Sex Crimes

Here's What the Senate's Massive Sex-Trafficking Bill Would Actually Do

The legislation addresses much more than preventing and punishing traffickers.

|

tricky (rick harrison)/Flickr

The U.S. Senate is expected to pass the "Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act," which "targets both the buying & selling of trafficked victims," after an emotional debate on the Senate floor Tuesday. At the heart of the bill is a change to federal criminal code that would make soliciting sex from a trafficking victim a crime tantamount to sex trafficking itself, even if a defendant doesn't know the individual was forced or coerced. But the legislation also authorizes and funds a wide variety of community, state, and federal initiatives designed to prosecute human trafficking, as well as efforts to fight other "illicit sexual conduct," "illicit e-commerce," and cybercrime. 

The basics: The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act was introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and attracted a bipartisan roster of Senate co-sponsors, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Marco Rubio (R-Florida), as well as the backing of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "Victims groups and advocates have called this bipartisan measure the most comprehensive and thoughtful piece of anti-trafficking legislation currently pending," said McConnell on the Senate floor Monday.

Why to be wary: Because it is, as Sen. McConnell said, quite comprehensive. It would expand Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents' mandate to fight all manner of cyber-crime. It would fund a ton of law enforcement initiatives, from efforts at the FBI to small-town police departments (even paying the salaries of prosecutors and police officers who work on trafficking cases), using money from a newly created Domestic Trafficking Victims' Fund. It would make soliciting prostitution from a trafficked individual or anyone under age 18 the legal equivalent of sex trafficking, and make it harder for those charged to use not knowing the individual was trafficked and/or a minor as a defense. And it would authorize a $5,000 charge to anyone found guilty of trafficking or other illicit sexual conduct (in addition to any court-ordered penalties), to go back into the fund that pays the salaries of police and prosecutors

Human trafficking, sex with a minor, and related activities are already criminalized in the U.S., of course, as is soliciting commercial sex more generally. And anti-trafficking task forces and rescue organizations have already been proliferating across the country. Legislators didn't explain why these efforts are insufficient.

At Tuesday morning's hearing, Sen. Cornyn and supporters focused mostly on impressing the extent of sex-trafficking's horriblenes ("modern slavery," "a parent's worst nightmare") and relaying lurid accounts from victims. Senators spoke of "thousands" of middle-school girls trapped in "a life of bondage" and traffickers who hung around parks waiting to abduct runaway teens. But they offered no supporting evidence to these claims that trafficking is a swelling, overlooked, and underfunded issue, and little explanation of what the legislation actually entails. 

So what does it entail? Here are some of the more significant provisions of the lengthy bill (S. 178):

"Clarify the range of conduct punished as sex trafficking" and make "absolutely clear for judges, juries, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials that criminals who purchase sexual acts from human trafficking victims may be arrested, prosecuted, and convicted as sex trafficking offenders." This would be accomplished by amending the federal criminal code to make "patronizing" or "soliciting" a victim of trafficking a crime equivalent to "recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, obtaining, or maintaining" a trafficking victim. The person soliciting the victim would not have to know they are trying to purchase sex from someone underage or someone trafficked, merely act "in reckless disregard of the fact" that this was possible. "The Government need not prove that the defendant knew that the person had not attained the age of 18 years," the criminal code specifically states.

Change the standard a defendant charged with "illicit sexual conduct" must establish from "a preponderance of the evidence" to the more rigorous "clear and convincing evidence." 

Charge "any non-indigent person or entity" convicted of human trafficking, sexual exploitation, or "transportation for illegal sexual activity" a $5,000 fine, which would go into a Domestic Trafficking Victims' Fund. This fund, administered by the Attorney General (AG), will go toward funding a wide variety of law enforcement and victims' services efforts. 

Fund private, municipal, and state efforts to establish "dedicated anti-trafficking law enforcement units and task forces" and "ensure that Federal law enforcement officers are engaged in activities, programs, or operations involving the detection, investigation, and prosecution" of sex trafficking. 

Establish the "Human Exploitation Rescue Operative (HERO) Child Rescue Corps." In the HERO Corps, "the returning military heroes of the United States are trained and hired to investigate crimes of child exploitation in order to target predators and rescue children from sexual abuse and slavery."  

Create a Computer Forensics Unit and a Child Exploitation Investigations Unit within the Cyber Crimes Center (a division of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) to investigate trafficking, IP theft, money laundering, arms proliferation, and "illicit activity" on the deep web. These units will, among other things, "participate in research and development in the area of digital forensics," collaborate with the Defense Department to recruit, train, equip, and hire veterans and transitioning service members through the HERO program, and "enhance United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement's ability to combat criminal enterprises operating on or through the Internet, with specific focus" on "cyber economic crime," digital intellectual property theft, "illicit e-commerce (including hidden marketplaces)," "Internet-facilitated proliferation of arms and strategic technology," and "cyber-enabled smuggling and money laundering.

Create a "Council on Human Trafficking" to advise policymakers.  The council will be comprised of eight to 14 trafficking victims and serve as a nongovernmental advisory body.

Require regular reporting on efforts and arrest numbers from various city, state, and federal bodies, including the Government Accountability Office. 

Why It Might Fail: Senate Democrats have been raising a fuss about language in the bill which would prohibit money in the Domestic Victims' Traffic Fund from being used to help human trafficking victims obtain abortions. As of Tuesday afternoon, Senators were still debating the language, with Democrats theatening to block the bill. 

Advertisement

NEXT: Hillary Clinton Press Conference a Big Mess, Ireland Temporarily Legalizes Ecstasy, N.Y. Keeps Ban on Ferrets: P.M. Links

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. At the heart of the bill is a change to federal criminal code that would make soliciting sex from a trafficking victim a crime tantamount to sex trafficking itself, even if a defendant doesn’t know the individual was forced or coerced.

    Ah, another thoughtcrime to add to the pile. What could possibly go wrong.

    My eyes glazed over all the other details in the article. That is a sure sign this thing needs to be killed fast.

    1. No, that’s the opposite of a thought crime.

      1. Yeah, I was struggling to find the right word to convey how awful this is 🙁

  2. The goal is to create another bureaucratic juggernaut that is unassailable and that incentivizes local police cooperation by authorizing more avenues of legalized theft.

  3. Ya I would be leery of any random tourist hookup. All it takes is a special enforcement “surge” and suddenly that offer to buy shots turns into “how to catch a sex trafficker”

    1. In FL they arrested over 1200 men, in underage sex stings on regular dating sites, until a judge got pissed off.

      http://www.wtsp.com/story/news…../13734121/

  4. Would there be any sex trafficking demand if prostitution was legal?

    1. Probably a little, since there was still demand for slaves when labor was legal.

    2. Good question, + when we look at New Zealand, we see they decriminalized all consensual adult prostitution + that they haven’t had a trafficking case since 2003 + they have rid the sex industry of exploitation, because the women have a right to agency + equal protection under the law. A great book is “Taking the crime out of sex work New Zealand sex workers fight to decriminalization”.

      Yet New Zealand is ranked as Tier 1 on the US TIP report, http://m.bangkokpost.com/opinion/45405

  5. There’s a reason crimes such as this were left to the States to define, enforce and punish. We don’t need a nation police force, and having one significantly diminishes our freedom.

    If a State fraudulently convicts a person for a crime he didn’t commit, the federal government can then prosecute those in the State who violated the civil rights of the victim. There isn’t any recourse if the federal government does it.

    1. http://www.esplerp.org just filed a law suit in CA challenging their prostitution laws.

      The BRIEF
      http://esplerp.org/here-is-the-brief/

      1. Also see Coyote Vs Roberts on this link + see how Rhode Island got indoor sex work decriminalized in 1979. They criminalized prostitution in RI in 2009

        http://esplerp.org/legislation/litigation/

  6. I think they sense the War On (Some) Drug Users is winding down and need a new crusade.

  7. Remember back in 1910 when America’s Bible Banging Baptist Boobery got the Mann Act passed? Thank goodness we’re more enlightened these days.

  8. At the heart of the bill is a change to federal criminal code that would make soliciting sex from a trafficking victim a crime tantamount to sex trafficking itself, even if a defendant doesn’t know the individual was forced or coerced.

    I wonder if there’s a loophole for undercover officers.

    1. EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! THE SHOCKING, LURID DETAILS OF COPS AND HOOKERS! So what if the person the cop has sex with is a victim or a minor?

      http://www.policeprostitutiona…..&Itemid=50

  9. As it is currently written, the Sex Trafficking Bill contains the language of the odious Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the Federal Government from subsidizing abortion.

    Abortions save 30-40 times the amount of money they cost. (They cost about $500.00, and save about $18,000.00 in fees for obstetric and neonatal care.) Thus, subsidizing abortion for poor women would LOWER YOUR TAXES. Conversely, the Hyde Amendment RAISES YOUR TAXES.

    Support the Democrat senators, who are holding up the Sex Trafficking Bill until the Hyde Amendment tax hike is removed from it!

    1. The Sex Trafficking Bill needs to not exist at all, bro. It furthers agendas that have nothing to do with saving little girls and boys. This modern day atrocity kicks sex work back into the middle ages and violently attacks consensual adult transactions.

  10. Victims and their advocates should never have more than a minimal role in creating any bill associated with restrictions and law enforcement.

    Rather than advancing a model that brings ethics and common sense to sex work which would actually assist law enforcement in targeting those who are actually trafficked the emotion-driven victim and victim’s advocates will naturally seek to violently prohibit any and all activities even remotely associated with their collective pain.

    In one of the supposed freest places on earth the philosophy and political science of human liberty is being overshadowed and even transplanted with ascetic anxiety, victims driven by vengeance, and paranoid correctness.

    1. Have I mentioned you’re my favorite, AC?

      1. You clearly woke up with a hangover, ENB. 😉

        I always read your output and enjoy it. Not enough scribes in the world of mags and rags are willing to critique and slap-down the diabolical schemes of the anti-sexual liberty lobby.

    2. I keep waiting for an account of someone “trafficked” giving her NAME, HOW they were captured, and WHY they didn’t escape. After all, a prostitute deals with customers, some of whom she could convince she WAS imprisoned, and to help her escape or at least secretly notify someone about it.

    3. and they should be separated from them money

      Special Report: Money and Lies in Anti-Human Trafficking NGOs

      http://www.truth-out.org/news/…..cking-ngos

    4. and they should be separated from the money

      Special Report: Money and Lies in Anti-Human Trafficking NGOs

      http://www.truth-out.org/news/…..cking-ngos

  11. If all the Dems find objectionable about this is an abortion provision, then civil liberties is truly a foreign language in the Senate.

  12. Doesn’t it also get victims on the federal gravy train which will create incentive for false claims?

    1. There is no gravy train, these women are dumped in public shelters + abandoned . Go to http://www.guidestar.org + look up the tax return of any of the trafficking NGOs + look at what huge salaries their board members make. The rest of the money is spend “Creating awareness” They want hotel person + cosmetologist to be required to take training in “how to identify a trafficking victim”. The real goal is to try to abolish all prostitution, which we all know is a unrealistic goal.

  13. Part 1
    I just got back from Brown University, to hear a speak by Katherine Chon Co-founder and President Emerita, Polaris Project and is the current Senior Adviser on Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. Department of Health and Human.
    http://www.brown.edu/initiativ…..d-justice/

    In her speech she admitted that they have people calling in that “self identify as victims” because they want out of the life, and they have NO SERVICES. Then she goes on to tell me how the NGOs need more money and how this has to be a community effort. She told us how when she was at Brown she interviewed spa workers and found women from China that had been trafficked and forced into prostitution. (I dare anyone to check the record, there was NEVER a documented case of sex trafficking in Rhode Island prior to 2009. and Donna Hughes did not find 1 spa worker in Rhode Island that would say that they were a victim. 30 of the spa workers went to federal hill and begged the legislators not to criminalize them. ( RI did put in a loophole that no other state has, most states make victims prove that they are victims or they are still prosecuted, but in RI if a person claims that they were forced or threatened, they can’t prosecute them. They can arrest them and publish their name in the media, but they can’t prosecute + get a conviction)

  14. Part 2
    She also bragged about that when she started out there were no trafficking laws, and how each state now has them and we also have federal trafficking laws and how until then the women were all UNPROTECTED. She goes on to say how they even have several people calling in that “self identify” as victims and “want out of the life” but they don;t have services for them.”

    (hmmmm…..Note her language “self identified as a victim + who wants ” out of the life.” If we do allow NGOs to hand out services do you think any sex worker than won’t agree to exit will have access to these services. Yet the Obama administration said “that prostitutes would not be excluded from public services”, so we hand NGOs money who we know exclude all consensual adult sex workers.)

    1. Part 3
      The Q+A afterwards lasted about 20 to 25 minutes and I made sure I got 5 minutes of that time…. I made statements and asked questions for a full 5 minutes before I stopped and allowed her to respond. So when I got my 5 minutes at the microphone, it went something like this ” Hi I first want to thank you for coming to tonight and for having the opportunity to ask you some questions. My name is Gina Robinson and I am the director of the Rhode Island chapter of Coyote. I am a board member with the “Erotic Service Providers Legal Education Project” and I am a member of “the Erotic Service Providers Union” (her eyes got WIDE when I said that). I have been a sex worker for over 32 years, and that I currently still work as online escort. I mention the RISK I was taken, in saying this in front of a government official.

  15. Part 4
    I want to tell you about a experience I had in 2012 trying to report a possible trafficking victim. We found a women on usasexguide, that several men over several years had posted reviews on a woman in her early 40’s and the men all admitted that they didn’t think the women could really consent, that they knew she had some type of mental impairment, but they still had sex with her. I told her we called 211 after all its all over backpage with warnings to call and report trafficking. I told how it was a Saturday and it was a answering servicing until Monday. When I call Monday they tell me they have no interest unless a minor is being exploited. So I call Polaris Project and I give them all the information from usasexguide and my contact information and I tell them about Kathy. I get a 2012 case number which is 64715. So the woman I spoke to Sue, she says that they don’t investigate anything that they simply relay the tips to local law enforcment (hmm why can’t the victim ca

  16. Part 5
    call local law enforcment and save the US 7 million a year for funding Polaris Projects tip line.) Sue also tells me that they do not have ANY direct services and they simply hand the victim a list or organizations. This is the same list that you can get from dialing 211, a list of tons of organizations, none who have long term housing, a job that pays a living wage, or a higher education.

    (for those who don’t know the Kathy story here is the link we blogged in 2012 to document it. http://legalizetoprotect.blogs…..corts.html

  17. Part 6
    Then I tell her about when I got a call from another victim who told me that they escaped from a pimp and that was in a parking lot of a hotel near the airport. I went and picked the girl up, and she told me she was 22, and I took her out to breakfast. I asked if is she wanted to report this to the police was she in need of services, and did she want to go to a shelter. The so call victim told me, “I want to keep escorting, I just want them to stop taking all my money”, and she wanted me to rent her a hotel room, so she could do sex work. I said HELL NO” and drove her to her mothers house in CT.

  18. Part 7
    Then I looked around the room and tell everyone that any states have laws requiring the women to PROVE she is a victim or they are prosecuted. I asked do we make rape victims or domestic violence victims PROVE that they are victims. I said so the women are arrested, their names are published I the media, their landlords might kick them out, and now the state says, hey if you can prove that you are a victim and allow us to convict SOMEONE of trafficking, we won;t prosecute you. To add insult to injury we don’t have any services for these victims. This is when I tell everyone that the US gives these trafficking NGOs 686 million every year, and yet none of them provide services. This is when I say what about the 2.5 million homeless youth? Then I mention the recent study from NY that interviewed almost 300 people, who were either teens or had entered into survival sex as a minor. I repeat 686 million a year in funding and American youth has to engage in survival sex. I mention how we have another 4 trafficking bills up, and its all about handing out more money to NGOs that don’t provide services, and it also will charge clients as traffickers, and give law enforcment a HUGE BLANKET to throw over the whole adult community.

  19. Part 8
    I ask has all these trafficking laws stopped anyone from being trafficked, NO they haven’t. I ask why ar we INSISTING that the police keep arresting women when we don;t even have anywhere to house them. WE CAN DO MUCH BETTER..
    I ask her how we are going to find common ground and work with sex workers organizations.
    The last question I ask (as I can see Elena signalling me as I have been rambling on)… do you think all sex workers are being exploited?

    The only thing I can really remember her saying in her reply was how we need to get the NGOs more money because they don’t have enough money for any services. My mind kind of drifts as I am so emotional my hands are shaking)

  20. Part 9
    After the Q+A, I walk right up to ” Katherine Chon ” and I shake her hand and thank her (because you know some whores have good manners) and I say I think there is 2 things we can agree on. I tell her I want language added to the VAWA putting a time limit on the testing of rape kits. I explain we have 1/2 million untested kits, and that recently they tested 1,000 of them in Detroit and found 100 serial rapist. She says she didn’t know this. I also tell her that cops are allowed to have sex with women and then arrest them for prostitution. I ask, what if its a minor or a victim, and she said she did not know about this either. I hand her my card and ask her to email me, I tell her I really want to continue the discussion with her. I also handed her the print out of the blog on Kathy.

    I think there was about 20 people at the event, and about 10 people, personally came up and thanked me for speaking up. Everyone was buzzing around with that 686 MILLION number, so I wen on to tell them about the fast track bill that will allot 1.5 BILLION so other countries can round up all the sex workers

  21. Part 10
    I met a student who has interned as a lobbyist, so at dinner I was able to explain to him my utterly failed attempt to even be heard on the Save Act, even after sending out hundreds of letters and getting a meeting with Senator Sheldon office, and how they lied to the media and told them nobody opposed it. I also tell everyone that in NC lobbyist are allowed to hire escorts, even prostitutes for the politicians and that it was recently approved by the ethics commission. One girl looked a bit skeptical, and I assure her, a quick google search will prove its true. I say I know what comes out of my mouth is outrageous. I told them they have no clue how much outrageous stuff I have fund researching the subject full time for over 5 years. I also mention that Tara Burns is up Juneau Alaska lobbying for sex workers, and camping out in the middle of the winter for a whole month. I also add in, how 30% of the women that tried to report a crime were threatened with arrest and 10% were actual arrested trying to report a crime, and how the majority of them say that they were abused by the police before they entered the sex industry.

  22. Part 11
    met a theater academic named Connie and I told her about the play I helped with in Hartford CT, called “Riding the TurnPike”, and I told her I would love to work on a project with her. The first media contact I met is doing a project with Spread magazine in RI in April, about sex work history from the 60’s to 80’s. Brown also hired a media person to cover Elena Shih who is my friend and the professor over the RI sex worker/ trafficking research project I am working on.

    I am sure I am forgetting things I said to some people, but I did walk the room and get out most of my points. I told people about the constitutional challenge we just filed in CA. I told people that they are charging women in Alaska with trafficking themselves. I told Connie “the Shannon Gilbert story from the Gilgo Beach murders in Long Island, and I told them all to watch “Frozen Ground” on netflix which is about all the women sex workers murder in Alaska in the 80’s. I told someone about all the cops that have been convicted for sexually assaulting kids and that 96% of sexual abuse towards children happens by someone the child knows, and only about 4% happens by a stranger.

  23. Part 12
    I also told them about the recent report that was the biggest study on “the health of trafficking victims”, and how other occupation sectors were abused much more horrifically then the “sex trafficking victims”. I told them that the US send money to Cambodia to round up and arrest all the sex workers, and how they would be held with no trial, indefinitely , unless they agree to go to the rehab center to learn to sew, where they are not paid for the training and are locked in, and how once they can sew they are send to work in the DANGEROUS garment factories for 80 bucks a month. I said this is the REAL definition of human trafficking.

  24. This new law criminalizes many websites and mandates the death penalty for anyone convicted under it. I will point out that it mandates the death penalty for an adult who has sex with another adult who was once a trafficking victim. In the house, reps, Ann Wagner and Jim Sensenbrenner are responsible for this bull crap. In the senate, Diane Feinstein and John Cornyn, Harry Reid, Marco Rubio, sponsored this legislation. It makes paying for sex with another adult a federal capital crime no matter what the circumstances. And it shuts down numerous websites and kills free speech rights. And in a few years our jerk off supreme court will say it is constitutional. Also, this new law exempts all government workers from being prosecuted under it. So our politicians , IRS agents ,cops, prosecutors, and judges will continue to get away with both sex with adults and children. They will also continue to use our constitution as toilet paper. This is our government at work for you!!! Lets vote these bums out next election cycle!!!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.