News - Dirty business

Feds tackle job local lawmen won't touch

What took them so long?
When the U.S. Attorney's Office busted up a child prostitution ring late last month, they were doing work Paul Howard and other city officials should have prioritized long ago. Why is it that kidnapping, drugging, raping and torturing young girls doesn't seem to catch the attention of our city's leaders?
Maybe it's because Atlanta politicians and business leaders have long made their bed with the sex industry, legalizing large portions of it for the benefit of tourism. Public funds channeled through the Atlanta Convention and Visitor's Bureau are used to promote titty bars. And nude clubs like the Cheetah enjoy most-favored-nation status with city regulators.
Those ain't Bibles thumping behind closed doors in Atlanta's power corridors.
Little wonder that Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard dragged his feet when confronted with evidence that certain clubs were employing underage girls to strip. First he equivocated, then he suggested "grassroots activism" instead of intervention by his office.
According to the juvenile court judges who demanded legal action against child pimps, the one thing Howard didn't want to do was create any impression that he might be "harassing" sex club owners. God knows they're a sensitive bunch.
It appears that nobody wants to drop a dime on the goose laying this golden egg: not city officials and certainly not the legislators who burn a path between the Gold Dome and Hooters, that pathetic "kiddy titty" bar complete with high chairs for the tots.
There was a time when Bill Campbell seemed marginally committed to fighting Atlanta's strip clubs. But he's been pretty quiet on the subject since the feds began looking him over, too, and his decision to hire Gold Club attorney Steve Sadow for his own legal counsel doesn't telegraph any hope for a crackdown in the near future.
It isn't too much to ask that city leaders at least pretend that preventing the pimping of minors tops somebody's to-do list. Howard has said there should be stricter enforcement of existing laws governing strip clubs. Well, who ever stopped him from doing just that?
Maybe the businessmen who control Atlanta's tourism and convention industry.
Howard's hesitation to come down hard on strip clubs certainly benefits Atlanta's powerful convention industry. It's been said before, but it's worth saying again: We don't have a convention trade because of our fabulous waterfront, folks. We have one because conventioneers can catch a cab to see Suzy Smyrna shake her coke-addled brains out over the rim of a $10 bottle of Bud.
The Atlanta Convention and Visitor's Bureau vehemently denies promoting the sex industry, but ads for clubs appear on their official website and half-dressed women "spit polish" men's shoes in the taxpayer-funded Congress Center. ACVB spokesman Bill Howard (no relation to Paul Howard) says that the money for the website that promotes adult entertainment comes from the private, nonprofit branch of the ACVB while public monies pay for other expenses, so taxpayers shouldn't feel that their money is being used to sell women. "It's on a totally different accounting system," he explains.
Yeah, whatever. I used to work for a pizza place that kept its books that way.
Stripping is a nasty, exploitative business. It should not be publicly subsidized, even if that subsidy goes for the pot Bill Howard pisses in while a "privately funded" computer down the hall generates the website where visitors can find out where to go for some Hot Nude Action.
Bill Howard admits that the ACVB might be forced to stop promoting strip clubs online if provisions were attached to funding the agency receives from the state budget, but he chuckles at the notion that state legislators would ever do that. Any takers, ladies of the House?
And speaking of dirty business, there's that dicey issue of sexual slavery.
Law enforcement and refugee workers have long known that some women working in Atlanta's "Asian Massage Parlors" are immigrants coerced into becoming sex workers by the people who brought them to America.
Here in Atlanta, the cradle of the civil rights movement, nobody even knows how many terrified women and girls are being forced to turn tricks in massage parlors (no, Virginia, guys don't go to those places because their backs are stiff). The CIA estimates that 50,000 young and underage women are brought into the U.S. for such purposes each year.
Yet massage parlors operate in Atlanta with impunity. The DA isn't investigating them. The mayor isn't condemning them. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution publishes advertising from some two dozen parlors in their sports pages with nary a peep from their editorialists. Creative Loafing does the same. Shame on us all.
Whether it be massage parlors or pimping rings, none of us should feel complacent about the fact that women and girls are living in our city under conditions the State Department calls "involuntary servitude" and "sexual slavery." Yet somehow, we do. Like the gray-faced townspeople in a gritty noir story, we turn our heads and pretend it isn't happening.

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