The push on legislation combating human trafficking and child sex crimes arrived in the state Senate Judiciary Committee late Monday afternoon, as the committee voted down one proposal and heard discussion on several others.
State Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, appeared for the vote on his legislation, which included Senate Bill 35. The idea is to prohibit sex offenders from living so close to their victims and victims’ immediate family members so as to cause ongoing problems.
“We’ve had a hearing-only on this bill already, and I will point out what I think is the major change,” said state Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, who also chairs the committee. “That is on Line 36, which was reworded to read, ‘No individual shall move to reside within,’ and that differs from the original language, which was, ‘No individual shall reside within.’
“The thought process there is, you will recall from the discussion with the prosecuting attorneys, is that there were some constitutional issues, where someone moves to within 2,000 feet of a victim but is unaware that the victim is within that distance.”
The key phrase in the bill, Jackson pointed out, is an offender would have to make a knowing and intentional violation of the law — a person couldn’t be charged when they had no idea they were in violation.
The distance set by the bill is 2,000 feet, which Jackson explained to state Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, just seemed to be the most reasonable distance.
“What 2,000 feet relates to, well, 1,000 feet, as you can imagine, for lack of a better term, three football fields,” Jackson said. “So, 2,000 feet is six football fields. If a person that’s a victim wants to go for a walk, 2,000 feet — meaning they can go in a circle around three or four football fields and they don’t have to worry about their assailant. Seeing their assailant, or the assailant being a predator, or just looking at them. There’s nothing magical about 2,000 feet, but 1,000 feet we thought was just too small of a distance.”
State Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, expressed concerns with the penalties, which appears to have been the issue that sunk the legislation, ultimately. The new law would provide for a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, which some senators saw was too much for the offense.
Among the bills heard Monday without a vote, state Sen. Zahra Karinshak, D-Duluth, brought two that deal with human trafficking — S.B. 325 and S.B. 326.
“I want to share with you that these are two important measures to fight sex trafficking and human trafficking here in Georgia, which as you know is a high priority for our governor,” Karinshak said. “Senate Bill 325 would expand the statute of limitations for prosecuting human trafficking-related offenses to 10 years from the commission of the crime, or from any victim’s 18th birthday.”
Susan Coppedge, a friend of Karinshak’s from their time as federal prosecutors, spoke on S.B. 326. She recently served both the Obama and Trump administrations in the State Department as the ambassador at-large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking of Persons.
S.B. 326 would allow for the clearing of criminal records for victims of human trafficking. She said as it stands now, trafficking survivors remain in a position of vulnerability because they can’t get jobs as a result of these criminal actions they were forced to commit.
Coppedge also provided the anecdote of a mother who said she wasn’t allowed to chaperone her daughter’s field trip because of a past prostitution conviction.
“It also affects the ability to get housing in some situations, and it just continues to victimize a survivor that the system recognizes is a victim of a crime, not a perpetrator,” Coppedge said. “That’s why the law is so important. And Georgia — sadly, for me — is one of 10 states at last count that had not passed a law like this.”
State Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, presented legislation that would criminalize the possession and production of sexually suggestive images of children that already aren’t covered by other laws. He said the issue came up in a summer study committee that there’s a gap in existing law.
Presently worded, S.B. 331 states, “It is unlawful for any person to knowingly possess or control or produce any material or medium which contains images that depict a naked or nearly naked, suggestively posed, and inappropriately sexualized child or children with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desire of such person or the person viewing such images.”
Work will also continue on tweaking that bill, which during discussion appeared to need more specificity.
Jackson closed out the hearing by discussing his bill to outlaw childlike sex dolls.
“Similar measures have been passed in the state of Florida, also in the state of Tennessee, also, if you look back, there’s a … (U.S.) House resolution, 4655, introduced in June 2018, that talked about childlike sex dolls,” Jackson said. “It is indeed a problem that has come to Georgia … actually, sold across the world. There have been 230 childlike sex dolls that have already been caught, and in the GBI or in federal custody. that have entered our state.”
Jackson was slightly off with his dates — the congressional resolution referenced was the Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Pedophilic Robots Act — or CREEPER Act — of 2017. It passed the House by voice vote June 2018 after introduction in December 2017. The bill, a bipartisan effort, didn’t have any Georgia co-sponsors.
Possession of such a doll under Jackson’s S.B. 332 would be a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature on first offense and a felony for every offense thereafter, resulting in sentences of one to five years. Meanwhile. selling, lending, giving away or manufacturing such a doll, or possession with intent to do the same, would be a felony with penalties of one to 10 years.