Before President Bush reauthorized the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in January, Concerned Women for America President Janice Crouse warned that “within just blocks of the White House, pimps and trafficking mafias are promoting an industry that routinely enslaves thousands of women and girls every year.” Crouse (who presumably was not talking about Congress) made no effort to distinguish between the consensual sex trade, which almost certainly occurs in Northwest Washington, and coercive sex trafficking, which may or may not. Neither did the new bill.
The act was introduced in 2000 chiefly as a measure to fight the trade in sex workers abroad; a reauthorization in 2003 had the same goal. Its 2005 incarnation, in contrast, brings the focus home. It also extends the bill’s reach to include voluntary sex acts as well as coerced ones, providing money to law enforcement to fight both human slavery and victimless crimes without distinguishing between the two.
The new act provides $25 million in law enforcements grants, including money for states to “investigate and prosecute persons who engage in the purchase of commercial sex” and to “educate persons” charged with buying or trying to buy sex. Also on the list: a biennial conference to “discuss” prostitution and a promise of what Carol Leigh of the sex worker organization COYOTE calls “sexual surveillance.” The bill provides funding to quantify the “number and demographic characteristics of persons engaged in…commercial sex acts” as well as the value of the sex economy. It does not say how that information will be collected.