Criminal Justice

Senators Feinstein, Portman Want to Expand Wiretapping Authority to Combat Sex Trafficking

Another anti-sex trafficking bill from Sen. Dianne Feinstein that uses inflated fears about the issue to push unconstitutional expansions of federal law enforcement power

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Human Trafficking and Sexual Violence Awareness/Facebook

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is once again attempting to swell federal power and erode civil liberties by preying on fears about sexual exploitation. Today, she and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) introduced the Combat Human Trafficking Act, a bill that would expand federal and state wiretapping authority, mandate that the Department of Justice (DOJ) spend more time investigating and prosecuting buyers of sex acts from trafficking victims, and increase criminal penalties for buyers by legally defining them as human traffickers.  

What could be so bad about going after those who buy sex from trafficked individuals, especially sex-trafficked minors? For one, the bill doesn't require a buyer to know that an individual has been trafficked or is under 18 years of age to be criminally liable. But, more broadly, the bill seems largely aimed at additional encroachments on American privacy and expansion of federal law enforcement power. 

Sen. Portman said the legislation "sends a clear message to those who victimize children that we will prosecute you to the full extent of the law." But we already have plenty of laws available to prosecute those who sexually victimize children. Purchasing sex from a minor should absolutely be illegal—and it is! But what do we gain by now defining all individuals who do so as sex traffickers?

We'll get more people in prison, I guess—if anyone who purchases sex from a 16-year-old is now a human trafficker, not just a statutory rapist, they'll be subject to a 10 year mandatory minimum sentence. Somehow this seems more punitive than public safety-oriented. (Also, expensive.) 

We'll also get the DOJ poking around more in the affairs of anyone involved in buying or selling sexual services. Under the bill, "the Attorney General shall ensure that Federal law enforcement officers are engaged in activities, programs, or operations involving the detection, investigation, and prosecution of individuals" who "obtain, patronize, or solicit a commercial sex act involving a person" who has been trafficked.

Under the best of circumstances, this is going to lead to increased harassment of (willing) sex workers and enhanced monitoring of any space where they congregate. But by playing a little loose with the definition of trafficking (as anti-prostitution crusaders are wont to do), the bill also provides a potential direct mandate for DOJ to target sex workers and their clients. 

But isn't arresting child sex traffickers and rescuing trafficking victims worth it? It's a worthy endeavor, certainly. It's also one that DOJ is already empowered to do. This bill doesn't make it more possible for DOJ to fight traffickers, it uses fighting trafficking as a guise for giving federal and state law enforcement more power. 

Here's a more detailed look at what the Combat Human Trafficking Act would do, from a Feinstein press release:

  • Clarify that a buyer of a commercial sex act from a trafficking victim can be prosecuted under the commercial sex trafficking statute (18 U.S.C. § 1591)
  • Make a seller or buyer of a sex act strictly liable, with respect to the victim's age, if the victim is under the age of 18, thereby sparing child victims from having to testify and be re-traumatized
  • Establish a minimum period of five years of supervised release for a person who conspires to violate the commercial sex trafficking statute (§ 1591), thereby making conspirators subject to the same term of supervised release as those convicted of attempting to violate the statute or of violating the statute.
  • Require the Bureau of Justice Statistics to prepare an annual report on the number of arrests, prosecutions, convictions and lengths of sentences regarding sex trafficking offenses prosecuted in state courts.
  • Direct the Department of Justice to ensure that each anti-human trafficking training program it offers includes training on effective methods for investigating and prosecuting the buyers of sex acts, and to ensure that federal law enforcement officers investigate and prosecute such individuals.
  • Expand federal and state wiretapping authority to cover all human trafficking offenses, specifically peonage, involuntary servitude, forced labor, child sexual exploitation, child pornography production, slavery and involuntary servitude.

Feinstein's press release justifies these moves thusly: 

Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry worldwide, making it the second largest criminal industry behind the drug trade. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that up to 83 percent of sex trafficking victims are American citizens, and the average victim is first trafficked between ages 12 and 14. According to the California Department of Justice, California is one of the top four destination states for trafficking victims.

Yes, they're actually claiming that American citizens make up all but 13 percent of global sex trafficking victims. It's a bold move even within the typically-dubious realm of sex-trafficking statistics (the idea that the average victim is first-trafficked at 12-years-old is also suspect). None of these stats are sourced. 

Unfortunately, this is the latest in a string of dreadful bipartisan efforts from Feinstein, who earlier this year introduced the "Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation" (SAVE) Act with Republican Sen. Mark Steven Kirk. (Ill.). That bill also exploits sexually-abused children to push unconstitutional expansion of federal law enforcement power. A wide range of trade and activist organizations oppose the SAVE Act, which they describe as creating "new and draconian federal criminal liability for websites and other online services that host content created by third parties," while raising "serious free speech and privacy concerns", driving "truly bad actors—the traffickers—underground and overseas", and "subjecting wholly innocent individuals to potential criminal liability for unknowingly running afoul of this sweeping law."

NEXT: Jesse Walker on Using Gandhi's Tactics Against the Mob

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  1. Diane Feinstein is a monster, the lowest form of scum on earth. What they fuck is wrong with you people in her district electing this witch over and over again?

    We should tie her and Chuck Schumer to a rocket and shoot it into the sun so that it vaporizes their genes.

    1. To be fair, that “district” is California.

      Yes, the three most powerful people in California politics are:

      Feinstein: Corrupt/Evil.
      Boxer: Monumentally stupid.
      Pelosi: Corrupt/Evil and monumentally stupid.

      We got it all covered.

      1. What about Jerry Brown?

        1. Bad for sure, but at least he can only screw California.

      2. You forgot ugly and smelly.

  2. Given how much sex trafficking actually occurs versus how much it’s (for lack of a better term) “pimped” by people who benefit from it being perceived as being as big a problem as possible, I’m not sure that it’s even a worthy endeavor.

    Ms. Feinstein gets extra points for using weasel words to get a variation of the bogus “The average prostitute starts at age 13” statistic.

    1. Given how much sex trafficking actually occurs versus how much it’s (for lack of a better term) “pimped” by people who benefit from it being perceived as being as big a problem as possible, I’m not sure that it’s even a worthy endeavor.

      Time for Great Moments in Social Science. From the Village Voice:

      The underage-prostitution panic has been fueled by a scientific study that was anything but scientific.

      The thinly veiled fraud behind the shocking “100,000 to 300,000 child prostitutes” estimate has never been questioned.

      (snip)

      When asked directly, Estes gives an estimate that is much less dramatic.

      How many kids are involved in sex slavery?forcibly taken into the trade and abused?

      “That number would be small,” Estes acknowledges. “Kids who are kidnapped and sold into slavery?that number would be very small.”

      When we talk about very small, what sort of number are we talking about?

      “We’re talking about a few hundred people.”

      Yeah, that’s a social scientist who came up with a stat saying that 100,000-300,000 children are sex trafficked admitting that the number is actually under 1000. He arrived at the original number by counting anyone ‘at risk’ of sex trafficking, and included everyone within a certain distance of the Mexican border as being ‘at risk.’

  3. As always with Feinstein, it’s best to look at who is paying lobbying her to push something, because Diane doesn’t do shit unless her beak gets wet. Considering this:

    Expand federal and state wiretapping authority

    seems to be a factor in every bill she pushes, I’m guessing it’s LEO organizations. They’re trying to do a miniature PATRIOT Act using “sex trafficking” as their 9-11. They want even more of that laundry list checked off.

  4. What do you do when you think a violent criminal is hiding in a house with a bunch of hostages? You burn down the house to get to the criminal, right?

    Well, think of the Bill of Rights as that house, and America as those innocent bystanders. Torch that document! (Also, let’s face it, America is probably guilty of something anyway.)

  5. “We’ll get more people in prison…”

    Pretty sure this is the point. Her state is complaining about having to release non-violent inmates. You gotta make up for that somewhere. And, why not classify a bunch of new people as, not only sex offenders, but sex traffickers. Not going see a lot of calls for their release.

    https://reason.com/blog/2014/11…..-release-o

  6. Yes, they’re actually claiming that American citizens make up all but 13 percent of global sex trafficking victims.

    Feinstein should be put on the spot in public about this. The hemming and hawing would be Pelosiesque.

    1. Is there any reason not state that more clearly, as in

      Yes, they’re actually claiming that American citizens make up 87% of global sex trafficking victims.

      1. Ah, there we go, our old friend “up to”

        The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that up to 83 percent of sex trafficking victims are American citizens,

        This would be technically correct even if there was one (1) American sex trafficking victim.

        1. Nice catch.

          Holder should be put on the spot in public about thHAHAHAHA!

          1. Common Core Math. You have to add to subtract, and figuring out Pi further than the fifth digit is racist.

  7. Is there really a problem? Are there more sex traffickers today than in the past or is this hysteria brought about by more media reporting?

    1. There is a ton more sex trafficking than there was in the past, but that’s only because the definition of sex trafficking has been expanded to include things like a teenage boyfriend taking his consenting underage girlfriend for a romp in a hotel.

      1. Is that seriously covered under the latest and greatest definition of sex trafficking?

        1. Yes. As I posted upthread, the study they use to claim over 100,000 people sex trafficked annually counts people ‘at risk’ of sex trafficking, which includes everyone under the age of 18 who has a car and lives within a certain distance from Mexico. It also includes every child who runs away from home, even if they’re only gone for a day and never come anywhere close to being sex-trafficked.

          SCIENCE!

    2. No. I’ve worked in the “sex industry” in various capacities for years now, and this sex-trafficking bullshit is nothing more than the modern iteration of the “Pure White Wimminz Being Corrupted By Teh Sexually Deviant Black/Yellow/Red Man!” moral panic that’s been with us for centuries. It’s disgusting (and totally unsurprising) to see this nonsense peddled by the ostensibly “sex-positive, feminist” Left — it completely denies the moral agency of those who choose to sell sexual services, particularly those who do so under the consensual management of another (which is, by the way, actually quite rare, despite the near-universal misconception that all sex workers, prostitutes or otherwise, are beholden to exploitative male pimps). And besides being utterly infantilizing, these laws are used to coerce sex workers into taking plea deals whereby accepting “victim” status gets them off the hook — just give up the name of some guy connected to your business in some way and we won’t charge you, because you’re obviously being trafficked!

  8. “it uses [INSERT POPULAR MORAL PANIC] as a guise for giving any and every federal and state bureaucracy law enforcement more power.”

    Its hard to think of when this recipe hasn’t generally worked.

    I simplify it as the “MOAR POWER!-rule”

    1. This is why libertarians will never win a major election. They support [POPULAR MORAL PANIC] over common sense rules that most Americans support.

      1. If you’re referring to gun control, you’ve gotten the ‘panic’ entirely in reverse

        Its gun grabbers that use the “mass shooting” hype and need to lie about actual statistics to try and create some perception of a ‘problem’ that doesn’t exist

        name a single ‘moral panic’ example that you think Libertarians subscribe to, please? or else go pound sand

        1. It was sarcasm. The sarc font didn’t take.

          1. Ah.

            I thought maybe the ‘common sense’ was a little fishy. my bad

            1. This is no time to tie our hands behind our back when [POPULAR MORAL PANIC] is on the rise.

  9. “No, really – because fuck you, that’s why.” – Feinstein/Portman

  10. Today, she and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) introduced the Combat Human Trafficking Act

    Whenever there’s bipartisan agreement about something, especially if it’s for the children, you know it’s bad news.

    1. Evil *and* stupid.

  11. Sex trafficking my ass. Who wants to make a bet on how long after, if this becomes law, some 19 yo with a 16 yo girlfriend gets prosecuted under this law? Teenagers getting 10+ years hard time for consensually messing around with their girlfriends.

    Come to think of it, how long before a 5 yo is convicted for playing doctor?

    Mission creep is inevitable with these fuckers and nothing is over the top for them.

    1. how long before a 5 yo is convicted for playing doctor?

      That would be cruel and unusual. Chemical castration, tops.

    2. There is literally nothing the control freak scumbags won’t latch on to to further their dreams of control. No lies they won’t promulgate, no statistics they won’t completely make up, no victim they won’t exploit for their own gain. Nothing. It’s amazing. They are “misfortune parasites”. They live to suck off of the misfortunes of others in order to increase their control, power, and capacity to meddle in the lives of anyone they can.

    3. Leave Lena Dunham alone! *sobs*

      /sarc

    4. Sex trafficking my ass.

      I’m sure you are.

  12. Senators Feinstein, Portman Want to Expand Wiretapping Authority to Combat Sex Trafficking

    What does Natalie Portman have to do with this?

    1. You do know what “midichlorians” really are, right?

      1. heroin

    2. Portman the dude that used to hate on teh gays until he found out his son was teh gay.

      1. So now eveidentl he needs to go out and find another issue since his old one was being againstvgay marriage.

    3. She’s played a whore how many times?

  13. We’ll get more people in prison, I guess?if anyone who purchases sex from a 16-year-old is now a human trafficker, not just a statutory rapist, they’ll be subject to a 10 year mandatory minimum sentence. Somehow this seems more punitive than public safety-oriented. (Also, expensive.)

    It’s already a severe crime for American to travel across state lines or to travel abroad to have consensual, non-commercial sex with anyone under 18, even if it’s within local age of consent:
    http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2423

    So it makes me wonder if these stats are added to the BS “human trafficking” stats Feinstein mentioned since USC 2423 itself deals with the “transportation of minors” even if you aren’t actually transporting them.

  14. Regarding dubious methods, sometimes certain advocacy groups will just literally make up numbers: False child prostitution report makes headlines

    If you thought the recent statistic published by USA Today saying online sex trafficking of underage girls was on the rise at an astronomical rate was unbelievable, well, that’s because it was.
    ….

    The Schapiro group, an Atlanta-based business-consulting operation, was brought on board to conduct the initial survey by the anti-prostitution group A Future Not Past. The Group isn’t made up of any researchers and certainly no experts in street walking. That’s why they took to the not-so-scientific system of browsing online ads for female escorts and counting the “young-looking” women to get to their statistic.

    Pinto looked into the methodology used in the study and discovered that figures were determined using a formula put together by Schapiro. “The study showed that any given ‘young’ looking girl who is selling sex has a 38 percent likelihood of being under age 18?Put another way, for every 100 ‘young’ looking girls selling sex, 38 are under 18 years of age. We would compute this by assigning a value of .38 to each of the 100 ‘young’ girls we encounter, then summing the values together to achieve a reliable count.”

    1. Sounds scientific to me.

    2. “A Future Not Past”

      As in redundantly repeating yourself.

    3. 1=1 therefore I’m right in all things.

      I propose the Feinstein equation for the probability of being sold into sex traffic of:

      Ptot=Pf*P18p*P18f*Pm*Pp, where

      Pf=Prob. of being female
      P18p=Prob. of being or having been under the age of 18
      P18=Prob. of being or becoming over the age of 18
      Pm=Prob. of encountering a male in your lifetime
      Pp=Prob. of said male being part of the rape Patriarchy

      My estimate for Ptot is 164%, i.e. that everyone living in the US is likely to have been sold into sexual slavery 1.64 times on average.

  15. The graphic immediately reminded me of the 1960’s sitcom ‘I Dream of Jeannie’. See how my mind works, it’s all wrong.

    No guy ever found out that the gal he picked up on street corner was a more mischievous and smarter than him.

    1. Streetwalkers would be more desperate and probably won’t be the best and brightest, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if median sex worker intelligence is higher than median non-sex worker intelligence.

  16. Or we could legalize prostitution and put the trafficers and street corner hoods out of business. Bring the sex business into the light of day. Of course being sanctimonious and punishing the wicked and pretending like you care about the women so people think your wonderful is much more important then actually helping any of the women.

    1. Chimps have been observed trading sex for food. Which means most likely that homo sapians and their ancestors have been doing this shit for 7 or 8 million years. But we can end it if only we keep doubling done on the same policies that have never worked. Cause we’re super cereal this time.

      1. Of course I wouldn’t expect people like Feinstein and Portman to even comprehend that their are alternative solutions to the hammer.

  17. Yes, they’re actually claiming that American citizens make up all but 13 percent of global sex trafficking victims.

    The complement of 83% is 17% actually. Still absurd of course.

    Maybe they were considering only sex trafficking victims that are in the US?

  18. Politicians and pipe-up-the-ass moralists would be utterly lost without a smattering of things to save or protect on a consistent basis.

  19. How is the buyer held ” liable ” to know if a person is underage ? I’m also uncomfortable with the idea of wiretapping. How do we know that’s all law enforcement is looking for ? I think the author is right, this is just a guise to expand the power of law enforcement.Yes , human trafficking needs to be addressed, but this bill needs to be tweaked a little first.

  20. Part 1

    Perhaps Senator Feinstein should wake up to reality and address the fact that 1 out of 30 American kids are homeless.

    Homeless youth

    http://www.familyhomelessness.org/
    http://new.homelesschildrename…..cs/280.pdf

    The United Nations, Amnesty International and The Wold Health Organization all have recommended the decriminalization of consensual adult sex work to reduce trafficking and violence towards both the sex workers and the victims, but the US refuses to listen.

  21. Part 2
    hey keep saying they want to save these kids but none of them provide long term housing, jobs that pay a living wage, a higher education without debt, or non judgmental and compassion mental health and medical services, heck they do not even provide peer based counseling, as all they provide is shame based counseling and placing teenagers and women in public shelters and foster homes. (12% of all females in foster homes were raped in 2013) nor do I hear the good senators asking for money to test over 1/2 million untested rape kits being held in evidence lockers in the US.

    Amazingly they have no concern over hundreds of US cops that have exploited, raped, robbed and even murdered these women.

    So it seems the abolitionist are right when they say that there are victims in the sex industry. Take a look at how many cops, that only received a slap on the hand for raping + exploiting sex workers.

    Take a look at how many cops, that only received a slap on the hand for raping + exploiting sex workers.

    http://www.policeprostitutiona…..s_all/COPS DAs JUDGES RAPE EXTORT PROSTITUTES RUN PROSTITUTION RINGS/Cops_rape_solicit_pimp_prostitutes.pdf

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