Sex Trafficking

Stalled Senate Sex-Trafficking Bill Should Stay That Way

This is one time that lawmakers using abortion as a political tool may be a boon for civil liberties.

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Thomas Hawk/Flickr

According to U.S. Senators, human trafficking is a form of "modern slavery" more vast than ever and fighting it should be "one of the top priorities of this nation." It's not as big a priority as partisan bickering over abortion funding, however—the bill quickly went from bragging rights for both parties to another instance of Congressional gridlock, stalled (and possibly doomed) by disagreement over whether sex-trafficking victims should have access to federally-funded abortions. But this is one time that lawmakers using abortion as a political tool may actually be a boon for civil liberties, as I argue in a new piece for The Week

Federal law already prohibits a wide range of conduct related to human trafficking, slavery, and child sexual exploitation. … Additionally, all 50 states have laws specifically criminalizing human trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of minors. One should always be skeptical when politicians insist on new laws to target things that are already targets. At best, they may be trying to capitalize on a sympathetic issue for attention and kudos. At worst, it belies efforts to grant government agencies new powers and more money without people paying much attention. The "Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act" seems to be a product of both.

One under-looked but worrisome aspect of the bill would set up several cybercrime-fighting units within the department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. These units, along with a team of military veterans known as the HERO corps ("Human Exploitation Rescue Operative"), would work with the Department of Defense and be deputized to fight all manner of "cyber economic crime," digital intellectual property theft, cyber-enabled money laundering, and "illicit e-commerce (including hidden marketplaces)." They would also participate in research and development on "digital forensics," and the bill would "provide computer hardware, software, and forensic licenses" for Immigration and Customs staff.

Funny how giving Immigration and the Defense Department a broad new mandate to police the Internet isn't really mentioned much in promoting the "Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act."

As I've mentioned here before, the bill also incentivizes law enforcement to crack down on consensual prostitution, and it categorizes anyone soliciting sex from a trafficking victim or teen (even without being aware of their age or unwillingness) as a sex trafficker themselves. Legislators call this "ending demand" for trafficking.

Women's groups working on trafficking issues suggest that ending supply would be better — victims' biggest barrier to escape is a lack of emergency services and shelter, along with an inability to turn to police or other government officials for help for fear that they'll be the ones treated as criminals. Even in state's with "safe harbor" laws, victims are first arrested for prostitution and then given the option to prove they've been trafficked in court.

At a hearing earlier this month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said that the United States routinely treats sex-trafficked minors as criminals, arresting and jailing them for prostitution and fueling their return to their abusers. In response, U.S. Ambassador Patricia Butenis, acting director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, told the hearing that "politics in the United States are complicated."

Politics may be complicated, but overcriminalization is no answer, I argue. Read the full article here

The "Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act" is far, far from the only questionable anti-trafficking move U.S. police and lawmakers have made lately. A few recent examples we've covered here:

• "Enhanced Penalties for Prostitution Patrons in New York's New Human Trafficking Measure"
• "Sex-Trafficking Victims Hurt Most by Senator's Crusade Against Classified Ads"
• "64 Face Jail After Elaborate Sting Aimed at 'Ending Demand' For Sex-Trafficking"
• "Raided for Suspected "Human Trafficking," Shut Down for Paperwork Violations." 

NEXT: Breaking: "The Gist" of Rand Paul's Controversial Defense Budget Amendment 940

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  1. “Human Exploitation Rescue Operative”

    *facepalm*

    Nuke this thing from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure.

  2. Numero uno, what is “digital intellectual property theft” doing in a bill about sex trafficking?

    Numero two-o, I was under the impression that libertarians were *against* the funding of elective abortions, so therefore they should support the Republicans on this issue, rather than issuing a plague-o-both-your-houses dismissal of the issue.

    1. rather than issuing a plague-o-both-your-houses dismissal of the issue

      Who’s doing that?

      1. The person who wrote about “lawmakers using abortion as a political tool.”

    2. What Notorious said.

      Regardless of your views on whether abortion should be legal, I can’t see any libertarian taking the position that it (or any other elective procedure) should be paid for with public funds.

  3. Any time the government focuses on a ‘problem’ that problem always gets worse, or a whole set of new problems are created. Californians recently voted in a proposition that sounded very much like this. An acquaintance of mine (who happens to be an escort) was very concerned that the new law would brand her a sex trafficker–much like teens who take nude selfies are charged with producing underage porn. This approach defies all logic…

  4. According to U.S. Senators, human trafficking is a form of “modern slavery” more vast than ever and fighting it should be “one of the top priorities of this nation.”

    Nice to see the US Senate fighting last century’s battles today. Or did the Mann Act not do what it was advertised to do?

    disagreement over whether sex-trafficking victims should have access to federally-funded abortions.

    *facepalm*

    Women’s groups working on trafficking issues suggest that ending supply would be better

    It’s my body! I can do what I…wait a minute, you’re selling sex for money?! No real woman would ever do that!

  5. What problem are they trying to solve? Any increase in trafficking is probably explained by the expansion in the number of offenses identified as trafficking.

    The problem they are solving seems to be the need for federal agents to do their work behind a desk.

    1. What problem are they trying to solve?

      The only problems they ever try to solve:

      (1) Insufficient campaign fundraising, to be goosed by passing dumbshit legislation.
      (2) Getting whatever brain-damaged single-issue obsessive is demanding “something be done” to go away.
      (3) Winning the daily news cycle.

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