Renee Unterman and the fight over child prostitution

Consider the case of Renee Unterman of Buford, a Republican state senator.

For 12 years, she has carried the water for social conservatives in the Legislature. That “choose life” license plate? Her work. The state’s requirement that doctors offer women a sonogram before abortions? Her work.

For the last several years, Unterman has focused on child prostitution. Atlanta, you may already know, is a national capital in the trading of young flesh.

For the only female Republican in a male-dominated Senate, it has been a delicate topic.

“When I first brought it up in a caucus meeting, it was like they wanted to get underneath the table,” she said. “I’ve gently moved them along in the past three years. They can talk about the 50-year-old man who has sex with a 12-year-old, and say it’s not okay.”

Even so, Unterman was surprised on Monday when she was all but declared a lobbyist for the Georgia Association of Pimps and Sex Brokers — which, so far as we know, is a fictional organization. But you can never tell.

The accusations came via the senator’s friends in the Christian conservative movement.

At issue is SB 304, Unterman’s bill to declare that boys and girls under age 16 shouldn’t be charged with prostitution, but diverted to treatment or therapy. (Another less likely bill, HB 582, would set the age of prosecution at 18.)

Unterman’s measure is an attempt to bring a certain legal and moral consistency to Georgia law.

Sixteen is the age of sexual consent in Georgia. If a child can’t consent to sex, how can he/she consent to prostitution? State law also declares that children under age 18, if caught up in anti-prostitution sweeps, are to be tallied as victims of both human trafficking and child abuse. Not criminals.

There is also the practical consideration. “You put handcuffs on a 12-year-old kid, put them in the back of a police car, they shut up just like that,” Unterman said. “But if you get them into therapy, they never have those handcuffs put on them — they’re more apt to talk about the gang and what the gang is doing to them.”

Opponents are having none of it. They praise Unterman and say they share the same goal. But they want the senator to walk away from what they say is a wrong-headed bill.

Passage, they said at that Monday news conference, would amount to the decriminalization — nay, the legalization — of prostitution. Predators will swarm to the state.

“Who will benefit from the passage of [the legislation]? I’ll tell you who — the very profitable and growing pedophile industry,” said Nancy Schaefer, Unterman’s former colleague in the Senate.

Spare-the-rod arguments were plentiful. “The threat of arrest, public humiliation and a police record has scared straight many minors and adults,” said Sue Ella Deadwyler, who writes a Christian conservative newsletter. “Arrest is a valuable life-saving tool that must continue.”

Those lined up against Unterman’s legislation include the Georgia Christian Alliance, the Georgia Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, and the Georgia Baptist Convention.

Other religious groups are staying out of the fight, and many have taken Unterman’s side. Presbyterians, for instance. But they are not organizations that sway votes in Republican primaries.

Unterman’s once-skittish GOP colleagues in the Senate are skittish again. House Speaker David Ralston thinks the language has gotten out of hand. “I don’t agree it’s decriminalization,” the speaker said. But neither would he commit to the legislation.

One of many ways to survive at the state Capitol is to view the place as a theater that combines tragedy, comedy and farce in equal measure.

Speeding toward House passage is HB 897, sponsored by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Gainesville), a bill to close the loophole that has permitted high school teachers to avoid criminal prosecution for their affairs with students — if the student is above the age of consent.

So by this spring, the Legislature could declare that a girl over the age of 16 legally lacks the judgment to enter into a romance with the aging Lothario who heads the math department. Many might call that a sound decision.

But lawmakers, through their silence, could also declare that a girl under the age of 16 should be held to criminal account when shoved into a bed by her pimp.

The author of that teacher-student bill sees the gap in logic. “I’m a pastor and I have no problem with the [Unterman] bill,” Collins said.

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108 comments Add your comment

dogs & cats

February 3rd, 2010
8:15 pm

Thanks for your work Senator U

why are men at the capital so afraid?

those so called christians will just use this as a money-making fund-raising scheme.

unclefast

February 3rd, 2010
8:17 pm

The Georgia Baptist Convention opposes this? What absolute morons!!

bart

February 3rd, 2010
8:30 pm

These radical Christian conservatives are narrow minded, hateful, bigots who want to turn this state (and even our country) into a Christian Yaliban.

bart

February 3rd, 2010
8:30 pm

Aquagirl

February 3rd, 2010
9:15 pm

Senator Unterman is dim. Why does she think her male colleagues are so squeamish on this topic? She thinks they really care about children, other than as political footballs? I’d wager more than a couple of them have sampled the wares, so to speak, and the last thing they want is these kids squealing on them.

Sen. Unterman, as long as you further the work of Republicans, you enable these men allowing sexual abuse of children and slavery. You must be so proud. Bravo.

tankandtank

February 3rd, 2010
9:26 pm

I am a pastor who is a Southern Baptist and am not opposed to this. Georgia Baptist are autonomous and one person who wroks for the convention does not represent us all.

ERC

February 3rd, 2010
9:46 pm

Where would we be with out Sen. Unterman? Finally, someone brave enough to talk about real issues under the Gold Dome and not fearful of re-election. Georgia’s legislators need to start having difficult conversations such at SB304, and stop pretending these issues are not the responsibility of the state because of their philosophical beliefs. Whether or not you care about these victims, the state will eventually be taking care of them in the future. The life expectancy of victims who enter into prostitution is 7 years…7. No one can actually argue that jail works for them, that jail rehabilitates them back into society as a healthy contributor. Its doesn’t. Georgia finally has a system of care to take care of these victims: Georgia Care Connection. The child abuse laws are inconsistent, and its time Georgia’s legislators change this. Its pathetic that this bill is finding resistance. We would never lock up children who are 15years old who are being physically abused to investigate who is abusing them. That logically doesn’t make add up, but we lock up children who are being sexually abused in order to “find their pimp”….doesn’t work like that. Thank you Sen. Unterman!!!!

Your New Low-Flow Toilet Salesman

February 3rd, 2010
9:51 pm

I smell a hint of racism, just sayin’. Nothing else explains the hypocrisy. Not like you see that many white pimps on the b**b tube or in the movies. And we see on the news who’s gettin extra lessons from the driver’s ed teacher. OH, they don’t have that in school anymore.

I wish people would just be more open and honest about the topic of race. We’d all find more common ground because we have more in comomon than we think, but I digress.

I don’t agree with the choose life plate, but this woman is a republican I’d vote for. At least she’s consistent. Unlike John McCain.

Aquagirl

February 3rd, 2010
9:54 pm

Well, Pastor, then you need to hotfoot it down to the Gold Dome and stop the impostor presuming to speak for you. Don’t hide behind the blather of “we’re autonomous!” when there is an organized group with a representative lobbying the legislature.

If you decide to duck that, I’d suggest Matthew 27:24 as a topic for your next sermon. You bloody well need it.

Glass House Rocker

February 3rd, 2010
10:29 pm

Jesus taught the “Good News”. He taught tolerance, helping the least of these, love thy neighbor as thyself, help a wounded, hated stranger–see the “Good Samaritan”. He associated with alleged prostitutes and–even worse–tax collectors.

Was He just misguided or misleading us? Should we follow the laws of the Old Testament? It’s so much easier just to condemn anyone we see a less that “us”.

Heck, back then even adultery was frowned upon and the punishment quite severe for both parties–it is even mentioned briefly in the Ten Commandments. Today, it’s no so bad and those rules are so quaint–wink, wink.

Of course, He did get upset at the money changers who desecrated His Father’s House just by their presense and drove them out in dramatic fashion.

I guess His message of helping the least of these just might be too difficult for the folks who are opposed to caring for an abused child to understand. The streets are dangerous and a child can be too trusting. How many of these “prostitutes–girls and boys” are runaways whose parents are desperate to get news of them? Are they held against their will?

My suggestion is that the pimps and the men who prey on these children be tried as sexual predators and upon conviction be sentenced and exposed as registered sex offenders–with all the rights thereof.

If these children are being held against their will then the pimps should be tried as kidnappers.

lem1970

February 4th, 2010
12:22 am

There are a lot of great comments on this topic. I think Sen Unterman has the best of intentions and we can never do too much to protect and try to save our children.
This bill as written does not appear to do what is needed and can possibly be misused to the determent of those it intends to protect as some are point out.
Maybe, this should be an alternative program that the courts are REQUIRED to consider instead of incarceration. The handcuffs going on the prostitute will get her attention and make the alternative program look good. I agree with Glass House Rocker, the penalties for Pimps and Johns should be long term jail, forfeiture of assets, registering as sex offender and other penalties as appropriate. If the girls are killed while working, the laws should allow the Pimp to be charged with premeditated murder. The young girls lives are stolen and can never be fully restored, they are truly victims.

Bubba

February 4th, 2010
5:12 am

Am I the only one who suspects the hand of Ralph Reed in this? If he can help one casino operator by stirring up the religious right to block another casino that would provide competition, why not stir up the religious right against a bill that could deprive the sex industry of the steady flow of young flesh? Is Ralph working for the commercial sex industry now?

Bubba

February 4th, 2010
5:15 am

When I was growing up in rural Georgia, the preachers and bootleggers combined efforts to block the legal sale of alcohol in most counties. Now we have an alliance between the religious right and the commercial sex industry to block a law that reduce the supply of children for prostitution. Amazing.

Yankee in Gooberville

February 4th, 2010
5:25 am

How is Ralph Reed still posing as a christian? What a huckster. And all these mouth breathings in-bred hillbillies carrying bibles and flags are beyond the pale.

Oh, Renee…you did the devil’s work for these luddites and now they’re turning on you. Hilarious.

Ralph Reed

February 4th, 2010
6:15 am

There is big money in SEX.

Tina

February 4th, 2010
7:10 am

It never ceases to amaze, the glee with which some slurs are spewed by the self-righteous, Yankee. I also wish Galloway would find less amusement in this issue. Is Renee Unterman really “carrying water” for the Christian Right? Why is it so hard to believe that her own beliefs are expressed in legislation she sponsors? Or that her desire to protect these children arises from the same beliefs? Reed is a deceitful buffoon, fat with sleazy Indian gambling money. That makes him no different from some on both sides of the aisle. It also makes him very different from many of the Christian activists mocked by association here, by people who would whine “hate” if such things were uttered about other religions. That goes for both the commenters and Galloway, who seems to be reveling in the crisis. Instead of enjoying Unterman’s quandary, why don’t you people get off your asses and go support this important legislation? There’s nothing “hilarious” about this bill failing, unless you enjoy the spectacle of child prostitution, pal. And I suspect it’s less the Christian Right and more sheer disinterest, or the desire to spend less, that is driving some of these Repubs away. So they need to be lobbied, hard, starting with Ralston.

BC

February 4th, 2010
7:40 am

I fail to see any personal amusement reflected in Mr. Galloway’s report.

I support this legislation and will let my rep. know. For all the good that will do (read that as he will totally ignore voters opinions, stick a finger in the air and go whichever way the Republican wind is blowing at the time.)

kitty

February 4th, 2010
8:02 am

If Ralph Reed is involved against this bill, I definitely support it. It is the right thing to do. Bet Ralphie smells money in this. I wonder if he is quietly working as a lobbyist for the sex industry. Nothing that hypocrite does surprises me.

DCL

February 4th, 2010
8:08 am

Here’s more inconsistency for you: The GA Legislature voted almost unanimously (only one legislator voted against) just last year for a law that requires “mandatory reporters” to make a child abuse report when they suspect a child is being prostituted. The child is to be treated just like any other child abuse victim and linked to services.

If we don’t change the criminal law, we put mandatory reporters in an impossible situation. The teachers, doctors, nurses and other adults in these kids’ lives will not make a report if they believe their report will be the thing that sends the child into detention, mark her with a criminal record, and probably still not get her any of the services she needs.

And we really need these mandatory reporters! Child prostitution continues to move inside and off the streets. It will be harder and harder for the police to identify kids who are sold for sex on the internet and prostituted in anonymous motel rooms around the state. We can’t rely on the police alone to rescue these kids. We need the wider community of adults, who already have relationships with these kids, to identify them and get them to the help they need. We’ll help a lot more kids if we can get them early — before they’re on those streets and in those motel rooms.

pete12

February 4th, 2010
8:08 am

vote in all new rep next time

Name One

February 4th, 2010
8:41 am

Nancy Schaefer is going to go down in history as one of the most ignorant elected officials in Georgia.

Thank you, thank you Renee Unterman for being the only elected official under the Gold Dome who is aware of the horror of child prostitution in this state.

The Georgia Christian Alliance, the Georgia Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, and the Georgia Baptist Convention are aware that child prostitution is ruining countless lives in Georgia, and they don’t care. They ignore it, and enable it by doing so.

null

February 4th, 2010
8:47 am

Why does nobody state the obvious? Legalize adult prostitution and the sleazy stuff tapers off drastically. I find it repulsive that the government feels the need to legislate what people can do in their own home, car, or hotel room. Properly licensed and taxed adult sex workers would clean up a LOT of issues and provide some additional revenue, to boot.

LJ

February 4th, 2010
8:50 am

Please explain to me how a child pushed into prostitution can be “scared straight” by being put in handcuffs and thrown into the Georgai Penal System? How can any reasonable human being think that? We are truly lost if we continue to punish children for the degradation pushed on them by the adults in their lives.

UrbanNAPC

February 4th, 2010
8:57 am

The statement published by Sue Ella in Ernie Scruggs piece that most of the girls volunteer for this is absurd and that should be the signal to all of us that the opposing side to this bill is badly misinformed. If there really are unintended consequences on the horizon from this let’s hear them, but let’s hear them from someone who has some expertise.

pj

February 4th, 2010
9:11 am

With this law the men who “have sex” with children can be tried as child rapists, which is what they are. I appreciate this article because I didn’t know about this Ga. legislator, and I support her work even though I am a democrat. Valuable politics that affect our entire society cross partisan lines.

JATL

February 4th, 2010
9:24 am

I’ve never been able to stomach Unterman before, but I wholeheartedly agree with her on this! I also sometimes think I can’t be any more flabbergasted or incensed by the “religious right”, however they always manage to take it a step further! I’m sure in many of their minds they would like to see us act like Saudi Arabia and perhaps flog these girls to death. And anyone so mean and ignorant to think that 12, 13 and 14 year olds “volunteer” for the sex trade should turn on the gas, open the oven door and quit taking up space on this planet.

Liberallily

February 4th, 2010
9:25 am

Anyone with half a brain knows that Renee Unterman is right on this issue. Don’t let these people deter you.

Jesus

February 4th, 2010
9:28 am

To the religious right: PLEASE STOP SPEAKING FOR ME. JC

Justaguy

February 4th, 2010
9:32 am

Anybody stupid enough to believe in God or any of the crap in the bible should not have any power to influnce our government. When Jesus and the churches start paying taxes they can have a say.

Angelsma

February 4th, 2010
9:32 am

Trust me….the Senator may see it as helping by sending these children to therapy, but pedophiles and pimps see it as a loop hole. Humans/children are indispensible to these slugs who will know exactly how early/late to work these kids. Then when they’re finished with them they will either kill them or worst throw them away to die a slow and desperate life of drug addiction/alcoholism. You can’t put a band aid on the festering wound of moral collapse. Arrest (which is immediate) and counseling is a better option.

Angelsma

February 4th, 2010
9:36 am

Arrest (which is immediate safe harbor) and counseling is a better option.

trex

February 4th, 2010
9:37 am

Isn’t the argument here that if they’re not considered “prostitutes” by law then the pimps can’t be charged with a crime thus creating a bigger problem?

Concerned Christian

February 4th, 2010
9:41 am

Bravo Senator Unterman. How can a child unable to consent to sex consent to be a prostitute. How can her colleagues not see this. These children need to be swept up and moved off the streets to safety.

Our family and our church firmly supports this legislation.

Joel Dockery

February 4th, 2010
9:43 am

Oh yeah, the threat of having a criminal record is going to get a child prostitute off the streets. Because everybody knows that you can’t work as a prostitute if you can’t pass a background check…

sullivan

February 4th, 2010
9:45 am

The threat of arrest, public humiliation and a police record has scared straight many minors and adults,” said Sue Ella Deadwyler, who writes a Christian conservative newsletter. “Arrest is a valuable life-saving tool that must continue.”

Um- I’m sorry. Has Ms. Deadwyler seen the statistics on recidivism? Has she done any homework on the rates of re-offending? That woman is offensive. Senator Unterman and I actually do NOT agree on much but she is on the money here. If the legal age of consent is 16, how can a 14-year-old consent to selling her body?

SmellsLikeTeenSpirit

February 4th, 2010
9:45 am

“Anybody stupid enough to believe in God or any of the crap in the bible should not have any power to influnce our government.”

Oh, my, heaven forbid someone should have a moral backbone (unlike yourself), the willingness to actually do what they believe is right, and to actually give a damn about making a change.

Yes, heaven forbid someone should be so “stupid” and believe that we didn’t magically grow from enzymes, fish, or monkeys.

Perhaps you need to rethink your aggression and insecurity.

CJJScout

February 4th, 2010
9:45 am

Called my rep this morning and sent the good senator an e-mail of encouragement. I’m ashamed of the Georgia Baptist and Ralph Reed for coming out against this.

Really!!!!

February 4th, 2010
9:50 am

Free speech is awesome but you do have to put up with the brainless as times. Renee I’m not a kool aid drinker of the far right persuasion but I think you are correct on this issue.

MEB

February 4th, 2010
9:56 am

So let me get this straight. The major “Christian” organizations are against getting to the root cause of why these children are in this lifestyle via therapy, correct? If their only argument is that it will bring more of these types of people into the state, then they are truly hypocritical. Ga. is already a major source of child prostitution. That lame comment that jail has turned many children straight is just a cop out. Provide the data that show how many children have been arrested for child prostitution and the number that have left that lifestyle due to being incarcerated. This is just another example of how the GOP are the modern day Pharisees and Saducees. They are full of moral rhetoric but lack compassion. I’m sure that is not what Jesus would have done.

Maroon Tiger '05

February 4th, 2010
9:58 am

As a Christian, I’m baffled as to why other “Christian” groups are opposing Sen. Unterman’s legislation. It’s idiotic to think that a 12, 13 or 14 yr old girl “willingly” enters into a life of prostitution. While I do not doubt that incarceration is effective at “scaring straight” some individuals, recitivism rates prove that it’s not 100% effective.

MEB

February 4th, 2010
10:02 am

trex

February 4th, 2010
9:37 am
Isn’t the argument here that if they’re not considered “prostitutes” by law then the pimps can’t be charged with a crime thus creating a bigger problem?
—————————————————————————
That’s the smoke screen they are using. However, this bill does not exclude the pimp. There are child sex laws and child endagerment laws that they would still be in violation of without actually having to engage in “prostitution”.

Tom

February 4th, 2010
10:02 am

Refresher: The Law of Unintended Consequences governs every deliberate action that is taken; you do something to address one issue or problem and a negative by-product of your action results as well.

Like welfare, which was intended to address the crushing poverty that some lived in but had the side-effect of destroying self-reliance for some individuals receiving it, the concern is this bill will solve one problem but create another indirectly. There’s a certain amount of simple-mindedness to assume this won’t be the case.

With that said I still think the bill is the right idea and what needs to be done is tweaking around the edges as opposed to throwing it out altogether.

Justaguy

February 4th, 2010
10:03 am

You are right SmellslikeTeenSpirit, the story in the Bible is much more believable. The all powerful but never seen or heard “GOD” created the earth 4 or 6 thousand years ago, made man in his likness then ripped out one of his ribs made a woman and the two populated the earth… Then when “GOD” didn’t like what was going on he killed everybody except the two on the big boat… Then they repopulated the earth again. A few years later his “Son” shows up starts a cult gets killed and Bam!! “GOD” is never head of or seen again…

Moral Backbone my @ss! Do you have to believe in “GOD” to make the distinction between right and wrong?!?! I think not… Oh, and have a blessed day…

Scott

February 4th, 2010
10:04 am

Exactly why I am a Libertarian. The country is tired of the Jimmy Swaggart’s of the world trying to effect legislation.

Tony

February 4th, 2010
10:06 am

This is unbelievable! These so-called “Christians” are anything but. Stand your ground, Ms. Unterman. You are 100% correct on this issue.

Boots

February 4th, 2010
10:06 am

Some Christians just don’t get it!

Throw the book at the pimps; but treat with compassion the children who are victims of a growing sex trade fuel by pedophiles and depraved adults.

Sanctified

February 4th, 2010
10:18 am

Hellooooooooo!!! What is so complicated about this for most of you? Prostitution is a crime and a sin. There are no age limits on crime or sin. These prostitutes are criminals and sinners, no matter what they age. See the light or burn in hell.

Jethro

February 4th, 2010
10:19 am

Most in the Christian right won’t be satisfied until “democracy” is replaced by “theocracy” when describing the U.s.

If the purpose of arrest is to protect the child, make it such that the arrest is removed from the record. Unless, of course, the 12 or 14 year old really wants to be next Heidi Fleiss and is savvy enough to manage their own business affairs.

If, as I suspect, the arrest is a symbolic scarlet letter by which a person is permanently classified for their sin (forgiveness can be given, after all, so long as the sinner is reminded constantly of their transgression), then it fits well within the theocratic views of those who have absolutely no interest in helping people, but every interest in building the platform of sinners by which the “moral” right can stand up and say, “see how much better we are than they are?”

The problem with Deadwyler et al is that they offer no alternative, nor was this issue even a blip on the radar. They offer nothing new, they don’t care to try. They would rather bad mouth someone’s idea than come up with their own. They don’t want to stop sin. Pride cometh before the fall.

Aquagirl

February 4th, 2010
10:20 am

My Bible must be missing a few pages—I don’t recall where Jesus arrests people to help them. Did I miss the Miracle Of The Handcuffs?

Whoever

February 4th, 2010
10:22 am

For those of you not knowledgeable about former Sen. Nancy Schaefer, she is such a fringe crackpot that even her ultra-conservative North GA district threw her out last election. Stay far away from any bill she supports.