Sex Trafficking

Congress Ramps Up War on Sex Workers and Their Customers With Secret Votes on Four New 'Protection' Laws

A national strategy for arresting sex buyers and letting local cops wiretap sex workers are among the approved changes.


Angelo D Amico/agefotostock/Newscom

While seemingly preoccupied this week with criminal justice reform and avoiding a government shutdown, Congress also authorized a national strategy for arresting sex buyers and approved the use of secret wiretaps in misdemeanor prostitution cases.

The national plan to "end demand" for prostitution was part of the massive "Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act," which cleared the Senate Monday through a secret vote of the sort civil libertarians have long opposed.

Congress is now "strengthening federal efforts" to be tough on sex buyers, based on the false idea that customers of consenting adult sex workers drive demand for minors. All state and local cops, prosecutors, and judges are to be trained on "best practices for prosecuting buyers" of sex and how to use asset forfeiture in these cases. A federal working group on the study of sex-buyer arrests will also be created, and grants related to human trafficking must include language encouraging those working on demand-reduction efforts to apply.

In addition, Congress "clarif[ies] that commercial sexual exploitation is a form of gender-based violence," whatever that means.

"Any comprehensive approach to eliminating sex and labor trafficking must include a demand reduction component," states the bill, which passed the Senate Tuesday after clearing the House in July 2017.

The House also passed the bill via "voice vote," a process under which there's neither a record of how members voted, whether they were present for a vote, nor how many total members actually voted. Voice votes—also known as unanimous consent agreements—can be contested by a member demanding a regular vote. This week, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) has been demanding recorded votes on a slew of measures in the House.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) was using the process to usher through four bills at the intersection of law enforcement, human rights, bureaucracy building, and foreign diplomacy. In addition to the Frederick Douglass Act (H.R. 2200, with no separate Senate version), the following bills also passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Monday:

The chambers are now resolving differences on all three before sending them to President Donald Trump for signing. The total package includes a mixed bag of policies and funding priorities.

Big Changes, Fine Print

Tucked in some tiny sections are significant changes, some that go way beyond human trafficking. For instance, a section of S. 1311 would allow state law enforcement to use secret wiretaps on sex workers and their customers.

A part of S.1312 "amends the federal criminal code to broaden the authority of the U.S. Secret Service to provide forensic and investigative assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies by allowing assistance in support of any investigation—not just an investigation involving missing or exploited children." [Emphasis mine]

Another "amends the federal criminal code to authorize the Department of Justice (DOJ) to bring a civil action to stop or prevent criminal offenses related to suspected forced labor, sex trafficking, or sexual abuse." This would give the DOJ more leeway to preemptively shut down businesses while building a criminal case.

One provision essentially creates a new federal crime initiative by directing resources and money to fight "sextortion." Among other (expanded) missions, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children will now teach school kids, cops, and staff about the dangers of "sexting and sextortion," too.

The measures include grant money for new programs aimed at school resource officers, teachers, and students that purportedly teach the signs of sex trafficking.

And they set aside more money for Customs and Border Protection "to expand outreach and live on-site anti-trafficking training for airport and airline personnel"—efforts that have thus far yielded a host of high-profile stories about profiling interracial families and not a single confirmed story involving actual sex traffickers.

Small Glimmers of Sanity

On average, however, there's actually less sex-trafficking panic in these bills than similar measures we've been seeing this century, with way fewer references to inflated and debunked statistics. The End Demand element notwithstanding, there's also less conflation of sex work that adults freely engage in and forced prostitution of adults or minors.

Congress instructs the Justice Department to develop better training with regard to "limiting arrests or prosecutions of trafficking victims for crimes they commit as a direct result" of being victimized, and to award grants to groups that prioritize this approach.

Senators also rejected the part of a House-approved measure that required traveling federal employees to stay at hotels "with certain policies relating to child sexual exploitation."

In addition, a host of transparency-related provisions are potentially good.

For nearly two decades, the feds have been leading and supporting anti-human-trafficking efforts with little accounting for the money and time spent or the results. Now, Congress is instructing DOJ to report on the methodology it uses "to assess the prevalence of human trafficking." In addition, federal crime reports are instructed to start measuring instances of child-labor violations, assisting or promoting prostitution arrests, and solicitation for commercial sex arrests.

Congress tells the FBI to "publish a status report on the Innocence Lost National Initiative," a nationwide effort, coordinated with local police, that has operated largely in secret for more than a decade. It's the initiative behind the FBI's annual Operation Cross Country, which I have written about in detail. The data Congress requested is information my former colleague Lauren Krisai and I have sought to get from the FBI, with no luck.

Congress also tells the government-funded-but-FOIA-exempt National Center for Missing and Exploited Children "to make publicly available the annual report on missing children and the incidence of attempted child abductions."

And it asks for more accountability from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) about trafficking-related investigations. HSI is involved in all sorts of prostitution stings around America, especially ones involving Asian massage parlors.

A large part of the legislation is concerned with the State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons report, which places countries into one of three tiers based on how well we think they're doing to counter sex and labor trafficking. Bad rankings on this list can affect a country's business dealings, reputation, and eligibility for various U.S. programs. Historically, the TIP report has been used as a political tool and is ripe for abuse. In the new legislation, Congress offers more guidelines for placing countries in which tier, how they're moved between them, and what counts as "credible information" for purposes of determining their rank.

Overall, there's a lot of overlapping instruction and redundancy in the four bills approved in the Senate Monday. Perhaps they could have benefited from full attention by the legislature instead of McConnell rushing them through under secret votes right before a holiday break.

But the fact that he was able to do that underscores something interesting. For at least a decade, lawmakers have made a big deal about introducing, supporting, and passing bills related to sex trafficking. Interestingly, there was little fanfare from folks in Congress about the passage of these measures. It seems that when these efforts aren't full of sex panic and high-profile targets like Backpage, there's little glory in claiming credit for them.

NEXT: Nick Gillespie and Skeptic Magazine's Michael Shermer on Postmodernism, Rationalism, and The Intellectual Dark Web

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64 responses to “Congress Ramps Up War on Sex Workers and Their Customers With Secret Votes on Four New 'Protection' Laws

  1. What a parade of horribles. Nothing at all bad can come from giving armed agents of the state broader and more nebulous powers to stop “bad things” along with the discretion to decide what things are “bad things”.

    1. According to Herbert Hoover’s Presidential Papers, the exact same things began happening in 1929. Beer became a felony but shooting motorists or homeowners innocent of even that was routine “misuse of firearms.” By January 28, 1933 every bank in the country was busily shutting down and Congress cut off all the snitch and entrapment funding it had so lustily showered with gold dollars.

    2. Just to be clear, human trafficking is a bad thing, not a “bad thing.”

      That said, you are right that we have to be careful about the powers we grant to state agents to fight things that are genuinely bad, because those powers inevitably will be abused by some state agents.

      If your argument that maybe human trafficking is not really a bad thing then I would question you regarding what IS a bad thing. Is murder a bad thing? Why?

      Human trafficking makes people miserable and causes the spread of disease. That is why it is a bad thing.

      1. They run massive anti-trafficking operations, get dozens of arrests for traditional prostitution, and maybe if they are lucky they get 1 or 2 genuine human trafficking cases.

        Real human trafficking is a bad thing, but evidence is lacking that there is enough of it in the US to justify the expenditure of so much as $0.50 in government resources on it.

        The problem is that the government loves to use nearly non-existent bad things to justify massive government intrusion into people’s lives.

  2. This time with text! (Some of you know what I am talking about.)

  3. Who tucks their thumb under when giving the finger?

    1. Men who wear condoms on their hands?

  4. Perhaps the War on Drugs and the War on Sex can be followed up with the War on Food and the War on Air.

    1. I proudly remember the ticker-tape parades back when “POVERTY SURRENDERS” was on the front page of every newspaper.

      1. Poverty is not a necessary element of the human condition.

        The reason that the war on poverty has failed it because people have decided to let it fail.

        Take a homeless person. It isn’t rocket science to provide that person housing nor is it logistically impossible. This is not a problem that is harder than putting a man on the moon, for example. But fear that providing this homeless person housing will “enable” bad behaviors causes people to either put all sorts of requirements on housing (“you must get and stay sober”, “you must obey curfew”, etc.) or not provide it at all. Well, that is simply our choice. We could give people who have problems with alcohol and no intention of solving those problems have access to housing if we wanted to.

        I personally think this position that we should worry so much about reforming homeless people such that we refrain from helping those who need housing is a mistake. But, whether it is or not, the fact remains, that our choice to have homeless people roaming the streets is mostly a choice. And, what is true of housing is obviously true of food and the like as well. Involuntary self-improvement is usually a condition for any help that society chooses to give.

        My view is we should just leave people as they are and help them anyway. But, I understand people who see it differently.

        1. Ending homelessness is far more difficult than putting a man on the moon, because the latter only has to be done once, whereas the former has to be done in perpetuity.

  5. Congress is now “strengthening federal efforts” to be tough on sex buyers, based on the false idea that customers of consenting adult sex workers drive demand for minors.

    But what if I have a thing for cougars, and I find a consenting partner has a thing for middle aged balding men with money? Can we make it legal so I can have sex with her then?

    1. Nope. It’s a crime to charge money for something that’s legal to give away for free…because reasons.

    2. Only if you do it by just buying her dinner and movie tickets and jewelry. Direct cash transfers are out, though.

      1. Most of those with a certain amount of experience in the industry have come up with the following disclaimer*:

        Any money exchanged is simply for my time. Any activity that may occur during this time is protected activity between two consenting adults. Violation of this agreement is entrapment.

        *Exact wording may vary.

    3. Are you a member of Congress?

      1. Heh – worked as an LA in the 104th Congress, but not quite

    4. We all know that it is possible to make such arrangements now. They are called relationships.

  6. Congress also tells the government-funded-but-FOIA-exempt National Center for Missing and Exploited Children “to make publicly available the annual report on missing children and the incidence of attempted child abductions.”

    No requirement to explain to the public why the NCMEC has largest database of child pornography in the World when its illegal to have said images?

    1. Light bulb over head moment: We could solve the whole kid porn problem by getting all those who like kid porn jobs at the NCMEC! Yes, it becomes a chasing-one’s-tail situation, but at least it keeps all concerned out of trouble of any kind.

      And yes, I’m serious. Anyone who objects must hate the children.

    2. Such images are evidence of a crime. We need those images to prosecute people.

  7. Fortunately we do know who to blame for introducing this abomination, Rep. Christopher Smith (R – NJ). And the 29 co-sponsors from both parties. There must be some tasty pork provisions tucked in there.

    1. You mean the right to claim they sponsored “legislation to protect children?” that is really all they need. Intangible goods are still goods.

  8. How the hell did a great man like Fredrick Douglass get his name attached to this piece of shit legislation?? What part of “Fuck Off slavers!!” was misunderstood??

    1. Democrats dont call what they did to black people slavery anymore. It was “public assistance”.

      1. In all the material I’ve found defending the peculiar institution, its vaunted purpose was “Christianizing” those poor, dissolute, uncovered wretches–much like this passel of secret laws our star investigative reporter has so revealingly turned up. In those dark days before “criminal looting” transubstantiated into “asset forfeiture sharing,” Confederate slaves were nationalized and put to work digging Union entrenchments as “war contraband” under old customs tariffs and libel laws.

        1. Recall that abolishing slavery become a condition LATER in the Civil War, not early in it.

          Slavery did cause the Civil War. The reason that the South secedes was to protect the “peculiar institution.” But, abolishing slavery was not an absolute requirement of the North early in the war.

    2. Since he’s dead, they don’t have to ask his permission to put his name on it. I do wonder what he actually would have thought of a law like this. I doubt he’d be much of a supporter.

      Also, training cops on how to best target buyers is just teaching most of them to be even bigger assholes than they already are. (My apologies to those cops who aren’t, their numbers may now get even fewer.) And bigger hypocrites, since cops are frequently sex buyers themselves. I’m not sure about prosecutors and judges, but it doesn’t seem appropriate for judges to be taught “how best to prosecute” anyone.

      1. Yeah, that last bit just sort of zoomed by me in the general outrage while hardly making a ripple, but…teaching judges how best to prosecute is…just…doesn’t anyone’s head explode proposing such a thing?

      2. Targeting buyers seems more sensible than targeting sex workers, who are often only working in that field due to unfortunate circumstances.

        If you think that prostitution should be legal, then you should think we shouldn’t target either. But, just so long as it is illegal, it makes sense to target buyers more than the sex workers.

        I am not sure why you think this focus will make police “even bigger assholes.” I assume you think they are only “little assholes” when they target sex workers? Assuming that prostitution remains illegal, do you think it is worse to target buyers than sex workers? If so, why?

    3. It was misunderstood as, “Slave off, fuckers!”

    4. Douglass is perhaps most famous for a bit of trouble involving interstate travel on a train. Given the amount of sex trafficking which involves interstate traffic, it’s not altogether inappropriate.

  9. Real men don’t pay for sex! They should lie to, trick, and manipulate women into sex before ghosting them. Only a creep and a loser negotiates a mutually beneficial exchange in advance. Btw, some states put convicted johns on sex offender registries alongside violent rapists and child molesters.

    1. So, your argument is that some people do X, which is bad, but not illegal. So, people should also be able to do Y, which is bad, but currently illegal?

      Where does this principle stop? It sounds like we either have to make all bad things (including murder, for example) legal. Or we have to make all bad things (including lying, tricking, and manipulating women into sex) illegal.

      By the way, the best argument for not making lying, tricking, and manipulating women into giving you sex illegal is a practical one. Such things are very difficult to prove and ordinary relationships that people highly value often/usually involve some sort at some point or another. But, in principle, this behavior SHOULD be illegal absent the practical difficulty. If you cheat someone out of $1 through lying, tricking, and manipulating them, that is fraud and it is a crime. Clearly, women and men who are lied to, tricked, and manipulated into giving someone sex would normally pay more than $1 to avoid that. So, in principle, this behavior SHOULD be illegal. I think it is not purely for practical considerations, because legitimate relationships that people value often include lying, trickery, and manipulation at one time or another.

      1. The implication is clearly that situation Y is not bad. And yes, some things are bad, but should not be illegal.

  10. I mean, I’m pretty much already an anarchist, but the more I read the shit put out by the government, the more I loathe each and every one of them. The hubris, combined with ignorance and incompetence, is maddening.

    1. You are THAT against fighting human trafficking?

      Of all the things that the government has done, this is a last straw sort of situation for you?

      1. But these bills are not about human trafficking at all, much of which has nothing to do with sex, and a lot of which is voluntarily undertaken.

  11. So they’re saying that sex with adults is the gateway drug to pedophilia? Then surely they must all be virgins.

  12. So I guess rape between two consenting adults is out of the question?

  13. The whores of Congress hate the competition.

  14. Does anyone have a link to the version of the constitution that makes any of this a federal issue?

    1. You have to find the “living” constitution, which isn’t written down anywhere.

      Prostitution/sex work involves the exchange of money, there for it is commerce. And the courts long ago ruled that effectively all commerce is interstate and therefore can be regulated by the feds.

      1. So the Commerce Clause is magically transformed into a 1933 Enabling Act?

        1. Yep.

        2. Heck, the courts have just barely stopped short of transforming the Commerce Clause into a plenary police power for the federal government.

      2. I don’t really think a system with judges ruling the laws that people want unconstitutional is any better.

        I am OK with judges protecting the Bill of Rights from legislative encroachment. I don’t think they should be making the major policy decisions of society though.

        1. The policy decisions were made when the Constitution was written. Courts get involved when Congress and the executive branch ignore the Constitution.

  15. The “Libertarian” Platform committee has to come up with a plank on this to further instigate voters to lynch our candidates on sight:
    “Recognizing that abduction–or even definition–of children is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we propose that government be kept out of the matter, and that all government funding and secrecy for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children be ended immediately.”
    If some pettifogger raises awkward questions, simply tack on: “This statement shall not be construed to condone child abuse or neglect.” That, the Roe v Wade betrayal plank, the child molesters plank and recently-added “uninspected terrorist entry” and “extrajudicial killings only” planks should end the anxiety our surge to the 4% range of spoiler votes has caused our Socialist and National Socialist competitors in their secret-but-lethally-binding deliberations.

  16. Congress is adjourned for the rest of the year, right? If so, Trump just has to do nothing, and this will die because pocket veto.

  17. Too bad they can’t end the demand for illegal drugs by legislative fiat, or prohibition would have been a roaring success for the government — instead of a roaring success for organized crime.

  18. Buyer Beware

  19. Quote “A large part of the legislation is concerned with the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report, which places countries into one of three tiers based on how well we think they’re doing to counter sex and labor trafficking. Bad rankings on this list can affect a country’s business dealings, reputation, and eligibility for various U.S. programs.”

    I guess it is important we export our Victorian morality to the rest of the world. We ban consensual sex, but envy those that can have it.

  20. I’m glad to see Frederick Douglass get some credit. He’s done an amazing job, and is being recognized more and more.

  21. I essentially started three weeks past and that i makes $385 benefit $135 to $a hundred and fifty consistently simply by working at the internet from domestic. I made ina long term! “a great deal obliged to you for giving American explicit this remarkable opportunity to earn more money from domestic. This in addition coins has adjusted my lifestyles in such quite a few manners by which, supply you!”. go to this website online domestic media tech tab for extra element thank you .

  22. What a bunch of cunts. The only ones that are allowed to pay for sex are the president and the various douchebags in office. Get fuct

  23. “have thus far yielded a host of high-profile stories about profiling interracial families and not a single confirmed story involving actual sex traffickers.”

    I don’t even think that when a sex trafficker is arrested, that this ends up being a news story. Not typically. In contrast, accusations of profiling are likely to be newsworthy.

    The idea that we would try to measure a factual situation by the number of news stories strikes me as flawed.

  24. “the false idea that customers of consenting adult sex workers drive demand for minors”

    What is the evidence that this idea is false? It makes sense that a person who uses adult prostitutes is more likely to use underage prostitutes, intentionally or unintentionally, at some point compared to a person who does not use prostitutes.

    In fact, the probability of a person using an underage prostitute is zero if they don’t use prostitutes at all.

    It is not the case that every person who uses adult prostitutes would also use underage prostitutes. But, there is a non-zero risk here, even with someone who wanted to avoid using an underage prostitute. Unless that person insisted on only using prostitutes that were obviously older (as in, had obvious signs of aging, such as wrinkles).

    I don’t think this idea is false at all. Demand for prostitution in general helps create a bigger market for prostitution in minors. Maybe prostitution should be legal or maybe it should be illegal. Either way, that doesn’t change the facts.

    One issue with people of all ideologies is how they tend to twist the facts, intentionally or unintentionally, in order to strengthen arguments that lead to their preferred outcome. But just because most other people do it, that doesn’t mean you have to do it as well.

    1. You are an idiot.

      1. Maybe so. But you have done a poor job of proving that.

  25. I think the most disturbing aspects of this are the wiretaps (apparently without a court order) and the civil asset forfeiture (nothing civil about it!).

    Sex trafficking IS an issue worth addressing, but going after small business owners and their clientele is absolutely a step in the wrong direction.

  26. Disgusting. Not just the usual anti-prostitution measures, but the ever-growing federal overreach. They want to gradually standardize the enforcement of it throughout the whole freaking North American continent. Schmucks in DC telling Nevadans how to enforce their vice laws. That’s like the end of it. Nowhere to run. Turn us into fcking Utah and be done with it.

    Now I know it’s not totally that, that it’s just about supposed trafficking, but it’s getting blurrier and blurrier, and more and more intrusive. But I guess that’s just what happens when federal representatives are always trying to prove they’re out there “doing stuff”, because the people are always bitching that Congress isn’t “doing anything for us.” No, it’s doing too much! Too much SS, entitlements, wars, crime enforcement. The only thing they should do is undo whatever they hell they’ve been doing.

    On a final note, I notice the puritans have switched their anti-prostitution lingo into more feminist, SJW-type in recent years: “trafficking”, “exploitation”, and whatnot. These stuffed shirts always made quite a strange alliance with that part of the left when it came to these issues. Kind of like what happened in Canada when they passed their anti-sex work laws three years ago.

  27. How is this “human trafficking” supposed to apply to sex work? The claim is that criminals kidnap someone and arrange to have her repeatedly raped – and to meet the public. The only way that could succeed is if the cops who are supposed to be stopping this crime are in on it.

    So the politicians use this 99.9% imaginary problem to give _more_ power to the vice cops.

  28. When people are asked to use gut instinct to stop real but rare horrors, relying on racial stereotypes and other biases tends to rule.

    Is that why the cops pulled a gun on my friend the day I moved him and his babby mamma into my town. It’s strange how one of the other regulars at the Wellness Center died of a drug overdoes latter that night in the Wellness Center bathroom.

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