Hit & Run

Congress as Sex Slave Factory

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In 1999, the CIA estimated that 50,000 women had been trafficked into the US for sex work, and enormous resources were marshaled to find them. Few were ever located, and there are plenty of reasons to wonder about the original estimate; sources told The Washington Post the number came from a single CIA analyst who relied on clippings from foreign newspapers. Now is probably a good time to take another look at that number. But as Melissa Ditmore explains, Congress prefers to address the embarrassing lack of victims by creating more of them:

The House version of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act would expand U.S. laws against prostitution by re-defining most prostitution-related activities, regardless of consent, as trafficking. Human trafficking is a complex issue, but there is widespread agreement about its key distinguishing features, namely the use of force, fraud or coercion. HR 3887 throws out these cornerstones and threatens to re-define all prostitution, arguably even all sex work, as trafficking.

If no "victims" or "traffickers" can be found, some will have to be created. The threat of additional charges or the promise of immunity can be used to persuade some of those charged to testify against their colleagues. During the initial period of the TVPRA, despite lavish spending on raids and on services for victims of trafficking, there was an embarrassing lack of migrants coming forward to take advantage of the protection offered by the law and to cooperate in the prosecution of their traffickers. The expanded definition of trafficking provided by HR 3887 should make up the shortfall in trafficking victims, but only by spuriously applying trafficking charges to cases that do not involve force, fraud or coercion.

There is something deeply wrong with our government when the answer to the desperate problem of human trafficking is to change the definition of the crime so we can claim we're doing something about it.

reason has been covering the conflation of trafficking and sex work for years. Here are Tracy Quan, Laura Agustin, and Joanne McNeil making similar arguments.