Arrested teenage prostitutes are often sent back to the streets and the pimps who control them because juvenile lockups are filled with more serious offenders, a police officer who specializes in such cases told state legislators.
Atlanta police Sgt. Ernest Britton and others asked members of the House Non-Civil Judicial Committee to support a bill that would decriminalize prostitution for those 17 and younger. Britton said that would help the legal system find help and treatment for teenager prostitutes, who are usually victims of exploitation.
A crowd of about 40 from a coalition of religious and political groups in metro Atlanta that formed to fight sex trafficking turned out for the hearing — a large turnout for a summertime legislative committee hearing. It pushed legislation this year that created better reporting of the crime.
Teenage prostitutes need help, not jail time, said coalition member Colleen Rouse of Norcross.
But Rep. Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta), a member of the committee, opposes the bill. “It will encourage child prostitution, because it will no longer be a crime,” he said.
Atlanta is a U.S. center for the child sex-trafficking trade, the FBI has said. The nonprofit Juvenile Justice Funds estimates that 200 to 300 adolescents and teenagers are prostituted in Atlanta every month. Committee members discussed concerns about wholesale decriminalization as opposed to finding better ways to allow police officers to get help for teenagers.
Cheryl DeLuca-Johnson of Gwinnett County, a coalition leader, said that the packed committee meeting was just a warmup for when the Legislature opens in January. “Our plan is to have hundreds here, then thousands,” DeLuca-Johnson said.
Adapted from: Christopher Quinn, "Supporters push teen prostitution legislation," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 17 June 2009.
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