastern Exploits.com and tweets @proflauradean.
The Human Trafficking Center, housed in the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, is the only two-year, graduate-level, professional-training degree in human trafficking in the United States. One way graduate students contribute to the study of human trafficking is by publishing research-based blogs. The HTC was founded in 2002 to apply sound research and reliable methodology to the field of human trafficking research and advocacy.
Founded in 1964, the Josef Korbel School of International Studies is one of the world’s leading schools for the study of international relations. The School offers degree programs in international affairs and is named in honor of its founder and first dean, Josef Korbel.
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