Tenn. lawmakers to strengthen human trafficking laws

Police are investigating at least one case of possible human trafficking involving minor girls brought into Chattanooga from the Atlanta area

By Joy Lukachick
Chattanooga Times Free Press

The trafficking of children and woman into prostitution, live-sex shows and pornography is on the rise in metropolitan areas of Tennessee and Georgia, officials say.

"When I thought of [human] trafficking, I thought of India ... or if it was being done in the U.S., it's with people brought over the borders," said Jerry Redman, director of Second Life, a Chattanooga-based organization that targets human trafficking. "But it's going on here [too]."

"It's new to us," said Hamilton County Sheriff's Office Lt. Van Hinton. "Right now we're being trained and educated about it."

Police are investigating at least one case of possible human trafficking involving minor girls brought into Chattanooga from the Atlanta area, Hinton said. Experts say Atlanta has become a hub for children who are sexually trafficked.

Redman said advocacy groups and social service agencies are aware of suspicious activity in Chattanooga that has the characteristics of sexual trafficking.

Last year, police stopped 12 illegal immigrants in Bradley County who were traveling from Texas to Pennsylvania and were suspected of human trafficking. In Georgia, Gordon County sheriff's deputies arrested a fugitive from Romania who was wanted in connection with a human trafficking case after he was pulled over for speeding on Interstate 75.

Legislators in Tennessee and Georgia are now working this session to strengthen laws against traffickers and protect children who are rescued from modern enslavement.

Human trafficking usually victimizes women and children who are forced into the sex trade. In the United States, young girls and boys often are manipulated into the trade after running away from home or being kidnapped by traffickers.

Women from other countries may be offered a false marriage proposal or a job, then brought to the U.S. and forced into the sex trade.

Because trafficking laws have been lax and because law enforcement can mistake trafficking for simple prostitution, states have been slow to respond to the growing problem, said Dr. Ron Petitte, a politics and government professor at Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn. Petitte's annual International Human Rights Symposium discusses human trafficking.

"A misconception to sexual slavery is that [the victims] want to be in it," Petitte said.

Legislation to curb human trafficking in Georgia seeks to protect victims from being punished and to strengthen penalties against traffickers, said Rep. Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, who is sponsoring a House bill.

"We sought to treat the victims of human trafficking with compassion," Lindsey said. Georgia House Bill 200 passed the House 168-1 earlier this month.

The law would allow victims to avoid being charged by testifying against a suspect, he said. It also would stiffen sentences to a range of 25 to 50 years for anyone convicted of trafficking victims under 18 and would give prosecutors greater latitude to go after a trafficking suspect's assets.

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