IHTI Guest Column: Advocacy and Policy Development

Melissa Carter
Executive Director,
Emory Barton Child Law and Policy Center

Emory University’s Barton Child Law and Policy Center is proud to partner with the International Human Trafficking Institute and other key organizations including Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, the LGBTQ InstituteyouthSpark, and Covenant House-Georgia in the Sparking Systemic Changecollaborative.  The collaborative is a team of academic and community partners joined by experience, expertise, and a steadfast commitment to shifting the conditions that perpetuate the problem of commercial sexual exploitation of children and youth (CSEC) (also referred to as domestic minor sex trafficking).  Consistent with our mission focus on the legal rights of children who are involved with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems and the courts, the Barton Center leads the collaboration’s legislative advocacy and policy development strategy.  Our goals are to strengthen the state’s response to commercial sexual exploitation of children and work toward a shared public agenda to support adequate resources, community awareness, and access to services for survivors. In our pursuit of those goals, our guiding principles are to be survivor-centered and trauma-informed.

The second Monday of January each year marks the beginning of Georgia’s legislative session and official start of the race to amend state laws.  The Georgia legislature convenes for 40 legislative days on a calendar set by the agreement of the House of Representatives and the Senate.  During what amounts to about three calendar months, elected officials advance the priorities of their constituents and address the state’s main concerns.  For more than two decades, lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle have centered the problems of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation on their agenda.  Their work has led to expanded definitions of criminal offenses, increased criminal penalties for perpetrators, additional tools for investigation and prosecution, and enhancements of protective provisions for child victims.  Yet, the public and political interest has not ceased, and still more work needs to done.  

This year, consideration is already being given to bills that propose law reforms for the further protection of victims of human trafficking.  Senate Bill 33 creates a civil cause of action for victims of human trafficking to recover damages and attorney’s fees from their traffickers and those who profited from their trafficking.  Senate Bill 34 allows a victim of human trafficking to obtain a name change under seal, so that it does not become a matter of public record. These bills originated from the GRACE Commission led by First Lady Marty Kemp, and both of the measures enjoy bipartisan support.

The best policy is more than just a good idea.  It is one informed by people who are directly affected, those who have experienced the benefits and burdens of our legal and service response to human trafficking and CSEC or expertise about how the system should work.  Our state’s elected and appointed officials need to know what services are needed, what approaches work, and where and how injustice still occurs. They need evidence, and well-reasoned arguments, and a clear understanding of the values that should inform their policy debates.  They need your engagement.  

Advocacy does not require special skills or training.  It requires only the courage of conviction. Together, we can address the immediate needs of those at risk for or experiencing CSEC and human trafficking and transform systems to prevent more harm.