Under the new Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA), passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in May, anyone who solicits or engages in prostitution with a person under age 18 is subject to federal sex-trafficking charges. In fact, one of the main reasons for the new law, according to supporters, was to make absolutely clear that sex buyers should be treated similarly to those who use force or coercion to compel commercial sex. So why wasn't former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle booked on federal sex trafficking charges?
In addition to Fogle's alleged child-porn collection, he is accused of traveling to New York City on two occassions to pay for sex with 16- and 17-year-old girls. Whether these girls were forced into the sexual activity is irrelevant as far as federal law is concerned; the JVTA makes very clear that anyone paying for sex with a teen is a) guilty of the crime of human trafficking, and b) required to pay $5,000 into a domestic trafficking victim's fund, which will be used to cover the cost of future anti-trafficking efforts.
Critics of the JVTA pointed out that many people charged with human trafficking are not big-time criminal kingpins but petty pimps and others unlikely to be able to afford the $5,000 fee, which comes in addition to any other court-ordered fees and penalties. Fogle is certainly one mark for which this wouldn't be a worry.
But the feds didn't even attempt to book Fogle on sex trafficking charges, instead charging him with "traveling to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor," in addition to receipt of child pornography. (He is expected to plead guilty to both charges, in a deal that will likely net him between five and 12.5 years in prison.) Not even the media have been throwing around the words "sex trafficking" in conjunction to Jared, though they seldom miss an opportunity to work the phrase into coverage of consensual sex work of any kind.
Perhaps the reason for the public's lack of linking Fogle to sex trafficking is that this—paying to have sex with ostensibly willing 17-year-old women—isn't what we think of when we think about sex trafficking. But it's exactly the kind of thing that federal and state sex-trafficking laws indict. Rightly or wrongly, this is what we are talking about, legally, when we talk about sex trafficking.
Now, as someone opposed to both the overfederalizaiton of crimes and the charging of "johns" as sex traffickers, I'm not arguing that the feds should have booked Jared on sex-trafficking charges. But it does seem strange, and perhaps hypocritical, that they did not. What a perfect opportunity this would have been to show off the vast reach of the new JVTA in a high-profile way! Whatever their reasons for sparing Fogle sex-trafficking charges, the Department of Justice hasn't been shy about using them more generally. Here are a few people the feds have gone after as sex-traffickers recently:
- Mariah Haughton, 18, a Michigan woman convicted of human trafficking for recruiting other teens into sex work (when she was 17 herself) and helping them post ads on Backpage.com.
- Jonathan Purnell, 28, a Michigan man who initially faced 13 counts of human trafficking for allowing friends to use his car to drive teen women to prostitution jobs.
- Anthony Lee Brown, 48, a Cincinnati man charged with sex trafficking for driving individuals from Ohio to Kentucky to engage in prostitution.
- Adrian Palmer, 49, a Pennsylania hotel security guard convicted of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking for "providing protection and asssistance" to people, including some teens, engaged in prostitution at the hotel.
- Kanubhai Patel, 74, a Louisana motel owner convicted of sex trafficking for renting rooms to those he knew were engaged in prostitution.
- Julie Haner, 19, an Oregon sex worker who drove her 17-year-old friend across state lines to work prostitution jobs with her.