MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Congress Wants to Let Cops Wiretap Sex Workers, the CDC Study Them, and Homeland Security Screen Them

A batch of frightening new bills take aim at all sorts of civil liberties under the guise of stopping sexual exploitation.

Jonathan Hayward/ZUMA Press/NewscomJonathan Hayward/ZUMA Press/NewscomSo far this year, federal lawmakers have introduced more than 30 bills related to "sex trafficking," which many in government now define to mean all prostitution. This week alone brought three new efforts. And following the familiar pattern of the drug war, these measures mostly focus on giving federal law enforcement more "tools" to find, prosecute, and punish people for actions only tangentially, if at all, connected to causing harm.

One such measure would expand state and local government authority "to seek wiretap warrants in sexual exploitation and prostitution cases" (emphasis mine) and mandate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institute of Justice conduct a "study on the long-term physical and psychological effects of the commercial sex trade." It would also give the Department of Homeland Security a mandate to develop protocols "for implementation across federal, state, and local law enforcement" on how to screen people "suspected of engaging in commercial sex acts" for the possibility that they have been trafficked. The screening process would also be applied to people suspected of working in violation of any labor regulations, including occupational licensing rules.

Homeland Security would also train crimefighters nationwide on how to investigate prostitution customers for their alleged "roles in severe trafficking in persons." And Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be required to instruct law enforcement across the land that their efforts to fight human trafficking must "include a demand reduction component"—i.e., must target prostitution customers. Sessions would also have to declare "that commercial sexual exploitation is a form of gender-based violence," opening the way for possible hate-crime enhancements for anyone who tries to pay for sex.

This bill, known as the Abolish Human Trafficking Act (S. 1311), was introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R–Texas) on June 7 and already has 12 co-sponsors, including such prominent politicians as Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). In a statement, Rep. Klobuchar invoked a rise in the number of calls received by the National Human Trafficking Hotline—a government-funded telephone service that fields everything from unfounded anonymous tips about suspected streetwalking to general requests for information, with a vast number of calls coming from government officials—as evidence that the supposed sex trafficking epidemic is growing.

A companion bill (H.R. 2803), sponsored by Republican Reps. Ted Poe of Texas and Ann Wagner of Missouri, was introduced in the House on Wednesday. A statement from Rep. Poe said his bill would stop "modern slavery" by giving law enforcement the tools to stop "dastardly criminals from exploiting others, whether they be the buyer or seller."

The official soundbites from almost all of these bills' co-sponsors mention the benefits for cops and prosecutors, showcasing our government's lopsided approach to sexual exploitation. While lip service is paid to the "victims," it's law enforcement agencies that get all the consideration and tools—tools that help them conduct ever more intrusive investigations in the service of less and less deserving targets, wring whatever money and assets they can from defendants, and collect laurels as they ship convicts off to fill federal-prison beds.

Here are a few more key things that S. 1311 and H.R. 2803 would do:

  • Add sexual abuse, human trafficking, and "transportation for prostitution or any illegal sexual activity" to the crimes which could establish someone as part of a "criminal street gang."
  • Enhance maximum penalties—not for folks who actually force others into sex or other work, mind you, but for those who transport people for "immoral purposes," anyone who interferes with or impedes a sex trafficking investigation in some way, and anyone who entices, persuades, or induces someone into a situation where traffickers victimize them. The bill would raise the maximum penalty for the latter from 20 to 30 years, and the maximum penalty for obstruction from 20 to 25 years. It would also stipulate that anyone found guilty of a Mann Act violation—that is, of transporting for immoral purposes—could see his maximum term of imprisonment tripled if he had a prior sex-offense conviction of any kind.
  • Permanently authorize the Obama administration's Federal Human Trafficking Advisory Council.
  • Place "Human Trafficking Justice Coordinators" at every U.S. Attorney's Office in the country and in the Department of Justice.
  • Let federal law enforcement take people's property if they can't otherwise pay required fines.

The third June bill, known as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2017, was introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and is co-sponsored by Feinstein, Cornyn, and Klobuchar, among others. The authorities "have made some strides in combating [trafficking] since the passage of the original Trafficking Victims Protection Act, or TVPA, over 15 years ago," Grassley said in a statement. "The bill I'm introducing this week updates and extends a number of these programs."

American efforts to "eradicate" the sex trade have shown little promise in the nearly two decades since their federal institutionalization with the original TVPA (and its regular reauthorizations), but—alas—that isn't slowing the pace at which lawmakers aggressively pursue more of the same.

Grassley's bill cobbles together a host of changes that give federal prosecuting agencies more power. Among other things, it would create a federal mandate to fight "sextortion" (without defining what this means); ask the quasi-governmental National Center for Missing and Exploited to assist the government in identifying "misleading domain names" and "misleading words or digital images on the Internet"; and more than quadruple annual appropriations for grants related to these activities.

These bills come on the heels of eight new sex-trafficking bills introduced in Congress in May: the Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Act, the Empowering Law Enforcement to Fight Sex Trafficking Demand Act, the Enhancing Detection of Human Trafficking Act, the Secure our Skies Act, the Empowering Educators to Prevent Trafficking Act, the Put Trafficking Victims First Act, the Department of Homeland Security Blue Campaign Authorization Act, and a "bill to require the Attorney General to designate Human Trafficking Coordinators for Federal judicial districts." In April, federal lawmakers introduced the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (discussed in more detail here), the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act, and two versions of the End Banking for Human Traffickers Act, from Rep. Edward Royce (R-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass).

Photo Credit: Jonathan Hayward/ZUMA Press/Newscom

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 Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I see no problem with this massive expansion of the police state so long as it is targeted at a disenfranchised minority of people that doesn't include me.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    First they came for the sex workers, and i did not speak up, for i too came for the sex workers...

  • ||

    *Scrambles to set up voyeur porn site around wiretaps and FOIAs.*

  • Citizen X - #6||

    You think that's not already a thing? It's not called Suggestion 34.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    *scrambles to set up fake wiretap sex workers scheme to get as many BJs, half & halfs, and dutch rudders as I can get for free.

    Checklist:
    1. badge
    2. pallets of condoms

  • Mark22||

    I had to look that up. You're obviously a connoisseur and an expert.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    This euphemism is inscrutable.

  • BYODB||

    Silly woman, you think ladies have agency? Let your benevolent government decide for you; you're really too weak to know your own mind.


    /Progressive

  • BYODB||


    This bill, known as the Abolish Human Trafficking Act (S. 1311), was introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R–Texas) on June 7 and already has 12 co-sponsors, including such prominent politicians as Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).


    Wow, that's a fun list. At least we know what kind of action gets bipartisan support. Specifically, the shitty stuff. At least this confirms Rubio was an asshole, like we needed more proof of that.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    "sextortion"

    I was married once.

  • SQRLSY One||

    I was married 5,324 times!!! Been sextorted and sexperverted, sexinsected, sexneglected, sexdetected, sexinspected, and sexdisected more often than YE!!! Topped ya!!!

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    invoked a rise in the number of calls received by the National Human Trafficking Hotline—a government-funded telephone service that fields everything from unfounded anonymous tips about suspected streetwalking to general requests for information, with a vast number of calls coming from government officials—as evidence that the supposed sex trafficking epidemic is growing.

    The government created a phone line, advertised it, and they're citing the increase in calls as proof of the problem.

  • Free radical||

    I watched the sex trafficking movie Risky Business for the first time in my life the other day. Women were making money and men were pounding pussy. It was awesome.

  • BYODB||

    And Tom Cruise wasn't a scientologist. Truly, another world.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Tom Schmooze would be a MUUUCH bigger success (a HUUUGGGGE suckcess) if he would ONLY move to Scienfoology. To learn more about Scienfoology, please see www.churchofSQRLS.com

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Government was a lot smaller and budget was smaller too.

    In 1983 there were about 2 million federal workers. In 2017 there are about 2.1M workers and 3.7M contractors.

    In 1983 the budget was $1.5 trillion. In 2017 it is $3.54T.

  • Free radical||

    I got my dick sucked by a stripper at a bachelor party and I fucked a couple hookers while in Amsterdam. I'm doing my part for the cause.

  • Free radical||

    And I married a stripper. Best decision of my life. I know all about this topic. These politicians are scum. Trust me.

  • Crusty Juggler - lamertarian||

    And I married a stripper.

    Pics? Thanks.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Chip'nDales.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    And I married a stripper.

    That's not a nice thing to say about Morgan Fairchild.

  • Juice||

    Whom he's seen naked.

  • Jerryskids||

    Congress Wants to Let Cops Wiretap Sex Workers, the CDC Study Them, and Homeland Security Screen Them

    Look, I'm not here to judge anybody's fetishes but I'll be damned if I should pay for these sick freaks and their perverted sexual exploits. Let 'em hit up Mistress Lafarge's Dungeon of Infinite Delights on their own dime like everybody else.

  • JuanQPublic||

    Getting paid for sex: illegal

    Getting paid for sex while being filmed: no problem

  • loveconstitution1789||

    "Congress Wants to Let Cops Wiretap Sex Workers, the CDC Study Them, and Homeland Security Screen Them
    The government could just make prostitution legal and give cash incentives for prostitutes to go to the CDC and be tested.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    But then how would they control people's lives?

  • Crusty Juggler - lamertarian||

    There is wayyyyyyyyyyy too much to unpack here.

    but for those who transport people for "immoral purposes,

    I guess women can never ride in my car.

    Place "Human Trafficking Justice Coordinators" at every U.S. Attorney's Office in the country and in the Department of Justice.

    Holy shit.

    Let federal law enforcement take people's property if they can't otherwise pay required fines

    Well, duh.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I'm not doing whataboutism here, but this shit didn't get built after November. This was part of the long process of Obama-ite paranoids getting its hooks into the administration. Hunting Ground indeed.

  • Crusty Juggler - lamertarian||

    The blame surely isn't solely on Trump and Sessions. Example: Kamala Harris is the new rising star of the Democratic Party and she loves this shit.

  • Crusty Juggler - lamertarian||

    Homeland Security would also train crimefighters nationwide on how to investigate prostitution customers for their alleged "roles in severe trafficking in persons."

    "That dude definitely has to pay."

  • AlmightyJB||

    You can't sexually exploit women. That's our job! / Governments.

  • Crusty Juggler - lamertarian||

    This week I learned that Congress wants state and local police officers to be on the lookout for both illegal immigration and severe prostitution*, which will be fun the first time Officer Dipshit pulls over a car full of brown-skinned, scantily-clad young ladies on their way to a club.

    *I am now saving up to investigate whatever this means.

  • Jerry on the sea||

    to be on the lookout for both illegal immigration and severe prostitution

    Pole vaulting strippers across the Great Mexican Wall?

  • Jerryskids||

    I assumed "severe prostitution" meant penicillin-resistant.

  • Crusty Juggler - lamertarian||

    Would if there was a discount.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    How is intrastate sex-anything covered under the Commerce Clause?

    The fed is losing the war on drugs, so they are clearly switching to the war on sex.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Money changed hands. Done and done.

  • Anomalous||

    Wickard v. Filburn. Interstate commerce is whatever the federal government says it is.

  • SIV||

    WHITE SLAVERY SEXUAL EXPLOITATION, OPIIUMOID EPIDEMIC SODA BANS/TAX

    Fuck,why do we have to go through the Progressive Era all over again?

    Don't even get me started on the attempted revival of a "rational dress movement" and the (thankfully brief) teen shapewear panic of 2 years ago. Of all the things to be nostalgic for why this shit?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Yeah, why can't people just be nostalgic for the days when women wore high-waisted panties and pointy bras, and what a man did with his chickens in the privacy of his love-coop was his business?

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Fuck,why do we have to go through the Progressive Era all over again?

    Again? The progressive era never ended, the idiocy just occasionally gets dialed back from 11 to 9 or 10 once in a while.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    Gotta love these policies from 100 years ago being dusted off for today. Next thing you know, the progressives will be pushing for an inflated minimum wage to keep undesirable people without a lot of experience (mostly minorities) out of the job market.

    Hey, wait...

  • chemjeff||

    his love-coop

    That was Crusty's apartment in college...

  • Anomalous||

    Wasn't "Love Coop" a B-52s song?

  • pan fried wylie||

    You're thinking of Cock Lobster

  • Libertarian||

    Sexbots will put an end to stuff like this. They can't come soon enough. Wait, let me put that another way . . .

  • Cynical Asshole||

    The screening process would also be applied to people suspected of working in violation of any labor regulations, including occupational licensing rules.

    Great. Just fucking great...

    Let federal law enforcement take people's property if they can't otherwise pay required fines.

    Of course. Gotta steal people's shit, that's half the point of federal law enforcement.

  • Archibald Baal||

    You can always tell a moral panic is cresting when you get ten bills proposed which all do similar things that Congresscritters are all scrambling to get their name on for Maximum Virtue Signaling.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Anonymous hotline calls as a pretext for using tax money in witchhunts would go a long way toward providing an economic and political basis for recent high court decisions striking down state legislature bans on robocallers. Robot services that call and read from scripts work 24/7 with fake or shifting caller IDs, and can generate all kincws of call volume directly, by manipulating weak-minded fools into calling, or both.
    It makes one wonder what government official was pressured into giving up power or laying off of rights violations by activist working girls gathering evidence. This is getting interesting...

  • Longtobefree||

    So if we shut down the hotline the problem goes away?
    Isn't that a lot less expensive?

    Oh, I forgot.

  • phenryinohio||

    And Jesus wept.

  • Emberesque||

    Is this virtue signaling or what? Because this seems like an awful lot of legislation the general public won't be hearing much about. Sure, lots of people are "concerned" about sex trafficking, but I imagine there's only a smallish (albeit passionate) population of people who care enough to keep tabs on What's Being Done About This. So the huge swell in new bills, expansion of investigative scope, harsher sentences...it's all starting to seem more sinister to me.

  • Hank Phillips||

    In less superstitious countries the word "traffic" describes automotive transportation. Trade and commerce describe voluntary transactions between competent actors in an uncoerced market. To the Prohibition, Tea, and other ku-klux parties, buying a light beer is "traffic."

  • ||

    "Human Trafficking Justice Coordinators Traffickers"
  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I have a much faster and more efficient way to eliminate the "Sex Trafficking" hysteria;

    Identify all the scammers and feminists who are pushing it and club them like baby seals.

  • AlmightyJB||

    My wife works for a major hospital in central Ohio and the number of sex trafficking seminars is mind boggling. Everyone buys into it. And yes, when you go to the doctor or to a hospital, you are being evaluated for more than what you went there for.

  • pan fried wylie||

    It would also give the Department of Homeland Security a mandate to develop protocols "for implementation across federal, state, and local law enforcement" on how to screen people "suspected of engaging in commercial sex acts" for the possibility that they have been trafficked. The screening process would also be applied to people suspected of working in violation of any labor regulations, including occupational licensing rules.

    They're going to screen all license violators for sex trafficking?

  • Robert||

    Rep. Poe said his bill would stop "modern slavery" by giving law enforcement the tools to stop "dastardly criminals from exploiting others, whether they be the buyer or seller."


    Lemme get this straight: Either the buyer or the seller may be a dastardly criminal exploiting the other. Then in a given case, how do we tell which one it is?

  • LarryA||

    You're question is moot. Buying sex is against the law, so the buyer goes to prison. Selling sex is against the law, so the seller goes to prison. It's a twofer.

  • Hank Phillips||

    There is precedent for altruistic legislation to protect women until coathanger abortion laws can be restored. The Reich Propaganda minister in 1942 faced a similar predicament according to his war diaries.
    On March 10, 1942 Goebbels posted: "To think what questions of domestic politics are laid before one in the course of a day! Should dancing girls be inducted into the Women's Labour Service? If one doesn't do it, they fail to get the necessary Nazi indoctrination; if one does, they become fat and ungainly and unfit for the dancing profession. We are now trying to put the dancing girls through special courses, and while organizing them as in a labour service, to give them a type of work that will not disqualify them for their profession."
    Consider that perhaps the idea is Continuing Education to keep the gals attractive so that undercover cops might force them to provide more entertaining sex. The Congress works in mysterious ways.

  • Mark22||

    Congress Wants to Let Cops Wiretap Sex Workers, the CDC Study Them, and Homeland Security Screen Them

    And if you don't believe that foreign sex workers are a threat to national security, just remember Alotta Fagina

GET REASON MAGAZINE

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