Another week, another example of how topsy-turvy our understanding of "sex trafficking" has become in America. This latest case comes out of Kansas, where a Chinese woman offering sexual services from a Wichita massage parlor has both been described by law enforcement as a victim of sex trafficking and been convicted of prostitution.
The owner of the massage parlor, Samir F. Elias, 60, was also arrested. Last Friday, he was charged in federal court with one count of transporting an illegal alien, one count of harboring an illegal alien, one count of harboring an alien for the purpose of prostitution, and two counts of money laundering. Though headlines on a Justice Department press release and local-news reports all announce that he was arrested for sex trafficking, no such charges were actually brought.
The Chinese woman, who went by the name "Angel," worked for and lived with Elias. According to the Wichita Police Department, Angel made $40 for a 30-minute massage and $60 for a 60-minute massage, of which she was required to give Elias $10 or $20, respectively; any tips she kept entirely.
Angel was arrested by an undercover vice detective after offering him sexual services during a massage. She was convicted in Wichita municipal court on one count of sale of sexual relations, a conviction she is currently appealing.
The Department of Homeland Security aided the Wichita Police Department with the case.
The idea behind America's strict laws against sex-trafficking is, theoretically, to punish activity that goes beyond consensual prostitution between adults; implicit in the crime of sex trafficking is supposed to be some element of force, fraud, or coercion employed by the perpetrator. But all too often, prosecutors have started using anti-human-trafficking statutes to go after people for whom this glove doesn't fit. And even when they don't actually bring sex-trafficking charges against adults engaged in prostitution, they both use them for leverage in getting pleas to lesser charges and talk to the press and public as if they have—thereby further sowing the seeds of sex-trafficking "epidemic" in everyone's minds.