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Grant to help combat child prostitution

LAWRENCEVILLE - Sometimes they are for sale on the Internet. Other times, on the street corner.

But officials hope a $560,000 grant will help stop the prostitution of children in Gwinnett and four other metro counties.

"It's a significant problem," said Kaffie McCullough, the campaign director of A Future, Not a Past, an initiative of the Juvenile Justice Fund and the Atlanta Women's Foundation. According to a recent study, more than 250 adolescent and teenage girls are prostituted each month in Georgia, McCullough said.

"It's not just happening to inner city girls. The Internet has put all our kids at risk," she said. "It is so hard to hear. We want to think it's not happening. ... We want everyone to say we don't want this to happen to our kids and stand arm and arm around them."

District Attorney Danny Porter said he was not aware of any child prostitution cases in Gwinnett, but McCullough said child prostitution occurs almost anywhere that adult prostitution does.

"It's probably becoming less visible as the Internet gets into the industry," McCullough said. "The Internet is going to be the virtual street."

Many of the victims are runaways who leave abusive situations, said McCullough, but they are often treated as criminals detained at juvenile detention centers because law enforcement has nowhere else to take them.

She hopes a new Georgia Regional Assessment Center, funded in the state budget, will provide that safe haven.

"These measures help ensure our young girls are protected and not treated as criminals," Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, said. "The true criminals are the adults taking advantage of these innocent children for their own personal gain."

Lawmakers also created a committee to study the issue.

"This is a tremendous occasion for Georgia's children," said Renee Unterman, the Buford senator who sponsored the bill to create the Joint Commercial Exploitation of Minors Study Commission.