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.”