Senate bill to protect young prostitutes gains momentum

More than 500 people stormed the state Capitol this morning in support of a bill they say will protect young girls forced into prostitution.

The bill introduced by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), would steer girls under the age of 16 into diversionary programs instead of arresting them as prostitutes.

“This bill makes sure people are aware that young girls are victims,” Unterman said. “A 12-year-old laying on her back don’t know what sex is.”

Unterman – who has championed the rights of young girls – said the bill has been around for at least two years. She said she revisited it because a plan is now in place to rehabilitate the young prostitutes. The age of consent in Georgia is 16.

Unterman said her bill would help create a system of care for the girls while educating the public and those who come in contact with the young girls. It would impact girls getting pimped out on the streets, as well as girls working in massage parlors.

“I don’t think that children who are raped for profit should be prosecuted as criminals,” said Elizabeth LeDuc, a pediatrician, who supports the bill. “We need to make sure kids under 16 will not be tried as prostitutes. Children sent to jail for prostitution are more likely to go back into the streets.”

In Atlanta, trafficking and prostitution has emerged into a major problem. In 2002, for example, the FBI broke up a ring of 14 men pimping girls as young as 10.

In a report issued the following year, the bureau cited Atlanta as one of 14 U.S. cities with the highest rate of children being used for prostitution. Unterman said she plans to speak with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed about the issue.

But there are several critics of the plan who feel that Unterman’s bill will decriminalize prostitution.

At 2 p.m. Monday, several activists and conservative groups met on the steps of the Capitol to denounce the bill as promoting the decriminalization of prostitution.

“Never in our state’s history has prostitution been legalized,” said Sue Ella Deadwyler, publisher of Georgia Insight. “Arrest is a valuable life-saving tool that must be used. We need to hire more cops to arrest the prostitutes.”

Deadwyler, said that she, and those who don’t support the bill, believes that arrest is a better deterrent than a proposal for rehabilitation – no matter the age.

“Sure there are those who are forced into prostitution, but I think most of them volunteer,” Deadwyler said of under 16-year-old prostitutes. “Many, many children have been scared straight because of arrest.”

24 comments Add your comment


February 1st, 2010
12:05 pm


February 1st, 2010
1:29 pm

We should legalize prostitution for adults and put in place stiff jail sentences for those who force anyone into prostitution against their will regardless of age. Child prostitution would remain illegal.

[...] The press conference came just hours after several hundred people turned out to support the bill. (My AJC colleague Ernie Suggs has more details here.) [...]


February 1st, 2010
3:14 pm

Man, these christian groups are getting tougher and tougher. Whatever happened to love, acceptance, and helping your fellow man? Throwing little girls in jail hasn’t stopped prostitution, especially those that are coerced or forced into it. As long as there are provisions for repeat offenders, then I don’t see a problem with the bill. As least they are trying to get them some help instead of just throwing them in jail where they won’t get any help. Throw the johns and pimps in jail and get some help for these little children.


February 1st, 2010
3:26 pm

Just as a different thought: why can’t this issue be left to the various district attorneys and juvenile judges in the areas where this is a problem. If I’m a DA or Juv. Judge and a child comes into my office or courtroom who has obviously been victimized by prostitution, do I not already have the leeway to choose to either prosecute a lesser crime (that a diversionary program can be the “punishment” for) or just sentence the prostitution to a diversionary program directly.

It would seem to me that we shouldn’t need statute (which I support the spirit of whole-heartedly) to legislate the judicial temperament of our prosecutors and judges to tell who are the real victims of crime in our community, and punish them accordingly.


February 1st, 2010
3:39 pm

Ben, that is the problem. We have been taking away judicial discretion for years. Sentence guidelines are absolute, zero tolerance policies, etc.

[...] under the age of 16 who have been forced into prostitution (and yes they have been forced into it). The bill would… …steer girls under the age of 16 into diversionary programs instead of arresting them as [...]


February 1st, 2010
4:41 pm

Ben, you make a good point. A 16 year old girl who is arrested does not go to jail. We have juvenile detention centers for that. It is then up to a juvenile judge to determine what the treatment of that child will be. The goal of the juvenile system is to help the child. It is a much different goal from that of the criminal courts.

Whether we treat these girls as “victims” or as “delinquent children,” the goal should be the same. If it is not, then we have a more fundamental and broad-based problem with our juvenile system.

[...] See the full article from “Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)” [...]


February 1st, 2010
5:50 pm

“A 12-year-old laying on her back don’t know what sex is.”

Please tell me that Unterman didn’t say this with a straight face. The bill is hopelessly naive enough, but that statement borders on complete disassociation with reality.


February 1st, 2010
6:08 pm

@Ben Prosecutorial//judicial discretion wouldn’t remedy the problem: the fact that child prostitutes are being treated as criminals not victims. Allowing Prosecutorial discretion would likely result in disparate impacts. It will be a difficult task to gage whether a child is voluntarily prostituting? This is difficult with child victims of commercial sexual exploitation. In many cases, these children have a history of abuse and unfortunately, they trust their pimps more than anyone else. Child prostitutes are often reluctant to implicate their pimps so it will almost always appear to the DA that a child is doing this by his or her own volition.

Allowing child prostitution victims to be prosecuted is also inconsistent with Georgia law that defines the commercial sexual exploitation of children by any adult as child abuse. If these children are victims of child abuse, why are they being arrested and treated as criminals

We treat children trafficked internationally as victims but prosecute children who are forced into the world of commercial sexual exploitation right in our own backyards as criminals. GA is a hub for the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and we should remedy this problem by ensuring child prostitution victims receive servcies.

It is true that child prostitutes are treated through the juvenile system, but just like adults, children who enter the juvenile system often become repeat offenders because they are not provided the services they need.

Child prostitutes are not proctected right now because non-violent juvenile offenders are often released as soon as they are arrested. The State does not have enough resources to detain non-violent offenders and so child prostitutes are usually arrested and released WITHOUT GETTING HELP soon after police find them.

Treating them as victims will filter them into the same system of care as other children who are victims of child abuse because they would be considered deprived . Treating child victims of commercial sexual exploitation as such and not criminals is the only way to ensure these children get the support services they need!

[...] are a couple of things interesting about it: 1) Per Ernie Suggs at AJC’s Gold Dome Live, there were 500 people at a rally earlier in the day in SUPPORT of Senator Renee Unterman’s [...]

[...] de-criminalize prostitution by minors. Hookers under age 16 would no longer be prosecuted, but would be treated as victims:The bill introduced by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), would steer girls under the age of 16 into [...]

[...] are two bills before the lesterslature dealing with child prostitution. The basic concept is that if a prostie [...]

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February 2nd, 2010
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[...] are two bills before the lesterslature dealing with child prostitution. The basic concept is that if a prostie [...]

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February 3rd, 2010
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[...] said it, I didn’t. First, go read this. Ok. You angry [...]

Johnny C

February 3rd, 2010
10:16 am

I preface my statements by saying I am very much a Christian and understand the theological and theo-political arguments.
As much as I wish that vice laws were successful in deterring crime, they’re just not. The problem with prostitution is the same as drugs. Tougher penalties has not put a dent in the problem. Especially, within the largest subsection of the population that breaks those laws, which is the middle and lower class. Both prostitution and drug addiction stem from the same core problem of poverty, which stems from lack of a healthy home structure and lack of education. Since we don’t take poverty/parenting/education seriously, we cannot take drug crime and prostitution seriously. For every child or adult they pick up and throw in jail there are thousands to take their place. The prison system is designed to demoralize and punish those who commit these crimes, not to rehabilitate them. People go in 1st time offenders and come out 10 times worse than when they went in. There are countless scientific studies that support these facts, yet following them is the politically incorrect thing to do.

J. Bear

February 3rd, 2010
11:38 am

I was stunned to read the following, ““Sure there are those who are forced into prostitution, but I think most of them volunteer,” Deadwyler said of under 16-year-old prostitutes. “Many, many children have been scared straight because of arrest.”

And those were words from a publisher?
You have got to be kidding me.

Thank you to the reporter for getting national light shed on this legal matter.


February 4th, 2010
11:47 am

Who is this Deadwyler woman? She is obviously a nutcase. Virtually all of under 16 prostitutes have been sexually and/or physically abused and are forced into their lifestyle. These girls are CHILDREN and do not need prison time which will just put them back on the streets when they get out. They need help. As a Christian all I can say is…God deliver us from the radical so-called Christian right. They are anything but Christian. Do they honestly believe Christ would want these girls thrown in jail?

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Barbara B Rose, Jonathan Stegall, Aaron Gould Sheinin, Ivy Le, Cheryl Rose and others. Cheryl Rose said: RT @StreetGRACE: The AJC writes about the hundreds of YOU causing change. [...]

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by WITNESS, Lisa Maatz, ArtAidsArt, Sandi Wilson, Sandi Wilson and others. Sandi Wilson said: RT @witnessorg: RT @womensfunding: 500+ activists lobby Georgia legislature for bill to protect young prostitutes # … [...]

[...] the point of H.B. 582/S.B. 304, the important Georgia child prostitution prevention bill sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford).  Thirty years after so many youths lost their lives [...]

Nemeglessis Aballi

February 22nd, 2010
4:24 pm

Working for a non profit organization that deals with the children that are being sexually abused on a daily basis and young girls that are at risk or are involved in the life of prostitution really strikes up the question of what is our society doing to help the cause? Whether you are investing time/money, an investment is necessary for some change to occur. Some form of protection for these young girls should be implemented because alot of them fall victims, into the hands of pimps. Based on the commercial exploited stats of the average entry age being 12 and 80% of the girls that are at risk of prostitution have been sexually abused should be alarming enough for the senators to get involved in this major issue, in which not only hits home, but also hits the schools… May this approved bill in Washington be one of the many answers to our families, case workers, therapists and other involved activist groups in favor of this issue in our community.

laura asuandra

May 18th, 2010
11:54 am

I am not sure but I know from being in prison myself and witnessing, seeing how the girls are hooked on drugs there, well, just the stuff that is handed to them by the morning and afternoon “medicines cart” by the nurse on staff duty those shifts. The girls….. it’s sad. These are individual people with individual minds and creativity, and while I was only there briefly once……I saw the neglect widespread within the prison limits/ boundaries. The only thing in the cells were paper, poetry and the meals. They had to use the same socks for perhaps months, like 2 pair of socks. No other underwear was given out. ONE bike in the gymnasium, ballcourt, and one universal gym machine. This was awful. Yes they were safe, yes they were fed, some of them if not all women there had been abused or left to fend for their selves as young children. I met at least 5 or 6 of them in a college at a meeting one time. The girls said to me they are all fostered from home to home, and all of them are from abuse by a male figure in their family. They had only one thing to say to me, and it was ” you are also abused by your father aren’t you, ” because when they said to tell them about my life, I COULDN’T >.. I froze. And yes it’s true, I too was abused sexually. I pray for them and hope and think about how they are making due. I heard now after in their 40’s some of them finally got apartments. It’s really up to God to provide with things this deep as some go through. When we have governors that set up gambling to recycle other’s money and use that for stabilized economic growth, or job counts, I see something wrong, all of our farms sold off, no real jobs anyplace for anyone in the entire state of Pa. If you aren’t a professional and working as something that pays really well, you’re bound to fail. I have not had any opportunity to get a great education for long. Paying back isn’t the problem, it’s just getting to school, AND paying rent that would be the problem, so now with my own children I am just for THEM. I don’t have that luxury of a great paying job. I hope that some of these systems such as brokerage rapers, through insignificant taxes written off and raising up taxes from public utilities, and sales taxes are really looked at and the next time someone in local gov’t politics decides to go and build something remarkable, that they just really see the damage for all the profiteering . THey are sinking the american dream which is really family. Family in our region love to have family businesses, and Governor Rendell, you should really be shamed for the casinos you spent good wholesome money on. What do you have to show for this? I just hope people can see hope and love even through such huge mistakes. We are just simple loving community people, all we really need are farms, homes, something to keep busy doing, and our family.