Free Minds & Free Markets

The War on Sex Trafficking Is the New War on Drugs

And the results will be just as disastrous, for "perpetrators" and "victims" alike.

(Page 2 of 4)


A 2010 study from Rutgers University professors James Finckenauer and Ko-lin Chin took an in-depth look at Chinese women working in America's illicit massage parlors, which are routinely denounced by politicians as hotbeds of sexual slavery. Indeed, Finckenauer noted that 93 percent of the women he interviewed would be considered sex trafficking victims under common legal definitions, which include any person who arrives in a foreign country for sex work regardless of whether force or coercion is involved. Yet not one of the 149 Chinese women interviewed said she was sold into prostitution, and only one reported being forced or coerced into it. "There is more diversity among the parties involved in prostitution than is commonly supposed, and to portray them all in the same way as victims is an oversimplification," the researchers concluded.

Jason KeislingJason KeislingUnder federal law and most state laws, anyone under 18 who is engaged in prostitution is considered a sex trafficking victim. But study after study has found most youths in the sex trade do not have "pimps." And if they are forced or coerced into the work, it's often at the hands of a family member or romantic partner, not some child-snatching stranger.

Pimps themselves claim to steer clear of underage sex workers. In interviews with 73 people who had been incarcerated for crimes such as promoting, profiting from, or compelling prostitution, the Urban Institute found that most tried to avoid business relationships with teens (though these respondents, along with the police officers Urban interviewed, also claimed it was common for teenagers to lie about their ages). "I was determined to stay away from the younger bitches; 16 gets you 20," said one respondent. "Bitch better have a felony charge and stretch marks to mess with me," said another. "I know she is grown and been to jail."

"This particular business ain't about pimps going to high school and recruiting a girl," said a third. "Government don't understand how this game original come about. Girl run away from home, look older than what she is. They think pimps are going out and enticing them."

By any estimation, teen runaways make up a major proportion of underage individuals in prostitution, forced or otherwise. Runaways are especially likely to engage in what sociologists call "survival sex"—exchanging sex not for a set fee, but for food and a place to crash.

Sixty-eight percent of minors engaged in street-based prostitution in New York City say they've sought help from youth services organizations, according to Kate D'Adamo of the Sex Workers Project. "New York City funds roughly 200 beds for a population of 4,000 unaccompanied, homeless youth," D'Adamo told TechCrunch. "When all the beds are full, it is street economies like the sex trade which they turn to in order to provide basic needs. If we want to identify the most vulnerable, all we have to do is provide support when someone stands up and says 'I need a place to sleep tonight.'"

Instead, we fund police task forces to monitor Internet ads for weeks in search of suspect code words or tattoos. We pass laws mandating more prison time for pimps. We set up elaborate sting operations for both sex workers and their customers. We hang "Are you being trafficked?" signs at strip clubs and highway rest stops, and train airport staff on how they can spot the signs of sex trafficking. We act as if sex traffickers are organized, jet-setting, diabolical, and legion. We are chasing our own mythology, to the detriment of actual results.

A look at human trafficking investigations in the U.S. makes this clear. In July 2015, for instance, Homeland Security, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, and other Arizona state agencies conducted a joint "human trafficking enforcement operation" that involved randomly stopping commercial trucks as well as running the license plates of passersby. The 30-agent, nine-hour stunt resulted in 28 stops, the checking of 5,576 license plates...and zero arrests for human trafficking. Police did arrest one woman for prostitution, however, and are continuing to investigate another who said she worked in "adult entertainment."

Last April, the FBI released its first crime data on state-based trafficking investigations. In the 13 states reporting for last year, law enforcement looked into a total of 14 human trafficking incidents, ultimately making a grand total of four arrests.

Between 2008 and 2010, federally funded task forces investigated 2,515 suspected incidents of human trafficking, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. An "investigation" was defined as "any effort in which the task force spent at least one hour investigating" the incident. Of these cases, only 6 percent led to arrests. From 2007 to fall 2008, federal dollars funded 38 sex-trafficking task forces, of which 15 found no confirmed victims or suspects, 14 reported between one and four cases, and nine reported more than five. Of the total 1,229 suspected incidents that year, sex cops found just 14 underage victims.

"Given the obstacles to locating victims in black markets" some disparity between estimated numbers and confirmed cases should be expected, wrote the sociologist Ronald Weitzer in a 2011 Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology paper. But "a huge disparity between the two should at least raise questions about the alleged scale of victimization."

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Sex trafficking is human trafficking is the old, long discredited White Slavery panic that came and went from the late Victorian era into the 1920's. It is grant-pimps, political parasites, and buttinskis who are paniced by the idea that sex-work might become legitimate. At least one of its Bright Lights, Somaly Mam, has proven to be a Con Artist. If somebody approaches you looking for support, either monetary or political, connected to this scare you should pit one hand on your wallet and the other on your groin, and head for the hills.

  • jrom||

    This is just another power grab by the federal and state governments. It is now a life felony at the federal level and a capital crime in the state of Florida, for any adult to solicit sex from another adult. It also eliminates the First Amendment, by banning websites from advertising any form of adult entertainment. It evens bans strip clubs from advertising at the state and federal level. It is true, that the only things politicians from both parties can agree on is expanding government police powers. These new laws; however, do exempt all government workers from facing any charges at both the state and federal level on sex crime offenses. And it is now a felony under both federal and state law to use dating sites like Match, to meet anyone, if they eventually have sex with their new date. Again, the government assholes want to curtail the First Amendment. Expect all forms of dating to be labeled human sex trafficking in the near future. With only government scum bags being allowed to do what ever they want.

  • jrom||

    In Florida, two adults having sex is a capital crime. However, it is legal in Florida, for a government employee, to have sex with even a child. All government people including police, prosecutors, judges, and politicians are exempt from facing any criminal or civil charges under Florida law for any type of crime. That's how fucked up the Florida asshole state legislature is. Florida, has the largest prison population of any state. And its Republican controlled state legislature passed a law requiring a 10 year minimum prison sentence for fleeing the scene of a car wreck resulting in more than 100 dollars worth of damage. The state also requires any one arrested for a joint, to spend at least 15 years in prison. Jeb Bush, as governor supported these policies.

  • jrom||

    I should also point out that Florida's AG, is a pro police state nut job. This fools name is Pam Bondi. I urge the residents of Florida, to question her on her out of control agenda and demand that she be held accountable for her actions.

  • EndTheGOP||

    The only way we're going to get this shit under control is to have a MASSIVE World War with all countries participating. Eliminate half the world's population, okay let's go for three quarters of the population, and the world will be right with itself. Too damn many fuckin' people and everybody wants to be boss.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Did you know that 99% of all children who go online are raped?

    Also, did you know that 99.99% of all men are pedophiles?

    That's the facts!

  • ||

    Shit, that channel is gold. Thanks for sharing.

  • jrom||

    Heroic Mulatto,

    You are full of shit!

  • DenverJ||


  • jrom||

    Woosh? Where have I seen this stupid comment posted on this site by you before? I think you supported those two people that post under the names John Tittor and Mike Hihn.

  • DenverJ||

    LOL. Dude you missed Heroic M's sarcasm by a mile.
    And yes, anyone here will tell you of my deep respect for Hihn, the uber libertarian.
    And since you appear to be... special... I guess I need to add the sarcasm tag:


  • jrom||

    Hihn, is a jackass. And apparently, so are you! For example, Hihn implies, all Americans should give up English and learn Spanish, just to make Latinos' happy.

  • jrom||

    I guess I have not read enough of Heroic M's posts to have realized that he was just being sarcastic. You know these days, most people agree with governments propaganda. However, you don't have to be a jerk about it!

  • MSimon||

    you don't have to be a jerk about it!

    I believe you are on the wrong message board.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    As far as I can tell "sex trafficking" is just the new feminist face of prostitution laws. Rather then deride the prostitutes as hussies or "ladies of the night", the authorities assign them much-desired victim status and prosecute the customers.

  • gaijin||

    Is sex a supply or demand driven economic activity I wonder?

  • MoreProgressiveThanYou||

    .... yes

  • Scarecrow & WoodChipper Repair||

    It's a market, therefore yes.

  • biljay||

    Yes, and women don't want prostitution to be legal because it would increase the supply, thus lowering the cost.

  • jrom||

    Exactly, the feminists and religious nuts want everyone in jail. No wonder why those two assholes Bush and Obama support the criminalization of all sex acts. Obama supports the feminist nuts and Bush supported the religious cooks! And police and prosecutors just love to fuck with people anyway. They could care less, what the reason. We have been living in a police state for decades.

  • DenverJ||

    I support religious cooks, too, and bakers.

  • jrom||

    Thanks for catching my spelling error! It should have been crooks.

  • jrom||

    It should read: Bush supported the religious crooks.

  • MSimon||

    It reads itself? The wonders of modern technology.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    As far as I can tell "sex trafficking" is just the new feminist face of prostitution laws. Rather then deride the prostitutes as hussies or "ladies of the night", the authorities assign them much-desired victim status and prosecute the customers.

  • gordo53||

    The really sad thing about this is that it's almost always the poor street walkers that get pinched. The big dollar uptown girls get a pass. Maybe it has something to do with their clientele. It helps when you're servicing the rich, the famous and the influential. As for law enforcement, it isn't about justice or the safety of the public, it's all about the money and justifying their existence. Not as much money as the illicit drug rackets, but relatively easy pickings.

  • Bradley Strider||

    Maybe it has something to do with their clientele. It helps when you're servicing the rich, the famous and the influential.

    It's also easier to bust prostitutes in the street than it is to set up a sting to catch call girls.

  • jrom||

    Law enforcement only cares about money and having the power to fuck with other people. They would love to be able to lock up jay walkers for decades at a time. And prosecutors and judges just love seeing people fucked over on trumped up charges. That is what they all live for! Now even the personal injury asshole lawyers will be suing johns for soliciting sex with undercover police officers, and winning multi million dollar verdicts, to enrich themselves. Our legal system is fucked up!

  • Chrxtoph3r||

    The problem isn't sex. The problem is the 'ownership' of sex-workers by others...who are certainly involved in other enterprises other than sex. Legalizing sex-work might create a free enterprise type system for women, however, it will require something that none of them, including their clients, will want to participate in...taxes.

    Imagine having to provide a receipt and a 1099 for sex-work...

    WHO in GOD"S GREEN HELL is going to go along with that???

  • MoreProgressiveThanYou||

    Hello. It is my Human ass and it is my Human right to do with it as I wish. I can sell it, rent it, and share any proceeds with whom-so-ever I choose. Otherwise ... bite me.

  • ApocalypseNOW||

    "Otherwise... bite me."

    Your ass? Do we have to pay extra for that?

    Asking for a friend....

  • ApocalypseNOW||

    (Especially if it's that ass in the photo....)

  • ApocalypseNOW||

    (Especially if it's that ass in the photo....)

  • ApocalypseNOW||

    (Reason's comment section needs an edit/delete button.... *sigh*)

  • ||

    Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do...... ✹✹✹✹✹✹

  • Enough About Woodchippers||


  • Brian||

    Hyper-Christians and feminists agree: you're a dick!

    The true spirit of bipartisanship.

  • ace_m82||

    Not sure they are "hyper-Christian", if indeed such a thing exists.

    Christ hung out with "sinners" such as these. Again, he told them things like "go and sin no more" but didn't call in the authorities to persecute them.

    If anyone is doing this to be "Christian", they are doing it out of ignorance... which is sadly typical.

  • jrom||

    The religious nuts are almost as bad as the feminists.

  • MSimon||


  • WillMG||

    And of course those pushing this junk never think that legalizing prostitution would fix all of this far more than any of their ideas.

  • Christophe||

    Fixing these things would end the "crisis" and thus the source of their power. Fixing anything is the furthest thing from their minds.

  • B. Woodrow Chippenhaus||


  • Enough About Woodchippers||

    I save them in the freezer.

  • DenverJ||

    I like to salt ' em

  • Animal||

  • Animal||

    I'm trying not to make a salted fish joke here.

  • biljay||

    The more laws on the books the more power the enforcers have. The more laws on the books the more enforcers required, and funding for their careers and promotions, and for the prison guard unions, and more jobs for the American Bar Association members.

  • jrom||

    Exactly. It is about more government jobs and more lawsuits for the personal injury lawyers.

  • Tucci78||

    Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy: "in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:

    "First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

    "Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

    "The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization."

    So be it with this latest grant-money-grabbing frenzy over "sex trafficking."

  • mockmock||

    This is the first salvo in the banning of porn.

  • Vulgar Madman||

    "This is the first salvo in the banning of porn."

    So, you say you want a revolution.

  • jrom||

    Just looking at porn will soon be a capital crime under both state and federal law. With government employees exempt from any criminal or civil liability, of course.

  • DenverJ||

    Well, you know, we all want to change the world.

  • jrom||

    What do you know about change?

  • DenverJ||

    I know that 3 quarters, 2 dimes, and a nickle can be exchanged for one crisp fiat dollar. I also know it's considered rude to ask your "date" for change.

  • jrom||

    Can't we have a serious conversation about this issue that threatens to lock up millions of people over the coming years on bullshit charges?

  • DenverJ||

    Sure. We both agree it's a problem. We agree that DA's only care about convictions for their career advancement rather than about justice. We both agree that the police in this country are out of control.
    So, what do you want to discus? Do you have any solutions?
    No? Me neither, so I'm going back to making lame jokes, cause otherwise I'll go insane.

  • jrom||

    Denver J

    I guess we agree on all of this. I just get so angry when I hear about all of this bullshit that our government idiots are doing to our society. I thought about moving to Florida for the warm weather. However, after reading about all of their draconian laws, I may have to think twice. It is depressing indeed, that it is not easier for us to effect positive change.

  • DenverJ||

    Which is why most here resort to humor and sarcasm. Otherwise, the sense of helplessness can bring you down.
    Fight the good fight, but don't let it consume you.

  • DenverJ||

    Also, friend, what is your source for all this stuff about Florida law? I'm sure some of it might be true, but alot of what you posted about Florida law is simply not possible in American Jurisprudence.
    I suspect you are reading... sensationalized... sites.
    Just because it's on the internet, and just because it validates your preconceived biases, doesn't mean it's true.

  • DenverJ||

    But the childrunz! Why don't you want people to love the childrunz?

  • jrom||

    I know what you mean. The politicians could care less about the children. They just want more power to micromanage people.

  • DenverJ||

    While that might be true, i doubt you know what I mean. It's a play on a running joke around here.
    The appropriate response would have been something about roadz.

    Also, you know who else wanted more power?

  • jrom||

    I guess you have been around this site much longer than I.

  • MSimon||

    No kidding.

  • jrom||

    Who wants more power besides all of the aforementioned people?

  • ||

    I know that Penn and Teller have done stories related to this issue, and John Stossel, but does anyone know of any other sources that have covered this issue?

  • Jay Dubya||

    i dont know but I like the Pogues.

  • hookstrapped||

    [Prohibitionists] typically portray sex workers as powerless victims and, of course, every story of victimization must have villains. Men who patronize sex workers are invariably portrayed as abusive and demeaning in order to fit that narrative. And I have no doubt that many are. But caricatures only get you so far in developing sound public policy.

    Diary of a Sex Tourist

  • Aardvark||

    Not just evangelical abolitionists and feminists. Don't forget self righteous progressives and other Liberty hating busy bodies.

  • carlpolizzi||

    This does not address the foster families who move from State to State to avoid tracking: they then feed the children into the black market as exposed by DynCorp and the Franklin cover up. Speaker Hastert was deeply involved in molesting boys for decades but his case will go nowhere because there are another dozen high ranking reps who would be outed.
    There are thousands of Satanic ritual sacrifices in the US yearly, some involving infants, so whores don't get me excited.

  • HenryC||

    The war on sex trafficing is much much older than the war on drugs.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    That gal is pretty cute from the front too.

  • StackOfCoins||

    Would just like to mention that, 2.5 years in, this article's premise is amazingly prescient. FOSTA-SESTA is quite possibly the most toxic piece of legislation to be passed with near-unanimity in 2018, and the year isn't even over!


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online