By Anne Harper

Like most parents of girls, I have had the good fortune to have pretty well-behaved daughters who finished high school and entered promising career paths. But some families are not so lucky.

Their teens may be struggling with a host of problems from learning disabilities to drug dependency. Recently we have discovered some more extreme problems: as many as 300 girls are sexually exploited commercially in Georgia each month --at escort services, hotels, online and on the streets -- according to recent results of an independent tracking study. That is more than twice the number of girls who die in car accidents in a year in our state.

The Juvenile Justice Fund (JJF) has mounted a campaign called “A Future. Not a Past” to address this sexual exploitation -- seeking to demonstrate that adolescents who are sucked into prostitution are victims of adult criminal behavior, rather than criminals themselves. Georgia is considering two proposals to expand the definition of child abuse to include sexual exploitation of children by others than parents and care givers. This change will enable health professionals and other adults report to authorities any suspected prostitution of minors, thus providing a good start toward identifying girls who need protective services.

But funding those services in the current economy is a challenge. One of the proposals identifies an innovative source of revenue that will not add a penny to the state budget. The proposal includes a $5 fee on patrons of adult-entertainment venues, fees that would go to a Crime Victims Emergency Fund for restorative programs for sexually exploited minors. The rationale for this fee comes from a 2005 report published by the Atlanta Women’s Agenda which found a spatial correlation between adult strip clubs and the availability of children for hire for sex. Another study commissioned by the JJF verified these findings.

Naturally the proposal faces some opposition -- but from an odd quarter. Some Republicans have complained that this fee is a tax and, as loyal Republicans, they oppose all new taxes. Kaffie McCullough, the JJF campaign director, comments, “This will not cost the taxpayers a cent. There are 45 adult clubs in Georgia and we estimate that if each one has 100 patrons a day, this fee will raise about $8.2 million.”

While holding the adult entertainment industry responsible for the secondary effects of their services is somewhat controversial, “A Future. Not a Past” campaign advocates are determined to create a dialogue among a broad swath of business, civic and religious leaders about measures to end child prostitution, particularly focusing public attention on curbing the male demand for sex from younger victims.

The faith-based communities have stepped up their support by founding a religious coalition called StreetGRACE to link and maximize their resources across communities that are trying to meet the needs of these young teens. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and many other friends of children who want to end the sexual exploitation of adolescent children delivered 300 white roses to legislators last week, symbolizing the number of girls affected.

We must speak out now to help the many adolescent girls in our communities who have been forced into prostitution by adults seeking to take advantage of teenagers’ youthful confusion and financial vulnerability. Certainly the adult entertainment club fees are a smart first step to raise the funds to help address the prostitution of young women so that they are routed to treatment and re-started on the road to a future, not a past.
Harper is a former school board member who leads a management consulting practice. For more information please visit
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Georgia Editorial Forum. 3/09