Sex Trafficking

As the 'Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act' Turns One, Lawmakers Demand DOJ Get Tougher on Ad Platforms and Sex Buyers

Federal legislators are calling on Justice Department to be more proactive about using the 2015 sex-trafficking law.


It can be difficult to effectively criticize bad responses to good causes. But good intentions plus power, money, and bureaucracy don't always lead to the best incentives or outcomes. And this dynamic was on full display last Wednesday on Capitol Hill, where a bipartisan roster of U.S. representatives had come together to talk about the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA).

The JVTA was passed by Congress in May 2015 with near unanimous support. One of just three dissenters in the House was Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), a staunch advocate for criminal sentencing reform. Scott objected to the JVTA's creation of a 10-year mandatory minimum sentencing requirement for advertising platforms that facilitate sex trafficking. In theory, that requirement might sound noble, but in practice it targets websites such as Craigslist, Backpage, and other user-generated content platforms where anonymous individuals post millions of ads each week. Under the JVTA, the presence of a single sexually-oriented ad posted by someone under 18 could trigger sex-trafficking charges for anyone involved with running the platform.

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) said at the press conference that she hopes the Department of Justice (DOJ) will make more use of the advertising clause in the upcoming year. " has sued the federal government," said Wagner (more about that lawsuit here), "and I'm proudly named in that suit. I consider it a badge of honor. If these horrific internet websites want to sell our children online it is not… a freedom of speech issue, it is a crime. And the SAVE Act, and JVTA, say 'this is a crime.'"

Free speech, civil liberties, and sex-worker rights advocates say diffently, of course, pointing out that Backpage cooperates extensively with law enforcement when ads are suspected to feature underage individuals, and the overwhelming majority of ads posted on the classified-ad site have nothing to do with sex or human trafficking.

But Wagner is just one of 37 legislators calling on the feds to be more proactive about using the 2015 federal sex-trafficking law. In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch on May 24, they criticized the DOJ because "some provisions of the JVTA have yet to be implemented" and stated that they will "employ concerted due diligence until every child, woman, and man is safe from modern day slavery."

Their requests aren't 100 percent unreasonable. One thing they ask for is better Bureau of Justice statistics on rates of arrest, prosecution, and conviction for human trafficking offenses.

Then again, the Justice Department did commission a pretty significant report—released in January 2016—on human-trafficking arrests, prosecutions, and convictions in America, with a team of independent academic researchers looking at data from 2003 through 2012. State measures involving tougher punishments or more police busts for prostitution-related crimes were "the dominant legislative response," the researchers found out—although these tough-on-crime responses had "no impact on the number of arrests and prosecutions for human trafficking."

Such responses, however, are exactly what lawmakers were pushing last week. One of the main points they stressed in the letter to Lynch was the need for an assistant U.S. attorney general in each U.S. district to focus on overseeing and prosecuting trafficking cases. Another was for even greater focus on catching and prosecuting people who pay for sex.

"JVTA goes after the demand side of this, and that is what's important," said Rep. Wagner.

The theory behind "end demand" efforts—law-enforcement initiatives targeting sex buyers—is that the demand for prostitution generally creates the conditions for victims of sex-trafficking to be exploited. The answer, say end-demand advocates, is to punish prostitution clients as felony sex offenders (under state laws) and sometimes as harshly as those doing the human trafficking. As a result, we've seen an increasing number of "john stings," where undercover cops pose as sex workers and arrest those who take the bait.

Efforts to fund the arrest and prosecution of "persons who engage in the purchase of commercial sex acts" have been a part of federal anti-trafficking agenda since 2005, with the second re-authorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Commercial sex (i.e. prostitution) stings are routinely paid for with federal grant money and aided by agents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI.

Lawmakers speak of this move as a way to bring justice to bear on "child sex traffickers." In reality, it allows for the escalation from misdemeanor solicitation charges to federal or felony human trafficking charges for anyone who offers—knowingly or unknowingly—to pay someone even one day under 18 for sex.

Under the JVTA, only those who solicit sex from trafficking victims "can and should be prosecuted" as human traffickers. But there is no requirement for the sex soliciter to know the individual is being trafficked. What's more, federal law defines anyone under age 18 who engages in prostitution as a sex-trafficking victim, even if no one is forcing, coercing, or even working with them. And the government need not prove that a sex solicitor "knew the person [selling sex] had not attained the age of 18 years."

Treating such individuals as legally equivalent to kidnappers, violent pimps, and human smugglers was one of the central tenets of the JVTA.

One advantage to this approach, for the government, is greater civil asset forfeiture possibilities and the ability to extract more fine money from defendants. For instance, under the JVTA, anyone convicted must pay $5,000 into a Domestic Trafficking Victims' Fund, in addition to any fees assessed as part of regular sentencing. There also need not be an actual victim under this approach—an undercover officer posing online as a teenager will do just fine.

"Make 'em pay the rent on the courthouse," said Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) at the Wednesday press conference, summing up the JVTA approach.

Poe also praised the U.S. State Department's annual "Trafficking in Persons" (TIP) report, in which the department grades other countries' anti-human trafficking efforts. He then wondered out loud where the U.S. would rank if we ranked ourselves?

We do. The U.S. earned the best possible ranking (Tier One). The report stated that federal anti-trafficking laws are "sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses: penalties ranged up to life imprisonment." According to the TIP, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) opened 987 investigations possibly involving human trafficking in fiscal-year 2014, the FBI opened 835 investigations, DOJ-funded task forces opened 1,083 investigations, DOS opened 154 cases, the Department of Defense opened 14.

Taken together, DOJ initiated a total of 208 federal human trafficking prosecutions in FY 2014, charging 335 defendants. Of these prosecutions, 190 involved predominantly sex trafficking and 18 involved predominantly labor trafficking, although some involved both. These figures represent an increase from FY 2013, during which DOJ brought 161 prosecutions charging 253 defendants. During FY 2014, DOJ secured convictions against 184 traffickers, compared with 174 convictions obtained in FY 2013. Of these, 157 involved predominantly sex trafficking and 27 involved predominantly labor trafficking, although several involved both. These totals do not include child sex trafficking cases brought under non-trafficking statutes. Penalties imposed on convicted traffickers ranged from five years to life imprisonment. For the first time, the government used an extraterritorial jurisdiction provision of the law to convict a trafficker for sex trafficking that took place in another country.

Poe stated last week that the purpose of the JVTA is to "[change] the focus, and society's concept, of who the victims are" in human trafficking. But the real focus, as evidenced by lawmakers' statements and letter to the DOJ, seems to be on shifting the conception of perpetrators. He called prostitution clients "a group that has gotten away with this for far too long." Sex buyers "are not johns—John was in the Bible, he's a good guy," said Poe. "Johns are bad guys, today."

"The days of 'boys being boys' in America is going to end," Poe continued. "And this legislation will help end that."

At the same time, adult sex workers and minors caught up in prostitution now fall prey to the overly broad legal conception of sex trafficker enshrined in federal code, along with general vice charges. As Kate D'Adamo, a trafficking-victims advocate with the Sex Workers Project, told The Kernel recently, "just being declared a victim of trafficking only means that [someone under 18] might be able to access certain benefits legally," but "doesn't make her immune to prosecution in the state or federal level, even if it's the exact same behavior that she is legally declared a victim under."

"While we recognize that criminalization isn't what those trading sex underage need," said D'Adamo, "it's the laws that we choose to police which impact people."

Last week, the global human-rights group Amnesty International released data critical of the so-called Nordic Model of prostitution laws. Under these laws, criminal enforcement is theoretically shifted from those selling sexual services to those buying them. But the state's newfound passion for punishing sex buyers, along with the narrow range of circumstances under which selling sex is legal, still leads to ample surveillance, harassment, and arrest of sex workers.

Human rights abuses against people engaged in prostitution—whether consensually or by force—"are compounded by and, in some cases, directly caused by the legal framework" there, stated Amnesty International. "Oslo police have over the last decade adopted a 'preventative policing' approach to sex work which involves the enforcement of lower level offences as 'stress methods' to disrupt, destabilize and increase the pressure on those operating in the sex sector. One academic researcher describes how police sources 'in Oslo often use terms like they are going to 'crush' or 'choke' the [prostitution] market, and unsettle, pressure and stress the people in the market.'"

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  1. Ugh. When can they just admit they are making most of this shit up?

    1. i don’t always agree with libertarianism, but i’ve always admired it as being principled. too many other ideologies, etc decide things issue-to-issue, without any real sense of coherence.

      1. Are those really ideologies? Or just tendencies, groupings, or something else like that?

        I’ve seen many attempts to analyze present North American “liberalism” & “conservatism” as ideologies, or to discern whether they are in fact ideologies. My own supposition is that if they are ideologies, they’re an alignment resulting from the Crusades and the depopul’n of Europe by the great medieval plagues. Maddox & Lilie have them as arising from the liberalism that existed at the founding of the USA. Murray Rothbard has said that “liberalism” is the promotion of equality, & “conservatism” that of virtue.

        1. The analysis of them as non-ideologies says they’re alliances that’ve resulted from logrolling.

  2. Alt text: “Another victim of human trafficking rescued by the government.”

      1. Great. It will be bragged about forever now.

        1. I have a smart ass remark to that but I really thinks that’s on Libertarian to provide.

          1. Please, be my guest. (I’m much too humble).

          2. Don’t be sad Spencer, some day you’ll come up with something clever to say:)

            1. Mom. I’ve long given up hope for that. Knowing your limits is half the battle.

              1. It’s ok Spencer. You’ve always been good at playing air drums. No one can take that away from you.


  3. I’m confused: is it still legal for me to buy your child online?

    1. Only if they’re brown skinned- and spray tans don’t count.

      Russians and Slavs, strangely, do count.

    2. You can’t buy the baby whole, but you can definitely buy it in Government-Subsidized second-hand parts.

  4. Prohibitions always works. Just need bigger hammer and more cages.

    1. My plan to ban sex – which I have been calling for for years – is the next logical step.

      1. You’ll completely solve the problem of poverty and children in gorilla cages. How much money and how many goons do you need?

        1. I just need all of the money.

        2. I just need all of the money.

        3. I just need all of the money.

        4. I just need all of the money.

        5. I just need all of the money.

        6. Seriously, give me money.

          1. You need a go fund me. It’s online begging with better results.

  5. OT –

    TL;DR version of This article by a Democrat takes the cake (and not in the Gary Johnson sense):

    “Bernie Sanders made a huge mistake this week. It’s one that, if not soon corrected, could squander the sizeable influence he has over his party’s platform, and, more indelibly, create for the eventual Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a schism in the party that she does not have the means to reconcile.

    “The error: Bernie’s campaign became a vehicle to advance Bernie Sanders’ vainglory and cult of personality….

    “…The rules are not rigged in favor of or against any particular candidate. They can’t be….

    “…The moment [Sanders’ campaign] becomes about him is the moment he needs to make it about that other stuff again. Time is running out.”

  6. One thing they ask for is better Bureau of Justice statistics on rates of arrest, prosecution, and conviction for human trafficking offenses.

    Wait. We have a Bureau of Justice now all of the sudden?

    1. It’s not what it sounds like

    2. You should be glad you’re only just now hearing about them. Crusty is #2 on their shit list.

    3. It’s a locket cabinet where they keep justice from getting out.

  7. John was in the Bible, he’s a good guy

    The days of boys being boys in America is going to end

    1. Those quotes cannot be for real.

      1. There’s a new sheriff in town. And his name is grumpy face.…..-accounts/

        1. He really really hates the internet.

        2. That’s idiotic. Given that being on Twitter gives the terrs another avenue of accidentally leaking information about themselves and whereabouts and plans why would you want to close that option off?

        3. Ted Poe needs to watch Footloose.

      2. It’s a new world. A cowardly new world.

        1. I believe you, and yet I still find what he said unbelievable.

  8. I hate to throw chum in the water – who am I kidding, I don’t mind at all.

    Is sexism endemic to science or just to scientists?

    “Despite there being no difference between STEM talent in men or women, women are being forced to avoid STEM in droves because male dominated fields are lacking in intimacy, altruism, and female comradery. Let me put that into perspective. Women who are true to their nature are very loving, nurturing beings, whereas men are not, so anything that is male dominated will not allow home life and work life to mix, which is exactly what women like to do. So women typically avoid STEM because they don’t want to act like men. For example, you typically can’t say you want to take time off of work to care for your sick child because men will insult you for it. As another example, I have yet to find even just one man on this planet who knows the difference between having sex and making love, so whenever anyone mentions “intimacy” to men, men automatically think about sex, whereas women think of romance. I see this manmade confusion between sex and love in practically every movie ever made.”

    1. It’s too late in the day to being dealing with this shit.

    2. I love science fucking!

      1. Sure, but can you get a job in the science fucking field?

    3. So, if these ‘male dominated fields’ are driving away candidates that are just as qualified – why don’t the people complaining about that start their own STEM business where they foster intimacy, altruism, and female comradery? If these things are in short supply then surely you have an opportunity to steal away these women working elsewhere in STEM for a price discount.

      The authors assert a profit-making opportunity that is not only being ignored but they themselves are ignoring. in such a situation my first response is that they are mistaken and that opportunity does not exist.

      Its like the joke – an economist sees a hundred dollar bill lying on the ground but walks right by it. When asked why re replies ‘if there were a hundred dollar bill lying on the ground someone would have picked it up already’.

      1. Lean in!

      2. “Before I began research for this book I was not consciously aware that women were aggressive in indirect ways, that they gossiped and ostracized each other incessantly, and did not acknowledge their own envious and competitive feelings. I now understand that, in order to survive as a woman, among women, one must speak carefully, cautiously, neutrally, indirectly; one must pay careful attention to what more socially powerful women have to say before one speaks; one must learn how to flatter, manipulate, aree with, and appease them. And, if one is hurt or offended by another woman, one does not say so outright; one expresses it indirectly, by turning others against her.
        Of course, I refuse to learn these “girlish” lessons.”
        ? Phyllis Chesler, Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman

      3. The mathematician picks up the flame thrower and sets fire to the house, thereby reducing the situation to a case already solved.

    4. Just more millennial derp. He’s such an corporate engineering expert that he has to do sjw blogging.

    5. Despite there being no difference between STEM talent in men or women

      Women who are true to their nature are very loving, nurturing beings, whereas men are not

      sex only produces a different result when it’s a negative quality of men, check.

      and as for those scientists, innorite? It’s all bro-this and bro-that and petri dishes and chugathons. Last time I walked into a laboratory, I got a noogey from some dudebro in a lab coat. like, wtf?

    6. Oh my, that’s hysterical

      The litany of cases involves graduate students who have been victims of… love letters.

    7. Finding the number of instances of total bullshit in just that paragraph is like one of those puzzles where you have to count all the triangles.

  9. Since this was brought up by two people earlier in the day, are the genetically gifted women attending expensive colleges seeking sugar-daddies being “trafficked”? They were described as being “vulnerable”– made so by crushing college debt.

    1. You say friends with benefits, they say you have the right to remain silent (maybe).

    2. Funny how these particular people *deliberately chose* to ‘make themselves vulnerable’. And not deliberately chose to take on debt in an attempt to make themselves more attractive to the type of partner they’re looking for.

    3. Watch a bunch of those chicks accuse that sugar daddy of raping and manipulating them after they get dumped and your answer will be yes.

  10. Eddie, you know a lot about the Bible – was John in fact a good guy? If so, why?

    1. John dies in the end, you know.

      1. NO SPOILERS! I haven’t read it yet.

      2. Wait, you’re a David Wong fan? Did you see the shitshow of a movie adaptation?

        1. you’re a David Wong fan?

          “Fan” isn’t quite the word. I ragequit Cracked over Wong’s insipid prog whining. Though I can appreciate his art even though I loathe the man.

          I didn’t see the movie and I blame it directly for the fact that Angus Scrimm will never see the latest Phantasm.

          1. I didn’t follow Wong much after he moved to Cracked, not for any philosophical differences but because I kinda forgot he existed. I can’t even remember what his original website was called, but I did read JDatE in its entirety there.

            1. Pointless Waste of Time. Good god, this was maybe midway through the aughts. Seems to be down now. Shame. I was in high school and read that shit to excess. Good times.

      3. Didnt Jesus hang out with a ho or two?

        1. The Pharisees didn’t like that, but Christ came up with kind of a burn: “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mark 2:17)

          See what the New American Bible Revised Edition commentary says: “* [2:17] Do not need a physician: this maxim of Jesus with its implied irony was uttered to silence his adversaries who objected that he ate with tax collectors and sinners (Mk 2:16). Because the scribes and Pharisees were self-righteous, they were not capable of responding to Jesus’ call to repentance and faith in the gospel.”

    2. He was like the Agile Cyborg of two millennia ago.

      1. John had better drugs

        1. Plus all the free wine he could drink.

    3. Of course John was a good guy: He gave us indoor plumbing.

    4. “Eddie, you know a lot about the Bible”

      Not really, but like they say, “in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.” In other words, even a Catholic who from time to time dips into the Bible or his Catechism is a scriptural genius next to someone who simply has a vague idea that it’s full of a bunch of bearded guys and camels, probably in compromising positions.

      “was John in fact a good guy? If so, why?”

      The apostle John, son of Zebedee, aka the “beloved disciple,” was the only disciple to stay by Christs’ side during the Crucifixion, and one of Christ’s last acts on the Cross was to trust His Holy Mother into John’s care, so I’m guessing John was a good guy. He also wrote that God is love.

      * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

      1. Isn’t Zebedee a genre of music?

  11. It can be difficult to effectively criticize bad responses to good causes.

    Actually, its not difficult at all. We do it constantly in my hospital, which is jammed with “good causes” (reducing mortality and morbidity, patient falls, etc.). When a bad response to one of these good causes is attempted, its not hard at all to say “Yo, those new IV caps aren’t working to reduce central line infections. We gots to try something else.”

    If anything, the fact that somebody isn’t responding well to a good cause should make it easier to criticize their response.

  12. You call it human trafficking….

    We call it cattle shipping

    1. Your point is moo.

      1. +1 Joey

  13. If we’re going after the buyers, let’s start with all the Congress critters, bureaucrats, FBI, cops, judges and secret service that participate in unsavory transactions.

    Throw those assholes in jail first, that should always be the condition on new, harsher punishments for everyone else.

    1. Yeah when they kidnap and transport the girls against their will they call it justice.

  14. Has anyone addressed the fact that we are creating, not discovering, a new class of victim? What woman who up until the cops broke down the door had been a willing participant in a profitable enterprise is not going to claim to be a victim of trafficking because the penalties are lighter and they’re now eligible for gobs of aid money from well-meaning programs?

  15. Has anyone here ever heard of anti-prostitution activists proposing positive alternatives to satisfy the demand for sex activity? For instance, dating services, singles clubs, or sex therapy?

    1. Nope. Because that’s not what they want. This is the just the American version of the Mutaween, but just with shorter beards.

      1. Really? You don’t think any activists (not just now, but for the past 40 yrs. or so) have been reformers who seriously want to diminish the demand? Like those who want(ed) treatment for drug users, or prevention for those “at risk”? Some reformer must’ve thought of this.

        1. You don’t think any activists (not just now, but for the past 40 yrs. or so) have been reformers who seriously want to diminish the demand?

          The Mutaween also view themselves as “rehabilitators” as well.

          1. I’m just wondering why I hadn’t heard of the equivalent proposed for sex as was advanced for so long for drugs, i.e. treatment & education. Why has nobody suggested the equivalent of opiate maintenance, for example? Or psychiatric rx for sex mania? I know it’s been discussed a lot for pedophilia & homosexuality, why not for prostitution?

        2. You don’t think any activists (not just now, but for the past 40 yrs. or so) have been reformers who seriously want to diminish the demand?

          If you define “demand” as “No one gets to have sex unless they are married and it’s for procreation.”

          1. If that were the case, then the reformers would all be traditionalists or “conservatives”. But it seems as though these days they’re more often anti-traditionalists, women’s libbers, etc. So I don’t think that’s what it’s about now.

  16. Looks like the statute is one of strict liability, so if I wanted to be really evil, I’d hire as provoker agents persons who were actually under 18, but had given no indication to solicitors that they were under 18.

  17. What’s most disturbing about this to me is that I think most people’s objection to prostitution is street walkers. This effort seems to be directed at discreet, private prostitution, which then would make street walking relatively more attractive.

  18. what we really need when you have elected officials saying this kind of nonsense is a real life councilman dexhart (parks and recreation). at least he would make it amusing and illustrate how absurd all of this is at the same time.

    good part starts about forty seconds in.

  19. If these horrific internet websites want to sell our children online…(*is shot*)+

    + At least under my system, where any regulator or politician who uses the word “children”* in relation to policy is summarily executed.

    * Also, “safety”.

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