According to statistics, it won’t take long before a female runaway is approached by a sexual predator, DeKalb County Assistant District Attorney Dalia Racine said.
Racine, who focuses on the sexual exploitation of children and human trafficking, said runaways often are commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC).
“That goes across the spectrum whether we’re in rural Georgia or the metro area like here in DeKalb County. Statistically, one in every four runaways will be approached within the first 72 hours by a pimp,” Racine said.
According to reasearch done by DeKalb County Police and Racine, three out of five girls who have run away three or more times in the past six months have confirmed they were either a prostitute or invited into prostitution.
“We’re saying that if this is one of the biggest triggers or indicators, then we’ll start with that and work our way back to see if these girls are in fact being approached by the pimps and if they are being trafficked. I think once we get our resources and our strategy aligned and we can have a united response to this issue, the numbers are going to be overwhelming,” Racine said.
Some of the resources Racine referred to could come from a bill sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman, which passed last year that amended parts of Georgia law as it relates to trafficking people for sexual servitude. It also provides greater protections to people subject to such crimes by broadening certain aspects of the law.
Under Georgia law, child prostitutes can be charged as criminals even if they have been coerced into it. However, Racine said many juvenile court judges have begun to offer alternative sentencing as the bill allows a child to have an affirmative defense based on the human trafficking statute.
“It’s also geared toward adults who are brought into trafficking through direct coercion or deception. At the minimum it doesn’t really take much,” Racine said.
Examples of coercion, Racince said, are blackmail, or someone being kept under the influence of drugs or alcohol. “It’s now also a felony for a person who is of age and being prostituted,” she said.
Racine said CSEC falls directly under the umbrella of human trafficking. Those involved with prostitution of children can range from pimps and the johns using their services, to the people transporting child prostitutes and hotel managers who knowingly allow johns to rent rooms.
“I don’t think we’re going to have much difficulty in pursuing Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges, it’s just that we’ve got to get out there and find these guys,” Racine said. “I think that everybody is realizing perhaps what some of our limitations may be. Here in DeKalb if we stumble upon a huge international ring we’ll hand it over to the feds because they’re very adequately prepared to handle these cases.”
Each runaway case is unique, Racine said, because they span all socio-economic demographics. She said the majority of the cases she sees involve runaways who are being abused physically or sexually by a custodial parent or boyfriend.
“We’ve seen parents prostituting their children; we’ve seen boyfriends doing it; we’ve seen the random guy who approaches them and becomes the pimp; and we’ve heard of females becoming pimps now too, so it’s not staying in traditional gender roles as to who’s doing what,” Racine said.
The bill allows for additional funding for law enforcement training and resources for victims of human trafficking and child sexual exploitation.
Racine said the DA’s office is also working closely with the DeKalb County Cybercrime Unit, a new branch of the DeKalb County Police Department. She said as more pimps and human traffickers move toward the Internet to post in personals, the investigative unit will be a vital resource.
“They do have an excellent task force over there and they are aware of what we’re trying to do—through their techniques and their abilities ideally they’ll be finding us some cases as well,” Racine said.
For victims of child sexual exploitation or human trafficking who are looking for a way out, there are several nonprofits, including Georgia Care Connection, that provide services and rehabilitation, Racine said. However, she said, funding for such programs is limited due to the economic downturn.
Some religious organizations in the metro area such as Street GRACE also help spread awareness of CSEC and rehabilitate victims. Street GRACE works to unite Christian churches with an array of public, private and nonprofit entities to bring about the end of sexual exploitation of children.
“When we rescue a girl or boy, initially we think they are going to return to the life. There are many complicated layers that we have to deal with–there’s physical and sexual abuse, there’s domestic violence. We have the fact that they have completely devalued their bodies and self worth…you have to work through all of these very complicated layers that, within themselves, are huge issues to conquer let alone when you have them piled on top of each other,” Racine said.
Racine said although many positive changes have been made in the effort to combat CSEC and human trafficking, it will take more time. She compared it to 30 years ago when people began fighting and advocating for victims of domestic violence.
“I know that District Attorney Robert James is definitely making this one of the biggest priorities for this office,” Racine said.