The Georgia Association of Club Executives (GA ACE) sued two state leaders on November 10 of last year, in Fulton County Superior Court, claiming a tax on clubs to combat sex trafficking is unconstitutional.
Attorney General Chris Carr and Revenue Commissioner Lynne Riley were named in the suit. The new law, which is supposed to take effect Jan. 1, allows the state to tax every adult entertainment business an annual fee of $5,000 or 1 percent of revenue, whichever is higher, to support the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund, which goes to programs to stop sex trafficking in Georgia.
The association claims the law is unconstitutional because adult clubs have nothing to do with child sex trafficking, are already highly regulated, and don’t allow anyone under 21 to enter.
“GA-ACE members believe that this law stigmatizes the industry with the unfounded accusation of child sex trafficking,” Jill Chambers, the association’s executive director, said. “Children do not congregate at adult-themed nightclubs. Child predators and those who seek to exploit minors go where children congregate – not to ADULT nightclubs. GA-ACE members are trained to recognize possible sex trafficking victims and report them directly to federal law enforcement through the COAST program too.”
The tax was overwhelmingly approved by the state’s voters (83 percent) in the November 2016 general election as a constitutional amendment/referendum. It is based on Senate Bill 8, which was approved by the General Assembly and signed by the governor in 2016.
According to an association news release, the funds generated by the new law will not be funneled to law enforcement. Instead, they will go to fund “a ‘commission’ of state bureaucrats and to ‘employ professional, technical and clerical personnel’ but will only ‘consider’ ‘awareness and prevention’ services for exploited children.”
Chambers, a former Republican State Representative, along with the help of GA ACE Advisory Counsel submitted exhibits to the court to prove the law was unconstitutional, including an analysis of data on strip club sex trafficking, by ACE National executive director Angelina Spencer, which showed that less than 1% of all sex trafficking nationwide takes place in such establishments. Plaintiff’s attorneys excoriated the analysis, noting the data was bunk.
“GA-ACE members believe that this law stigmatizes the industry with the unfounded accusation of child sex trafficking. Children do not congregate at adult-themed nightclubs. Child predators and those who seek to exploit minors go where children congregate – not to ADULT nightclubs. GA-ACE members are trained to recognize possible sex trafficking victims and report them directly to federal law enforcement through the COAST program too.” – Jill Chambers of GA-ACE
“That was the point,” Spencer said. “It’s the feds, state’s and NGO’s own aggregated data, so if its bunk, how can you write law using it? If it’s not bunk, how can they write laws against clubs when other venues show much higher rates of sex trafficking?”
Spencer also noted she conducted the analysis on her own dime and time when it was suggested by attorneys that perhaps she was paid by the industry to skew the report. “Nobody asked for this report. Nobody said, ‘do this and we’ll pay you X’. I ran the data as the owner of Empowerment Enterprises, Inc. because I was curious to see what the percentage of sex trafficking in strip clubs might look like compared to other venues like hotels. I opted to use only federal, state, and NGO data because they claim the adult club industry is the biggest problem for sex trafficking. I guess they didn’t like what their own data showed. I also supplied references. They can run their own analysis. It will show the exact same thing.”
Chambers told Spencer today that GA state attorneys have withdrawn their motion for a rehearing. She also said the state attorney was silent on the issue during his re-election campaign, both of which she sees as positive signs. “Now it’s up to the judge,” she said. “To her credit, she looked directly at the state attorney and told him she wanted proof, direct evidence, that kids are being sold in clubs.” Proof, Chambers says, she hasn’t yet seen.
This story is written by ACE Executive Director Angelina Spencer and initially appeared in the ACE National Newsletter. For more information on ACE National, visit AceNational.org.