EXECUTIVE SUMMARY This memorandum focuses on the nexus between sex trafficking and prostitution in the state of Georgia. Sex trafficking is defined as an action that through means of force has goals of exploitation (UNODC, 2004). Atlanta’s underground sex industry totals over $300 million dollars per year, and a majority of the workers are victims of sex trafficking (Boone, 2014). Georgia state law addresses sex trafficking victims that are minors, but there is no protection for adult victims, who are prosecuted for prostitution when rescued. Adult victims do not have access to protection funds like minor victims, while the Trafficking Victims Protection Act at the federal level only provides protection for victims that are brought into the United States from other countries. This gap constitutes an inadequacy in state law in terms of protection for adult victims of domestic sex trafficking who work as prostitutes.
There is no significant public interest in changing laws to provide more protection to victims, because prostitution is widely seen as immoral. Prostitutes and victims of sex trafficking are not well represented in the political process, so the pressure on legislatures to change laws in their favor is minimal. However, this is a pressing issue, not least due to Atlanta’s role as a major national hub in trafficking. The options available to the state legislature of Georgia are 1) to maintain the status quo, 2) enact stricter laws that could punish the prostitutes, johns, pimps, or all parties involved, 3) decriminalize prostitution, or 4) legalize prostitution. The state could also pursue a more specific type of decriminalization and expand Rachel’s Law, the state law that protects minor victims of sex trafficking, to adults in order to close the current policy gap. We propose that the Georgia legislature choose the most politically and economically feasible option and expand Rachel’s Law to protect adult victims as well as minor victims.
I. BACKGROUND Human trafficking, sex trafficking, and prostitution are closely related, global phenomena. They are also illicit activities and thus difficult to measure (Aronowitz, 2009). This combination constitutes a “wicked problem” for policymakers (Kolko, 2012). The following section includes relevant definitions, outlines the problem in Georgia, and explains the legal environment.
A. Definitions: The United Nations Trafficking Protocol defines human trafficking as an action (e.g., recruitment, transfer, harboring) through means of threat or use of force (e.g., coercion, fraud, abuse of power or vulnerability) with certain goals (e.g., exploitation, incl. prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor, and organ removal) (UNODC, 2004). Trafficking is a process of several crimes rather than a single offense. All of its elements are subjective and operate on a continuum. For instance, studies have found that women are willing collaborators in prostitution, but they are still being deceived if they are unaware of the extent to which they will be exploited. Similarly, coercion can be psychological and/or physical (Aronowitz, 2009).
Sex trafficking, according to the Attorney General in Georgia, “is the use of force, coercion or deception to recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide, obtain, or maintain another person for the purpose of commercial sexual activities” (Attorney General of Georgia, n.d.). Most cases of human trafficking in the United States and elsewhere are sex trafficking (as opposed to labor trafficking) (Cook, 2014; UNODC, 2014). For instance, of the 150 human trafficking cases reported in Georgia in 2014, 109 cases were classified as sex trafficking (NHTRC, 2015). The actual numbers are higher because victims are hesitant to come forward (Cook, 2014). Finally, Georgia state law declares that “a person commits the offense of prostitution when he or she performs or offers or consents to perform a sexual act, including but not limited to sexual intercourse or sodomy, for money or other items of value.” The law classifies prostitution as a misdemeanor (ProCon, 2008).
B. Scope of the Problem: Sex trafficking and prostitution in Georgia are concentrated in Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, and Clarke County (Cook, 2014). Atlanta’s underground commercial sex economy generates about $300 million per year (the highest amount of eight U.S. cities included in a recent Urban Institute study) and is concentrated in street and online prostitution, Latino brothels, and massage parlors (Boone, 2014). Sex trafficking is prevalent in the first two venues (Dank et al., 2014). The city’s demand for sex trafficking and prostitution is created by frequent business conventions and national sports events. Most of the supply of victims is trafficked through Hartsfield-Jackson, the world’s largest commuter airport (Shelley, 2010).
C. Legal Environment: 1. Federal Level: Federal law views sex trafficking and prostitution as a nexus (Raymond, 2013). The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) (2000) addresses prevention, prosecution, and protection (Musto, 2010). The law includes severe sanctions for traffickers, but low conviction rates help explain the persistence of trafficking. Special T-visas established in the legislation for victims of human trafficking have been awarded in insufficient numbers to encourage more widespread cooperation with law enforcement (Shelley, 2010). The TVPA also burdens victims because they have to prove that they were subject to force, fraud, or coercion (Raymond, 2013). Finally, the primary focus of federal policy in practice is on prosecution, while nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) assume most of the burden of protecting victims (Musto, 2010).
2. State law: There are two relevant laws in Georgia. HB 200 (2011) substantially increased punishment for trafficking (with a minimum prison sentence of ten years) in addition to pimping, pandering, and having a house of prostitution. The law also removed the age of consent for minors and expanded the definition of “coercion” (Attorney General of Georgia, n.d.). In 2015, the state enacted a “safe harbor bill,” also known as Rachel’s Law, which specifically addresses child trafficking. The law established a special fund for victims (based on fees from convicted traffickers), places convicted traffickers on the state sex offender registry, and allows seizure of traffickers’ assets (Torres, 2015).
The legal status quo with its patchwork of federal and state laws leads to unequal outcomes. First, while the TVPA protects victims of international sex trafficking, American women who are forced into prostitution via domestic trafficking are treated as criminals in almost all U.S. states (Raymond, 2013). Second, federal law leaves the regulation of prostitution to the states. As indicated above, Georgia criminalizes prostitution and only protects and assists trafficking victims if they are minors. Adult victims of domestic sex traffickers are subject to a state-sponsored form of double jeopardy. This discrepancy in the protections and sanctions in federal and state law is compounded by historically weak enforcement against men as buyers, although they outnumber prostitutes (Weitzer, 2012; Raymond, 2013).
II. OPTIONS This section introduces four broad policy options, including their sources, relevant actors, and arguments for and against each policy.
A. Status Quo: Maintaining the status quo has long been recognized as a viable alternative in public decision-making (Samuelson & Zeckhauser, 1988). Its proponents cite the absence of additional costs as an advantage. However, the status quo regarding sex trafficking and prostitution fails to deter criminals, imposes high enforcement costs on the criminal justice system, and discourages victims from reporting abuse (Weitzer, 2012).
B. Stricter Laws: Stricter laws are supported by some law enforcement officials, politicians, and NGOs. They can be enacted against traffickers, prostitutes, and buyers. For instance, Sweden became the first country to criminalize the purchase (but not the sale) of sex in 1998, which cut street prostitution in half (Lederer, 2010). Norway, Iceland, and France followed, but the effects on sex trafficking are unclear (Raymond, 2013; Chuang, 2010). South Korea provides a more holistic example of a stricter law. Since 2004, the country combines a zero-tolerance approach to prostitution (including demand) with assistance for victims, such as counseling and job training (Raymond, 2013). The counterargument against stricter laws invokes the additional burden on law enforcement and social services.
C. Decriminalization: The main source of this option are NGOs and countries (other than the United States) which have eliminated penalties (but not the laws) for all or parts of the prostitution system (Raymond, 2013). Decriminalization exists in three forms. Full decriminalization removes all criminal penalties, but prostitution is still subject to laws sanctioning nuisance, coercion, and other abuses. Partial decriminalization reduces penalties without eliminating them, while de facto decriminalization keeps laws intact, but refrains from enforcement (Weitzer, 2012). This approach is practiced in the so-called “Nordic model” and in New Zealand. Several U.S. states have also initiated new laws that focus less on arresting prostitutes and more on identifying sex trafficking victims (Beitsch, 2015). The state of Georgia could follow this specific form of decriminalization by expanding the protections and support services established in Rachel’s Law for minor victims of sex trafficking to adults. Proponents argue that decriminalization makes prostitutes less vulnerable to exploitation because it allows them to report abuse without the fear of arrest, whereas critics see it as a slippery slope that would increase trafficking, reinforce gender inequality, and erode other social and legal norms (Abel & Bien-Aimé, 2015).
D. Legalization: Legalization is currently practiced in one U.S. state and internationally. Its main feature is that parts of the prostitution system are legal, but regulated by the state, such as the registration of women in sex venues, health monitoring, the location of brothels, and taxation (Raymond, 2013). Nevada legalized indoor prostitution in rural counties in 1971 (but all forms of prostitution remain illegal in Reno and Las Vegas). Supporters of legalization point to studies showing that Nevada’s legal brothels are free of trafficking (Weitzer, 2012).
Germany and the Netherlands pursue a more comprehensive form of legalization by regulating prostitution as a profession subject to taxation and retirement plans. The partial reversal of the Dutch model provides empirical arguments against legalization. It does not reduce trafficking and fails to improve working conditions and the well-being of prostitutes. Forced prostitution, abuse by pimps, and the presence of organized crime remain problematic. There are similar findings in the case of Germany (Raymond, 2013).
This section discusses the values linked to actions for each of the three relevant actors and indicates the feasibility of certain policy options.1 All of the actors in this analysis frame sex trafficking and prostitution in moral terms. This approach has a long history in the United States and unites otherwise disparate groups that view sex trafficking and prostitution as inherently violent practices whose victims are deprived of agency (Weitzer, 2007). Drawing on morality as an overarching value implies that certain policy options are not perceived as feasible. The dominant policymaking paradigm in such a heightened value conflict is more likely to be incrementalism rather than comprehensive rationality (Diver, 1981).
A. Managerial/Executive Actors:
Pertinent actors are law enforcement at the local, state, and federal level, specifically vice units and task forces related to human trafficking and prostitution. The values held by these agencies are effectiveness, efficiency, and economy, and the actors are mainly in favor of stricter laws and stiffer punishments for prostitution.
Law enforcement agencies execute policies put in place by political and legislative actors, and as such their activities are shaped by existing laws. The problem is that law enforcement in the state of Georgia lacks training in detecting human trafficking, with only 11.2% of officers reporting that they have received any kind of training in this area (Grubb, 2012). This deficit essentially eliminates the possibility that law enforcement officers are dealing with the issue effectively, which is one of their primary values. Correcting it would require greater funding across the board.
The state invests significant resources in fighting sexual trafficking of minors, and the nonprofit organization Shared Hope International recently rewarded Georgia’s efforts with a B (Shared Hope, 2015a; Shared Hope, 2015b).2 However, all adult victims in sexual trafficking cases are still subject to arrest and prosecution. Managerial actors cannot do anything about this discrepancy. There is also a gender bias in prostitution cases: the state of Georgia issues tickets for solicitation, but prostitution is an offense usually leading to arrest, even though the law defines both actions as misdemeanors.
Law enforcement agencies are aware of the issues associated with increasing the strictness of laws. Stricter enforcement and harsher penalties raise costs for managerial actors, e.g., by training more police officers, thus decreasing the value of economy without necessarily improving effectiveness or efficiency. Law enforcement also realizes that maintaining the status quo or increasing the strictness of the laws is the preferred option for political/legislative actors.
B. Political/Legislative Actors: The most relevant actors are the federal government and the Georgia General Assembly. The mayor and city council of Atlanta, which cooperate with several nonprofit organizations, also play an important role. Primary values espoused by these actors are representativeness, responsiveness, and accountability.
The federal government has consistently opposed the legalization of prostitution (Raymond, 2013). For instance, the 2003 version of the TVPA prohibits the use of domestic funds for programs promoting the legalization of prostitution (Chuang, 2010). There is no liberalizing trend in contrast to other illicit economies, such as marijuana (Weitzer, 2012). This makes measures that are less stringent than the status quo highly unlikely. At the same time, the position of the federal government satisfies the values of representativeness, responsiveness, and accountability in a limited sense. As noted above, sex trafficking and prostitution are underreported crimes, whose perpetrators and victims are also underrepresented in the political process. This is especially true for international human trafficking because many traffickers and all of their victims are foreign nationals. The federal government primarily represents, responds to, and is accountable to non-citizens in the moral context of human rights, reflected in references to international trafficking as a “modern form of slavery” (deBaca, 2010). However, protections afforded to international victims of the trafficking-prostitution nexus have not been extended to American citizens, leaving room for U.S. states to fill the void.
As the source of state law, the Georgia General Assembly is the most important actor to remedy the federal-state gap in the protection of sex trafficking victims. However, similar to the federal government, the state has not embraced representing adult victims of domestic trafficking or prostitutes. In its latest study on human trafficking, the General Assembly did not recommend any measures that would provide services to adult prostitutes. It also leaves the assistance of domestic sex trafficking victims to ill-equipped domestic violence shelters (Georgia House Budget and Research Office, 2013). Responsiveness and accountability are equally problematic because the Assembly has only passed legislation (specifically Rachel’s Law) to address child trafficking. Conservative lawmakers explained that their votes were an exception to their stance against increasing the size of government (Torres, 2015). The implication is that adult victims are not worthy of a similar legislative response, again limiting the feasibility of more comprehensive or less restrictive options.
Finally, political leaders and nonprofits in Atlanta are divided over how to address the city’s role as a regional hub for sex trafficking and prostitution. In 2013, Atlanta’s COO created a Working Group to Reduce Prostitution, but its effect has been minimal due to staffing issues. One nonprofit appealed directly to the state to pass a law making prostitution in residential areas a felony, while another advocacy group called for more social programs for prostitutes. Atlanta’s mayor and city council have not issued a statement in support of either position (Ruch, 2014). As long as the city does not generate bottom-up pressure in support of domestic victims of sex trafficking and prostitutes who are adults, the problems of representativeness, responsiveness, and accountability at the federal and state level also apply in Atlanta.
C. Legal/Judicial Actors: The most relevant legal actors are state and local courts in Georgia as well as NGOs. Due process, equity, and human rights are their most important values.
Courts are not flexible in prosecuting sex workers, buyers, pimps, and brothel owners because the punishments are prescribed by law. Misdemeanors are issued for each of these categories, but the courts can only prosecute offenders who are arrested and charged. Although prostitution involves at least two people, only the prostitute is charged with a crime in the vast majority of cases. In Atlanta, the number of women ticketed for prostitution, soliciting, and loitering far outweighs the number of men ticketed each year for pimping and pandering (Hansen, 2015). Women involved in sex work are overrepresented in the legal system because they are easier to catch than buyers or pimps. Due process and equity are not fully achieved in the courtroom due to the disproportionate representation of offenders. The status quo, especially after HB 200 and Rachel’s Law, promotes due process for minors but fails to protect domestic adult victims.
All NGOs agree that sex trafficking is a crime and that offenders must be prosecuted. However, NGOs differ on how the legal system should treat prostitutes. These organizations value human rights but disagree on their scope, including the right to sell one’s body for sex. For instance, Amnesty International (AI) advocates for the decriminalization of consensual sex work by arguing that it promotes human rights while decreasing prostitutes’ risk of violence, exploitation, and trafficking. The World Health Organization, the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, Polaris, and numerous international NGOs support AI’s stance. Conversely, the Coalition Against Trafficking of Women (CATW) opposes decriminalization and legalization, citing evidence of increased trafficking and abuse of prostitutes (Raymond, 2013). Exploited Voices Now Educating (EVE), Leave Out Violence (LOVE), Survivors for Solutions and numerous North American nonprofits also oppose decriminalization and legalization. These organizations advocate for stricter laws that punish pimps and buyers rather than penalizing prostitutes. This “Nordic Model” has shown success in reducing street prostitution without a noticeable increase in other types of prostitution (Lederer, 2010). None of the larger NGOs advocate for legalization because it has a scale effect where a larger sex market increases the sex trafficking market (Cho, 2013).
From a feasibility standpoint, the nonprofits’ suggestions would not resonate in Congress or the General Assembly. However, an incremental change such as expanding Rachel’s Law to adult victims is more likely to pass because it protects victims of all ages and nationalities without condoning prostitution.
IV. RECOMMENDATION The analysis above suggests that an incremental change, such as expanding Rachel’s Law to adult victims, is the most feasible recommendation for improving the lives of coerced, domestic sex workers. Managerial and political actors are wary of sweeping reform. Recently passed legislation, including HB 200 and Rachel’s Law, provides evidence of their preference for incrementalism. Other policy proposals are too drastic to be politically feasible in Georgia. Expanding Rachel’s Law is inexpensive, as the framework for identifying victims and providing them with social services already exists. Nebraska recently set a precedent at the state level by legally differentiating between coerced adult prostitutes and willing adult prostitutes. Coerced adults, according to the state of Nebraska, are sex trafficking victims. Several other states are also breaking the trafficking-prostitution nexus by arresting fewer prostitutes and stepping up enforcement efforts against traffickers (Beitsch, 2015). Therefore, expanding Rachel’s Law to adults is recommended to promote the human rights of victims who are unjustly prosecuted as willing prostitutes. Rather than treating all domestic prostitutes as criminals, the law will differentiate between people who are coerced (i.e., trafficking victims) and those who participate willingly. As with Rachel’s Law, traffickers will be prosecuted, placed on the sex offender list, and their assets will be seized to provide social service funding for victims.
V. CONCLUSION Incremental changes in Georgia’s sex trafficking and prostitution laws occur in response to evolving opinions on these issues. Prostitution is traditionally viewed as immoral which encourages strict laws against sex workers. As the public and relevant stakeholders learn more about sex trafficking and sex work, their views on victims and criminals incrementally change. Increasingly, children and adults who are coerced into sex work are defined as victims deserving of aid rather than degenerates deserving of jail. However, this change is slow and requires incremental changes in law to alleviate the problem. Moral issues are deeply ingrained in people’s value systems and are therefore not conducive to sweeping overhauls. To improve effectiveness, representativeness, equity and to promote human rights, we recommend an expansion of Rachel’s Law to adult sex trafficking victims. This option is feasible as it follows in the steps of existing legislation and growing international sentiment towards the more humane treatment of victims of prostitution. The expansion of Rachel’s Law would protect domestic adult sex trafficking victims who are otherwise doubly victimized by their abusers and by the legal system.
Abel, G. & Bien-Aimé, T. (2015, August 26). Should prostitution be a crime? The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/08/26/should-prostitution-be-a-crime
Aronowitz, A. (2009). Human trafficking, human misery: The global trade in human beings. Westport, CT & London, Praeger.
Attorney General of Georgia. (n.d.). Key issues: Human trafficking. Retrieved from http://law.ga.gov/human-trafficking
Beitsch, R. (2015) More states separate prostitution, sex trafficking. Retrieved from The Pew Charitable Trusts website: http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/
Boone, C. (2014, March 14). Crime study: Profit pushes Atlanta’s sex trade. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, p. 1A.
Cho, S.-Y. et al. (2013). Does legalized prostitution increase human trafficking? World Development, 41(1), 67-82.
Chuang, J. A. (2010). Rescuing trafficking from ideological capture: Prostitution reform and anti-trafficking law and policy. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 158, 1655-1728.
Cook, R. (2014, May 5). Human trafficking rift exposed. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, p. 1B.
Dank, M. et al. (2014). Estimating the size and structure of the underground commercial sex economy in eight major US cities. Retrieved from Urban Institute website: http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/413047-Estimating-the-Size-and-Structure-of-the-Underground-Commercial-Sex-Economy-in-Eight-Major-US-Cities.PDF
Diver, C. S. (1981). Policymaking paradigms in administrative law. Harvard Law Review, 95(2), 393-434.
deBaca, L. C. (2010). Trafficking Victims Protection Act: Progress and promise. Retrieved from U.S. Department of State website: http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/rm/2010/141446.htm Georgia House Budget and Research Office. (2013). Draft report of the joint human trafficking study commission. Retrieved from Georgia House of Representatives website: http://www.house.ga.gov/Documents/CommitteeDocuments/2013/HumanTraffickingStudy/Jt_Human_Trafficking_FINAL_Report.pdf
Grubb, D. & Bennett, K. (2012). The readiness of local law enforcement to engage in US anti-trafficking efforts: An assessment of human trafficking training and awareness of local, county, and state law enforcement agencies in the state of Georgia. Police Practice & Research 13(6), 487-500.
Hansen, J. O. (2015, July 16). AJC special report: Selling Atlanta’s children. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved from http://www.ajc.com/news/news/selling-atlantas-children/nmzbb/
Kolko, J. (2012, March 6). Wicked problems: problems worth solving. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved from http://ssir.org/articles/entry/wicked_problems
_problems_worth_solving Lederer, L. J. (2010). Addressing demand: Why and how policymakers should utilize law and law enforcement to target customers of commercial sexual exploitation. Regent University Law Review, 23, 297-310.
Musto, J. L. (2010). The NGO-ification of the anti-trafficking movement in the United States: A case study of the coalition to abolish slavery and trafficking. In T. Zheng (Ed.), Sex trafficking, human rights and social justice (pp. 23-36). London & New York: Routledge.
National Human Trafficking Resource Center. (2015). Georgia. Retrieved from NHTRC website: http://traffickingresourcecenter.org/state/georgia
ProCon.org (2008). Prostitution laws of Georgia. Retrieved from http://prostitution.procon.org/
Raymond, J. G. (2013). Not a choice, not a job: Exposing the myths about prostitution and the global sex trade. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books.
Rosenbloom, R.S. (1983). Public administration theory and the separation of powers. Public Administration Review, 43(3), 219-227.
Ruch, J. (2014, March 5). City pledges to get prostitution working group back on track. Creative Loafing. Retrieved from http://clatl.com/atlanta/city-pledges-to-get-prostitution-working-group-back-on-track/Content?oid=10630776 Samuelson, W. & Zeckhauser, R. (1988). Status quo bias in decision making. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 1(1), 7-59.
Schneider, A.L. & Ingram, H. (1990). Policy design: Elements, premises and strategies. In S.S. Nagel (Ed.), Policy theory and policy evaluation: Concepts, knowledge, causes and norms (pp. 77-102). New York: Greenwood.
Shared Hope International. (2015a). Georgia report card 2015. Retrieved from https://sharedhope.org/PICframe5/reportcards/PIC_RC_2015_GA.pdf
Shared Hope International. (2015b). Protected innocence challenge: A legal framework of protection for the nation’s children. Retrieved from http://sharedhope.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/PIC2015REPORT2.pdf
Shelley, L. (2010). Human trafficking: A global perspective. Cambridge et al.: Cambridge University Press.
Torres, K. (2015, February 13). ‘Safe harbor’ bills OK’d. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, p. 3B
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2004). United Nations conventions against transnational crime and the protocols hereto. Retrieved from UNODC website: https://www.unodc.org/documents/treaties/UNTOC/Publications/TOC%20Convention/TOCebook-e.pdf
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2014). Global report on trafficking in persons. Retrieved from UNODC website: https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/glotip/GLOTIP_2014_full_report.pdf
Webber, D.J. (1986). Analyzing political feasibility: Political scientists’ unique contribution to policy analysis. Policy Studies Journal, 14(4), 545-554.
Weitzer, R. (2007). The social construction of sex trafficking: Ideology and institutionalization
of a moral crusade. Politics & Society, 35(3), 447-475.
Weitzer, R. (2012). Legalizing prostitution: From illicit vice to lawful business. New York & London: New York University Press.
1 The analysis of options for the state of Georgia relies on a policy design model that connects statutes with implementation agencies via motivational tools, procedural rules, and certain assumptions (behavioral, technical, and normative). Once implemented, the statute reaches its target audience(s), again based on motivational tools, procedural rules, and certain assumptions, which leads to a range of intended and unintended outcomes (Schneider & Ingram, 1990). This model is enhanced by ascribing specific values to relevant actors, based on the three dominant approaches to public administration theory that mimic the constitutional separation of powers: managerial actors (i.e., the executive) tend to pursue effectiveness, efficiency, and economy; political (legislative) actors focus on representativeness, responsiveness, and accountability; legal (judicial) actors emphasize procedural due process, individual rights, and equity or fairness (Rosenbloom, 1983). Finally, the analysis investigates the feasibility of options to assess the relative likelihood that a policy proposal (and modifications) can be adopted and implemented to solve or mitigate a policy problem (Webber, 1986).
2 Overall, only six states received an A, 20 a B, 14 a C, and 11 a D.