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What other victim of a crime do you put in jail to protect them? Bail services, whatever. What other child who is raped and kidnapped do you put in jail to protect them? That is an excuse that can no longer be accepted and it angered me. And it compelled me. The buyer should go to jail, the child shouldn’t. And that started this fight.
Hello, and welcome to Invading the Darkness: stories from the fight against child sex trafficking, featuring Linda Smith, the founder of Shared Hope International. Join Linda as she shares stories from her 23 years of fighting the battle of domestic minor sex trafficking. Our desire is that each episode of Invading the Darkness will help you understand the importance of fighting child sex trafficking, as well as equip you to join in that fight. In this episode, Linda talks about the lack of true justice towards children that are trafficked and how we need to do better, she introduces what has come to be known as victim offender intersectionality.
Not long after the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed, the first trafficking act in the United States, I was asked to be a part of a delegation that went around the United States, and explained the new trafficking act in America to Americans, because surely it affected those people coming across our borders. Now, the law didn’t say that it simply said, any body that is trafficked, or used in sex, or labor through force, fraud, or coercion, were trafficking victims. And if they were under 18, you didn’t even have to prove that the very fact that they were in commercial sex, or they were enforced labor made them a traffic victim. Everybody involved, was involved in human trafficking a very serious crime with 10-15 years mandatory for each count, depending on the age of the victim. So we were going around the nation, I still think most of us knew there was trafficking in America, but we didn’t think it was our own children. I get to Atlanta, Georgia, and this group of women from a judge to the court, person over services for children in the juvenile court. On to the mayor, there were just several women, and they’d come together. And they wanted to tell me what was really happening.
It had only been about three years before that they had had the Olympic Summer Games. And like in any large event, what they would do is they would go in, and they would create large venues. And when the event was over, those often became convention sites. Well, Atlanta did awesome. They became one of the convention centers for businesses and organizations to convene in very large numbers. What these women were telling me was this. And it’s a story that changed my life, because it put a real face on who the victim of trafficking laws were.
The judge had started noticing an increased number of juveniles being brought into court and something about them that was similar. So she’d reached out to Deborah Richards and said, “Come to court and help me understand what to do with this.” So Deborah was in court. And she said, “I was watching. I watched for the families, the interaction with the kids how they look to their families. And I’m supposed to be the one that helps figure out a way for the family to go forward without this kid in jail. And to have a successful result.” She said, “I’m sitting they’re a little bit preoccupied one day, and I hear the shuffle and realize it’s like the adults with the shuffle of chains around their ankles. And I looked up, and here was this young girl. And she was coming into court with her hands, handcuffed in front of her and her feet shackled. She was looking down, didn’t look around for her family, like most of the kids dead. And she walked over and she sat down, continuing to look down.” Deborah said, “Well that caught my eye because by then they’re looking for their mom or their uncle or their sister brother somebody, because they want to find their family or somebody they know and she just didn’t look up. She listened to the judge and she heard the complaint truancy. She goes truancy? This is a little girl, you don’t put them in chains for truancy. Then she heard the full story. Prostitution. What had happened is the night before, she’d been come up on by a policeman in a park, in the back of a man’s car, a 42 year old man. And he had paid for two hours to use her to a pimp. Now, you go Well, looks to me, like a lot of people are guilty.
She got put in jail as a criminal, he got a misdemeanor and a $50 fine. Never serving a day in jail. Well, they knew this was totally wrong, but they were focusing on the kid. And that is the area they focused. It was unfair. They did three things immediately. And I was really impressed. They said, “We need a place for these kids. They’re not criminals.” The judge said, “I’m getting kids that are not criminals, they should not be in my court.” But you see the law in Georgia said they’re criminals. They were in the prostitution law, the law enforcement officer did what he was supposed to. She was a criminal, the child. The man was just a John doing what guys do, and given the same penalty with the equivalent of a traffic fine. In fact, you could get higher traffic fines than that.
Well, they opened a house, they raised money, and they went to the legislature to change the laws around these children. They did a lot of things, they actually passed a law against buyers to get the buyer to be a felon, and then not so much progress in court. They tried. But there was this real push back. And it came throughout the nation. It wasn’t just in Georgia. And that was you have to keep these kids in jail to protect them. What other victim of a crime do you put in jail to protect them? Bail services, whatever. What other child who is raped and kidnapped do you put in jail to protect them? That is an excuse that can no longer be accepted. And it couldn’t be then. It angered me. And it compelled me. The buyer should go to jail, the child shouldn’t.
And that started this fight for the nation, in every state, as we started working to tell people that the kids are arrested, and the buyers aren’t. But for years, if you tried to even bring the issue up in a conference, or something hosted by a state or the government or non government groups, they really didn’t want to talk about the buyer. Because that would be just too much for America. That could be somebody’s son or daughter.
It could be any of our families. We just didn’t want to bring up the demand issue of the guy next door. And yet what was very interesting to me and just screamed a bias from the very beginning was if a man molested your child, your 14 year old gave her some jewelry or something, they would be arrested. They would be charged with a lot of crimes, statutory rape, they couldn’t say, “Well, she said yes.” And they’d go to jail for a long time. But see if that same man were smart enough, he would go and he would go get money out of the ATM. He might be in New York and see that they’re saying hey, go to Georgia, because you don’t have to go to Bangkok anymore. You can get what you want in Atlanta, Georgia. But by bringing money to that crime, and giving it to someone like that person selling this little girl in the back of that van. The guy just became a John, a misdemeanor, not much. And even to this day, it’s hard to get convictions on the buyers of children. The bias is very, very deep throughout the courts, the judges, the prosecutors. But they wouldn’t get away with that if they thought people were going to know and hold them accountable.
In Georgia, they did a great job, these women. The movement grew up it had some great advocates in it, some great officials, some great law enforcement, but it took till 2019 to tip over that bias. Now a lot of excuses a lot of reasons and and when you heard law enforcement they’d say, “Well, we don’t have any place to put them.” That is a real problem. When your society has been saying these victims of a violent crime for over 10 years, one of the states that did the best, they were one of the leading states, but they held to being able to arrest a child for the crime committed against him or her. No, the bias is leading. The culture is leading the action on the law. And those children as victims of a crime should have been protected and given services, the same as any violated child. But you see that word “prostitute” that stigma allows them to do this. The system the people, and just like before, this little girl was brought in by somebody’s dad probably who was a policeman. He was doing what the law said, what the culture said.
So today in 19 states still (not Atlanta, they finally changed their law on rescuing the kids in 2019), kids are able to be brought in, put in jail, or charged with prostitution. So they have something to hold over them, as they control them or try to control them. It isn’t effective, they run back to their pimp. It isn’t effective, because it just fulfills what the pimp has told the child. And that is simply this, that “You’re a prostitute and you go to jail.” See, so the girl, or the boy, knows the pimp is right. And that law that says they’re a victim of a crime, they realize they are the criminal, not the pimp, not the buyer.
The good thing is this little girl came before women that fought to find a way for her to have services, her to be protected, and her to understand who she was. There was a 10/11 year old, that was right after her. And they developed what was called Angie’s house for the girls like this. Good answer. All over the nation, we’re seeing trends. They’re not practices, yet. They’re trends, that are training foster families to take these children, training them in what’s happened to them, how to work with them, understanding the traumas. And those states that are doing it or talking to other states and helping them have a lot of room to go. But some of you might want to be a foster family. It might work for you. It might not. But think about that. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Now, I’m not saying it’s easy. I’ve been told to go to the hot place by many girls in many cultures, many countries, including America, because they don’t act like victims. They have had to get a little tough, really tough to be able to survive, but a bit of love, a bit of consistency and steadiness and understanding what they’ve gone through. They can grow up and they can become the woman and man that they were designed by God to be. You will give them a hope. Not just a promise, but the hope that they all have already and the dreams they have through your steadiness.
Thank you for listening to Invading the Darkness: stories from the fight against child sex trafficking. If you would like to learn how you can help put an end to child sex trafficking, please visit sharedhope.org/takeaction. New episodes of Invading the Darkness are released every Tuesday at 9am Pacific. If you have enjoyed this episode, please consider leaving us a five star rating as well as a written review. Join us in Episode 11 as Linda shares a very personal story that will bring more clarity to what victim offender intersectionality is and how it affects survivors. We hope you will join us. Thank you again for listening to Invading the Darkness.