By Rep. Edward Lindsey

The Georgia Senate recently passed House Bill 200 with a unanimous vote of 50 – 0. This follows the House of Representatives overwhelming support of the same bill by a vote of 168 to 1.

Both votes are a show of broad bipartisan support for an issue that deserves the undivided attention of both chambers, all branches of government, and every prosecutor and public officer throughout the state of Georgia. HB 200 targets criminals engaged in the trafficking of human beings, a practice that is used more often than not for the purposes of sexual servitude.

I introduced this bill because we must do everything possible to combat the practice of human trafficking.

According to the FBI, metro Atlanta is a national hub of human trafficking for sexual servitude. Victims of this practice are subjected to servitude by manipulation and subjugation through the savage use of physical and sexual violence, drugs, manipulation, isolation, coercion, threats, economic dependence and emotional abuse.

This legislation is a significant step forward in that battle. It gives law enforcement officials the necessary tools to attack this evil practice.

HB 200 clarifies the definition of various terms pertaining to sexual servitude, increases penalties for individuals who are found guilty of human trafficking, provides law enforcement with additional tools necessary to combat the practice of human trafficking, and expands Georgia’s forfeiture law so that it applies to those convicted of human trafficking.

Specifically, the bill refines the definition of coercion, sexual servitude and deception as used in Georgia law. It also adds new terms to Georgia’s code section dealing with human trafficking, including definitions for “performance” and “sexually explicit conduct” as currently used in state law pertaining to the Sexual Exploitation of Children.

Additionally, the legislation increases the penalties for prostitution, keeping a place of prostitution, and pimping or pandering. These penalties are further increased if the offense involves a person under the age of 16.

Criminals involved in these heinous crimes could also see their property and assets seized because the bill allows forfeiture of any real estate or personal property that the courts find to be used, or intended to be used, for human trafficking or sexual servitude purposes.

Finally, the bill assists law enforcement by giving the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) authority to investigate crimes involving the trafficking of persons for labor or sexual servitude.

It also requires the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, as well as the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, to establish guidelines and procedures to provide law enforcement with training materials and information concerning human trafficking and forced servitude.

This will include: methods for identifying, combating, and reporting incidents where a person has been trafficked for labor or sexual servitude; methods for providing proper holding facilities for persons who have been trafficked for labor or sexual servitude, including information on therapeutic facilities; and methods for assisting persons who have been trafficked for labor or sexual servitude, including information on social service organizations.

This bill is not satisfied with simply punishing those that engage in the practice of trafficking humans. Those practices create victims, and it is also the responsibility of the state to protect and embrace those that have already been unwillingly caught in the traffickers’ snare.

Therefore, this bill also provides those victims with a pathway out of their criminally forced servitude. Any person who suffers a serious mental or emotional trauma as a result of being trafficked for labor or sexual servitude will be eligible for victim assistance so long as they fully cooperate with law enforcement against their human trafficker.

I would like to recognize others that played a great part in this collaborative effort including Attorney General Sam Olens, the Georgia Commission on Family Violence, Street GRACE, Henry County Solicitor Chuck Spahos, Sen. Renee Unterman, as well as the countless other prosecutors, law enforcement officials, religious institutions, and social service advocates who worked so hard on this effort.

Thanks to their diligence, we can help to limit this behavior in Georgia.

Rep. Edward Lindsey represents District 54 in the Georgia House of Representatives.