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New sex laws go after the criminals

One Georgia law that has gone into effect this month will accomplish two things.

First, it will place the blame for sex trafficking on the actual traffickers who are profiting from it and on the users who are creating the market for it.

Second, it may well serve as a model for other states who want to put an end to this modern day slavery.

Under Georgia's new law, a victim of sex trafficking can't be prosecuted for a sex crime. The victim would have to prove that he or she was coerced into prostitution, and the coercion can include physical abuse, financial harm, destruction of immigration documents and drug use. The law allows these victims also to be eligible for state funds for medical treatment, but only if they cooperate with authorities.

Meanwhile, the law ratchets up the penalties for the traffickers. If an individual coerces someone under 18 to become a prostitute, that offender is looking at a minimum of 25 years behind bars.

And the sex "customers," who too often skip out scot-free while providing the economic engine that drives these illicit markets, are up for some stiffer penalties as well. A person convicted of paying for sex with someone who's 16 years old will see at least five years in jail, a prison term that doubles if the child is under 16.

It took four years for this legislation to make it through the General Assembly, which means it has come too late for some who have been forced into prostitution. It appears to strike a good balance between being tough on crime (and moving the focus to those who are responsible for this problem) and providing treatment for those who have become caught up in the sex slave industry.

We're not under the illusion that everyone who works as a prostitute really has a heart of gold and is merely a victim of circumstances as some Hollywood scriptwriters would have you believe. Many are willing participants, and this law isn't going to keep them from practicing their risky vocation or from paying the penalties when they're caught.

But it may just save that youngster who didn't see any other way out, and who feared for his or her safety. The fact is, the traffickers and johns who prey on these victims deserve to be dealt with harshly and decisively. They place their wants, whether it's money or sexual gratification, above everything else, and don't mind in the least that they destroy lives to get it.

In the past, law enforcement has focused on the symptom -- the young prostitutes.

Now it is time to focus on and punish the disease -- the pimps and the johns.