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On Advocacy and Human Trafficking in Georgia

You’d think the word “trafficking” is pretty straight forward, right? You’d also like to think that most people would readily support the efforts and positions of advocates who fight such an injustice as human trafficking right? The answer to both of these questions have surprised me, and I will elaborate below. But first, I must express gratitude for the opportunity to work at the Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic at Emory University. It is because of my experience through the Barton Clinic that I have started to really know what it’s like to be an advocate in the fight against human trafficking. I thought I knew what trafficking was all about.  But I continue to be “schooled” as I see that it’s a much harder and more complicated battle then it first seems.

So, back to the questions I mentioned above.  What does it mean to be trafficked? Well, that depends. Are we talking about the international definition according to the United Nations, the federal definition, the state definition, or the definition according to the Polaris Project, the leading organization in the fight against human trafficking? These definitions differ, and in considerably large ways. The federal government includes both the selling and buying of sex as part of the definition of “severe forms of trafficking.” Polaris Project, on the other hand, does not include buying in its definition of trafficking.  In Georgia, most jurisdictions have not adopted the federal definition which would make pandering a crime. However, in a recent 8th Circuit Court of Appeals case, the court adopted the federal definition, marking an important shift in how the state defines trafficking.  

WABE’s Denis O’Hayer has been covering the fight against human trafficking in Georgia, and in a recent interview with Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, O’Hayer sheds light on the prosecutor’s views on prostitution and human trafficking. Porter was a member of the Joint Human Trafficking Study Commission, which released its draft report this past week. In the interview, Porter said that many of these prostitutes which he has come across are not victims of human trafficking, but are “self-exploiting” themselves. He also strongly criticizes the advocacy community for not having better numbers on how many trafficking victims exist in the state. I argue that these children who are supposedly “self-exploiting” do not have a choice but to perform sexual acts against their will, whether it was through physical coercion, psychological coercion, or deception. I also argue that, while yes, we do not have hard data on the actual number of victims in the state, you have to understand it is due to the nature of this underground crime; also, just because we don’t have hard data does not mean that there isn’t a serious human trafficking problem. We have evidence that there indeed is a problem. My supervisor will respond in a follow-up interview on 90.1 sometime this week, about which I will blog on later.

The lesson I’ve learned so far, is that nothing is what it seems, and this is especially true in the world of advocacy. It’s a hard battle, and even when it’s a good cause, not everyone will be on your side, even when they are supposed to be. You just have to remember your passion, get the facts straight where you can, and use your fellow advocates to get yourself motivated again.

For more information on the demand-side of human trafficking and how to get involved, visit http://www.demandforum.net/.


4 responses

  1. As someone who has worked with child prostitutes the idea that any educated person would believe that these children are not victims is appalling. Thank you for sharing this information.

    January 28, 2013 at 6:42 am

    • Yes, it is appalling. I do understand, however, the viewpoint of a prosecutor, and that is to charge people of crimes. It is fuel for me to help people like these prosecutors and the community at large to better understand the issue, and to motivate fellow advocates. Here is the response my supervisor, Kirsten Widner, gave in an interview on WABE with Denis O’Hayer: http://wabe.org/post/new-state-commission-report-human-trafficking-georgia-another-view. She makes some good points.

      January 31, 2013 at 6:11 pm

  2. Dr P


    This is a very interesting topic and one that is on many agendas across the country. If you take a look at CSEC (Criminal Sexual Exploitation of Children) you can see that there is a major effort to address these issues. This particular district attorney’s conservative definition of the word “prostitute” is not in the mainstream of this discussion. If you decide to follow this issue, you might want to look here (http://meetjustice.org/2011/03/out-of-the-shadows-recognizing-csec-in-atlanta/ – Can’t make link correctly in comment, but we will talk about that in class). It’s easier for folks to have these conversations when these are children (although apparently not so much for Danny Porter), but the issues are really similar when you look at the entire reality.

    January 31, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    • Thank you Dr. P! I will definitely look into that website. I recently heard about this budding organization and am interested to see how will interplay in the Atlanta advocacy scene for CSEC.

      January 31, 2013 at 6:07 pm

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