By Kathleen Richter
UCDC Program Fall 2009
The commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking of children is a worldwide phenomenon that often extends across international borders. Focus on the international aspect of trafficking of minors for sexual purposes, however, has obscured the thriving network of such trade that exists within U.S. borders [numbers to back it up?]. In order to stop this trade, this paper argues that it is necessary to decriminalize prostitution and criminalize sexual solicitation at the federal level. To support this claim, this paper will examine current US laws and practices, arguments both against and defense of current laws and practices, the demand-driven aspect of domestic minor sex trafficking, and the obstacles the illegal nature of prostitution present law enforcement officials.
Much of the discourse surrounding the “commercial sexual exploitation of children”—which includes pornography, child sex-tourism, trafficking of children for sexual purposes and the prostitution of children —has been centered on its transnational aspect. There is a significant body of evidence that justifies this focus, as in an era increasingly defined by globalization, “international organized crime has taken advantage of the freer flow of people, money, goods and services to extend its own international reach.” It is well-known that human traffickers exploit the vulnerability that accompanies displacement from one’s nation of origin, as some of their tactics include: exacting debt bondage from victims with the justification that they “owe” the trafficker for taking them across borders; intentionally smuggling victims across borders illegally, then using the specter of US law enforcement’s heavy-handed approach to immigration and prostitution to keep their victim from seeking help. It is also well understood that “sex trafficking separates family units and takes advantage of the vulnerabilities created by poverty, unemployment, war, and a lack of opportunity for much of the population in the local populations.” As far as the scope of trafficking is concerned, some estimates suggest that approximately 700,000 people are trafficked annually throughout the world; and of this number, 50,000 are trafficked from origin nations into the United States —making the United States the world’s “second largest destination for women and children trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation in the sex industry.” There are also those who sexually exploit children who travel from U.S. borders to commit their crimes. According to EPCAT(what is EPCAT) International, U.S. citizens account for 25 percent of child sex tourists worldwide, and as much as 80 percent of those who go to Latin America . Although the focus on the transnational aspect of the commercial sexual exploitation of children is justified, recent studies have shown that it is far more localized than is acknowledged in public discourse. According to the documentary Playground, the number one destination for American child sex tourists is the United States . The scope of domestic commercial sexual exploitation of children (also known as domestic minor sex trafficking) is also startling—the best estimates suggest that between 100,000 and 300,000 American children are victims of domestic minor sex trafficking each year. Both estimates far outnumber the estimated 50,000 people trafficked into the U.S. annually. More troublesome is the fact that domestic minor sex trafficking is on the rise. Organized crime and extremist groups are increasingly shifting their operations from drug and weapons trafficking to domestic minor sex trafficking, “because children are easily accessible… there is a huge consumer market for it, it is enormously profitable, and there’s virtually no risk.” The public discourse regarding commercial sexual exploitation of children as a transnational phenomenon has had a negative effect on protecting American victims, since “with vast misperception that human trafficking requires movement of the victims across a border or a state line, many cases of domestic minor sex trafficking are going unrecognized and therefore undocumented as trafficking.” Given that the domestic commercial sexual exploitation of children is a much larger issue than previously accounted for, one must ask the question: what should the U.S. government do to fight domestic minor sex trafficking?
Through an examination of existing U.S. laws and practices, arguments in defense of current laws and practices, critiques of current laws and practices, the demand-driven aspect of domestic minor sex trafficking and the barriers that the illegal status of prostitution present to enforcement of anti-trafficking laws, it is clear that the most effective steps the U.S. government could take to battle domestic minor sex trafficking would be to both decriminalize prostitution and to criminalize the acts of sexual solicitation and using a prostitute’s services at the federal level.
Overview of Existing Laws and Practices
In order to see how the decriminalization of prostitution and criminalization of solicitation at the federal level is necessary, it is important to understand current laws and practices regarding domestic minor sex trafficking in the United States. Firstly, one must recognize that victims of domestic minor sex trafficking are already granted a protected status under federal law. The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 states that human trafficking (including domestic minor sex trafficking) is illegal, and that “victims of severe forms of trafficking should not be inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.” The law does not require proof that coercion, fraud, or force was used to induce the minor to engage in a commercial sex act in order to consider them a victim of severe trafficking—their age automatically grants them legal status as a victim rather than as a criminal. Sexual exploitation of minors , trafficking of minors for the purpose of sexual exploitation , selling or buying of children , producing or holding visual representations of sexual abuse of children (i.e. child “pornography”) , and transfer of obscene material to minors are also illegal activities, which can result in punishment by anywhere between 10 years to life in prison. Additionally, in the case of prosecuting child pornography, the PROTECT Act of 2003 established 18 U.S.C. § 1466A states that “it is not a required element of any offense under this section [production/distribution of child pornography] that the minor depicted actually exist.” This statue recognizes the difficulties of finding sexually exploited children to stand for trial, as they may have been trafficked to a different location, may be unwilling to stand trial due to psychological trauma or have may even been killed by the time the “pornography” is found and a trial held to persecute the suspected trafficker . Thus, federal law seems to display a comprehensive understanding of what needs to be done to curtail the domestic child sex trade.
Though federal law protects victims of child trafficking and criminalizes traffickers, laws and practices at the state and local level—where law enforcement is much more likely to encounter victims of domestic minor sex trafficking and traffickers—are much less victim-oriented. According to Schauer and Wheaton, “Twenty-five states have no statues that sanction the behavior of those buying sexual services [who will henceforth be referred to as “fautors ”], whereas 9 have none sanctioning the pimp [i.e. trafficker]; however, 47 states make prostitution (i.e., women selling sexual favors) a crime…presently the prostitution statues in 25 states apparently criminalize only the women’s actions.” Apart from lack of legal protections for prostitutes and legal sanctions against pimps in general, there is a significant lack of knowledge regarding trafficking of minors for sexual purposes at the local level. In Klueber’s study, she found that “83 of the largest police departments in the United States were largely unaware of trafficking as a crime problem in their jurisdictions, had little or no training in trafficking laws or issues, and believed that trafficking was an organized crime problem.” Shared Hope International also discovered a startling lack of knowledge of anti-trafficking laws amongst professionals in fields likely to interact with victims of domestic minor sex trafficking. This lack of knowledge results in the identification of victims as prostitutes and of their apprehension and incarceration as criminals—rather than the incarceration of the real criminals, their traffickers. Local procedures thus violate federal law. An additional complicating factor is the misidentification of child sex traffickers as standard pimps—and instead of receiving the sentence of between 10 years to life that is required for child sex traffickers under federal law, they receive much lighter punishments under local laws—prison terms as short as 6 months. Additionally, in spite of laws that criminalize engaging in sexual acts with minors (i.e. statutory rape ), evidence shows that police who find fautors purchasing sex from or engaging in sex acts with trafficked minors are more likely to arrest the minor and let the fautor go free. Thus, the evidence shows that the extension of legal protections to victims of domestic minor sex trafficking and the establishment of punishments for pimps/traffickers of minors is not sufficient to combat domestic minor sex trafficking as long as ignorance of these laws and misguided laws criminalizing prostitution persist. Additionally, although federal law confers victim status on trafficked persons under the age of 18—and thus establish a prerogative to punish those who forced them to become victims—law enforcement officials reported that “when considering whether to pursue charges of domestic minor sex trafficking against a perpetrator, they consider the level of victim cooperation,” even though according to federal law, the only criteria that should have an effect in this decision should be the age of the minor.
Defense of Current Laws and Practices
To fully understand the weaknesses of these laws and practices, it is necessary to examine arguments that defend them. One argument poses the idea that criminalizing the actions of fautors would be detrimental to efforts to identify and rescue victims of domestic minor sex trafficking. According to Schauer and Wheaton:
[Fautors] are the ones who may be the first to recognize trafficking, develop serious interest in rescuing victims, and be willing to bring instances of trafficking to the attention of the police…fautors represent a wealth of information of interest in furthering criminal justice and economics research into sex trafficking and prostitution, including the cultural justifications of, and methods of, and attitudes toward solicitation.
Thus, because fautors represent a potential ally to law enforcement in stopping the sexual exploitation of minors, they should not be arrested, but rather treated with the respect that one would bestow on a cultural scholar. Another assertion fautors use in their defense is that they thought they were “helping” the trafficked minor because they provided the victim with income . With this excuse, one might come to the conclusion that fautors are not criminals, but that they are merely trying to help out victims in need, and should therefore not be punished for their attempts to be magnanimous.
In regards to the pressuring of victims to provide information and incarcerating them, there are various supporting arguments. One compelling argument is that law enforcement must exert pressure on victims of domestic minor sex trafficking in order to rescue more victims of domestic minor sex trafficking:
Even one investigation and prosecution may result in shutting down an operation that victimized tens or hundreds of people, and it is reasonable to assume that enterprises that have been in business for several years that are prosecuted may have victimized hundreds of people. For that reason, it is important to maintain the requirement that victims cooperate with the investigation and prosecution of traffickers in order to be certified to obtain benefits. If that connection were broken, victims would have no incentive to assist in shutting down trafficking networks, and more people would be victimized.
Thus, because victims retain a wealth of information on the activities and people involved in domestic minor sex trafficking, and access to that information rescue more victims, there should be no limit to the pressure exerted on them to provide information. As for the incarceration of victims of domestic minor sex trafficking, law enforcement officers often feel that “detention is…the only safe and secure placement option, as domestic minor sex trafficking victims pose flight risks or have a violent pimp/trafficker.” Letting the victim leave would most likely result in their return to the pimp, further abuse and possibly death. Thus, because the alternative to imprisonment is very often limited to allowing the victim to return to her pimp, imprisonment of victims of domestic minor sex trafficking is the best option.
Critique of Defense of Current Laws and Practices
While arguments in favor of allowing fautors to stay out of prison while incarcerating victims and pressuring them to provide information may seem reasonable on the surface, the underlying assumptions one must accept in order to find these arguments compelling, as well as the consequences of executing these acts, are nothing short of horrific. Firstly, it is important to point out that if the fautor were caught engaging in a sex act with a minor who was not a victim of domestic minor sex trafficking, they would most likely be considered a child molester and very likely have to face legal challenges; it does not make sense that raping a child who has been victimized through domestic minor sex trafficking should be less of an offence to society than raping a child who has not been trafficked. It is also important to point out the hypocritical nature of the previous arguments—that, because fautors represent a source of information regarding the inner workings of domestic minor sex trafficking, they should be protected from arrest; but victims of domestic minor sex trafficking who could provide the same—or perhaps more pertinent—information as fautors should be incarcerated or devalued. It is also naïve to assume that fautors will go to the police with information regarding victims of domestic minor sex trafficking for several reasons. Firstly, fautors have a significant vested interest in preventing law enforcement from finding traffickers or victims of domestic minor sex trafficking—the secrecy did, after all, enable them to purchase the sexual services of a minor in the first place; it is not unreasonable to assume they would want to use those services again, especially since evidence suggests they systematically seek to exploit youth specifically . Secondly, if fautors see their act of exploitation against domestic minor sex trafficking victims as “helpful,” it seems unlikely that they would see police intervention as help—they would probably prefer to continue “helping” victims in their own way. Thirdly, victims of domestic minor sex trafficking are required by their pimps to present a willing face to potential customers; if they don’t seem willing, many fautors would not be willing to sexually engage with the child, and would therefore not complete the transaction —which would then result in the child having to face the punishment of the pimp for not bringing in money. The punishments a pimp mete out to their victims are typically extremely severe: one survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking reported that the alternative to going out in the streets and finding fautors was “being gang-raped by a group of pimps while everyone watched” —thus, the incentive to present a wiling face to fautors is extremely high, making it unlikely that fautors will see their preferred prostitute as a victim. Additionally, there is a substantial degree of evidence to show that fautors may be extremely sadistic. Sharon W. Cooper, M.D., forensic pediatrician for National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) reported that in her work assisting victims of domestic minor sex trafficking, she saw evidence of the following:
sex abusers who burn, beat, who strangle, knock unconscious victims, leave them for dead, put them in plastic bags so they could suffocate, all kinds of carefully planned out, highly sadistic forms of abuse. And there is no other form of child abuse that is like this. In prostitution this is by far the worst type of child abuse we see.
Even if not every fautor who sexually engages with prostituted minors commits this type of violent abuse, evidence shows that fautors very likely also utilize other forms of domestic minor sex trafficking, such as child “pornography ,” indicatingg a high possibility that they have sadistic tendancies. It is important to understand that child “pornography” is very different from “normal” pornography in that it mostly depicts graphic acts of violence committed against minors . Lastly, the non-illegal status of fautors poses a question of legal practicality: why, if it is illegal to sell sexual services (i.e. be a prostitute,) should it not also be illegal to buy sexual services (i.e. be a fautor)? It takes two to enact a transaction, and since laws aim to protect society, from a logical standpoint, purchasing sex acts would be as equally threatening to society as selling them. From a logical standpoint, the asymmetry of codified law does not make sense until taking into account that when most laws concerning prostitution were put into effect, seats of power were only held by men —who are overwhelmingly fautors and pimps rather than prostitutes. Thus, current laws are both outdated and discriminatory towards women and child victims of domestic minor sex trafficking, and must be changed to better protect the interests of society at large.
There are also some very significant flaws to arguments favoring the incarceration of prostituted youth as the best available option, as well as the argument that victims be pressured to comply with the requests of law enforcement. Firstly, it is important to point out that no other victim of sexual abuse is forcibly placed in holding facilities for their protection—not “domestic violence victims, rape victims, or other child sexual abuse victims.” This forced imprisonment reinforces the idea that the victims are to blame for the crimes committed against them, and forces them to self-identify as criminals rather than as victims. One survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking said: “I always felt like a criminal. I never felt like a victim at all. Victims don’t do time in jail, they work on the healing process. I was a criminal because I spent time in jail. I definitely felt like nothing more than a criminal” . This failure to self-identify as a victim has two grave consequences for law enforcement. Firstly, because the sexually exploited person will see herself as a criminal, she will see law enforcement as the enemy, and will therefore resist cooperating with law enforcement. This is problematic both because “Front line responders have found domestic minor sex trafficking victims more readily disclosing about their exploitation when they are addressed as victims of a crime,” and also because her unwillingness to provide information will hamper efforts to catch criminals and wrongfully make her seem delinquent. Her wrongfully assumed delinquency will most likely result in her further alienation from the “good” side of the law, less responsiveness to what she will need to escape and recover from domestic minor sex trafficking and less of a chance that her trafficker will go to trial, as:
A recent study of federal prosecutions of commercial sexual exploitation of children cases across the country from 1998 to 2005 disturbingly revealed nearly 60% of cases involving prostitution of a minor presented to the U.S. Attorney’s Offices were declined for prosecution. Admittedly, the caseload of federal prosecutors more than doubled in the eight-year timeframe of the study; however, the 60% declination rate is still high when compared to the other federal offenses, such as drug trafficking (15% declined) and weapons charges (26% declined).
In the rare case that the trafficker does go to trial, the presumed delinquency of the victim will also result in less of a chance of a conviction against the trafficker, because “juries may be less likely to convict when the victim appears to be complicit in the prostitution.” Additionally, the victim’s self-identification as a criminal as a result of being placed in jail exacerbates the pimp’s already high level of psychological control over the victim. According to Lisa Smith, director of Shared Hope International, “her pimp tells her that if she gets picked up by law enforcement then she will go to jail. And that is often what happens. So, as far as this child sees it, the only adult who has told her the truth is the pimp.” Thus, because jail time reinforces the trustworthiness of the pimp as opposed to the trustworthiness of law enforcement, the victim is more likely both to avoid helping law enforcement prosecute the pimp and more likely to run back to the pimp once her term of incarceration is up. Also, by placing trafficked youth in prison, law enforcement risks exposing victims to other types of delinquency, which could result in enticing domestic minor sex trafficking victims to engage in other types of illegal behavior instead of helping them recover and re-integrate into society. Further, due to the stigma attached to prostitution—the belief that they may be “promiscuous” or “willing” prostitutes—placing domestic minor sex trafficking victims in prison may result in further sexual exploitation under the roof of a place that is charged with protecting her. A telling example of this fallacy occurred in 2008 in Fort Worth, Texas: victims of domestic minor sex trafficking were placed in the same juvenile detention facility as their pimps. Additionally, even if traffickers are not placed in the juvenile detention facility along with the victim, they know where the prisons are, and can easily find and re-traffick their victim. Thus, because the premises upon which the practices of imprisoning domestic minor sex trafficking victims and exerting extreme pressure on them to assist in the prosecution of their pimps are flawed—that is, the idea that doing so will result both in the protection of the victim and the assurance of more information about their pimp—the argument in favor of incarcerating domestic minor sex trafficking victims, and not their abusers, has no logical or evidence-based support.
Demand as the Driver of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking
In order to understand how the criminalization of purchasing sexual acts from anyone, regardless of their age, would serve to alleviate the problem of domestic minor sex trafficking, it is important to understand that the main driver of the child sex trade is demand. The demand for domestic commercial sexual exploitation of minors is extremely high, especially in relation to the demand for commercial sexual exploitation of adults. According to McCollough from the juvenile justice fund, “65% of the johns [fautors] that go on the Internet are more responsive if the ads have age descriptors like “young’ or “barely legal” attached to them.” Anecdotal evidence from Shared Hope International’s study on domestic minor sex trafficking likewise demonstrated that the demand for child sexual exploitation drove the child sex trade. The report reads that “at a homeless shelter in Salt Lake City, girls report regular solicitations by men at least 20 years their senior.” Additionally, in a “survey of runaway and homeless youth in Salt Lake City in February 2008 found that of the 32% of youth who had been victimized through ‘survival sex,’ 50% indicated that they had been sought out and solicited by the adult perpetrator.” Because nearly all cases demonstrated that fautors were willing to seek victims even in the absence of a pimp, it seems clear that the demand for commercial sexual exploitation of minors is substantially high. Due to this high demand, engaging in the child sex trade has a high cash return—it has almost no start-up costs , and exploiting victims results in large quantities of money for the trafficker. Without the promise of large returns of money, the traffickers of minors would likely pursue other fields such as drug trafficking; but as previously mentioned, organized crime has been finding domestic minor sex trafficking to be an extremely fruitful business venture, and seems to have been shifting more towards this field rather than just drugs and weapons trafficking. Put simply, “if buyers were not seeking commercial sexual services, then sex trafficking would cease to be a profitable venture.” Criminalizing the purchase and subsequent engagement in sexual acts would theoretically have two effects: discouraging fautors from seeking out and exploiting minors sexually, diminishing the financial return to traffickers who engage in the commercial sexual exploitation of minors and thus discouraging them from that particular crime. Thus, because criminalizing the purchase of sexual acts would result in diminishing both the demand and supply side of the exploitation equation, it is clear that the US government should quickly codify this idea into federal law.
Illegality of Prostitution as the Barrier to Justice
In order to understand why prostitution of adults over the age of 18 should be legalized, it is necessary to examine how fautors and pimps use the illegal status of prostitution to both to further their interests and to ensure that they do not receive the justice they deserve. Firstly, certain facts must be re-stated: it is illegal to purchase sexual acts only in 25 states; it is illegal to sell sexual acts in 47 states; and under federal law both purchasing sex acts from minors is illegal and victims of domestic minor sex trafficking are supposed to have a protected status as victims. The disparity between the letter of federal law and its enforcement is directly related to the illegal status of prostitution in 47 states and the legal status of fautors in 25 states—because pimps strategically use the illegal status of prostitution to sustain and expand their control over their victims. They do this by providing their victims with false identification papers, which makes her seem older than she really is. Age verification, which would enable law enforcement to properly identify minors as victims, is “made difficult by the widespread use of fraudulent identification provided to the girls by the traffickers/pimps to establish their age as an adult. The first arrest of a prostituted minor is critical to proper identification—if entered into the system as an adult, her identity is altered and subsequent arrests reinforce the false identity.” Law enforcement’s misidentification of the minor as an adult—which most often leads to incarceration—both reinforces in the mind of the victim the pimp’s message that she deserves his abuse, thus making her less willing to assist law enforcement, and stifles law enforcement’s efforts to give justice to victims of domestic minor sex trafficking and prosecute traffickers. The efficacy with which incarceration of victims of domestic minor sex trafficking aids traffickers in increasing their psychological hold over those victims is such that traffickers “will purposely place their victims in situation of crimes or delinquency during exploitation” so that she may be arrested. The fact that pimps are so confident that law enforcement officials will fail to properly identify their victims as minors that they will purposefully use this failure as a tool to insulate themselves from capture and increase their control over their victims forces the analyst to re-adjust their idea of which group current laws actually protect. Thus, because the illegal status of adult prostitution strangles law enforcement’s efforts to capture traffickers and protect victims of domestic minor sex trafficking, it is clear that one of the best ways to fight domestic commercial sexual exploitation of children would be to legalize prostitution completely.
The switch of legality that occurs at age 18 (that is, the criminalization of prostitution and the decriminalization of solicitation) further complicates the provision of justice to victims of domestic minor sex trafficking at the level of apprehension of fautors. In the states where purchasing sexual services is illegal, law enforcement officials may use decoys to catch fautors. This traditional technique can not be used to catch fautors seeking victims of domestic minor sex trafficking because law enforcement officials can not legally use a minor as a decoy. This inability to use a minor as a decoy, while most likely safeguarding minors from exploitation by police departments, frustrates efforts to capture fautors seeking the sexual services of victims of domestic minor sex trafficking because it “permits an automatic legal defense by a buyer who can claim that he solicited an adult decoy.” The inability to use this traditional device to capture fautors seeking victims of domestic minor sex trafficking poses several problems for law enforcement officials. Firstly, the fautor’s defense that he solicited an adult, not a child, may hide his guilt in having solicited minors on other occasions, as evidence has shown that fautors do not limit themselves to one form of commercial sexual exploitation. Secondly, the inability to use this method to capture fautors seeking victims of domestic minor sex trafficking means that in places where it is not illegal to purchase sexual services, there are basically no core strategies or methods in place to capture fautors specifically searching for victims of domestic minor sex trafficking, as investigators cannot inadvertently capture fautors who solicit minors while searching for fautors that solicit adults. If purchasing sexual services were illegal in all cases, law enforcement officials would be much better equipped to prosecute fautors seeking to exploit minors. Thus, the US government should criminalize purchasing sexual services, regardless of the age of the prostitute.
In conclusion, after examining current U.S. laws and practices regarding domestic minor sex trafficking, arguments supporting those laws and practices, critiques of those laws and practices, the demand-driven aspect of domestic minor sex trafficking, and the barriers that the illegal status of prostitution present law enforcement to assisting victims and prosecuting criminals, it is clear that the best way that the federal government can fight domestic minor sex trafficking is to take the dual track of decriminalizing prostitution at all ages and criminalizing purchasing sexual services, regardless of the age of the petitioned. There are various things to consider in regards to the implementation of this law. Firstly, while this paper argues that these laws would be the most effective in fighting domestic minor sex trafficking, it is unlikely that implementing these laws would be politically viable, as current laws mostly run completely to the contrary. If political will to make these changes somehow materialized, and the appropriate changes were made to U.S. law, there are various consequences that would need to be accounted for. Admittedly, the results would most likely not be immediate; victims of domestic minor sex trafficking would not necessarily be aware of the change in legislation, just as many of them do not know that they are currently protected under current federal law. Even in the chance that they learn of the federal law, it is likely that they would still feel a psychological bond towards their trafficker and would not leave him immediately. Law enforcement agencies would also have to be alerted to the change in law, so as to prevent them from arresting and incarcerating any prostitutes.
In order to reach both law enforcement and victims of domestic minor sex trafficking with this information, it would be necessary to implement a public awareness campaign. This campaign could involve running ads through television, radio, and even the internet that would inform the public that prostitution is no longer a crime, but that trying to purchase sexual services is. The government would have to be prepared for any possible public backlash against such ads; however, if they explained that the ads were to protect children from being victimized, they would be more likely to avoid such backlash. The US government should also be aware that traffickers, being criminal masterminds, would very likely adapt to the new laws and change the way they do business—perhaps by pushing their activities further underground. Rather than get discouraged by the new developments in the crime of domestic minor sex trafficking, the US government should see the change as evidence that the laws represented a significant threat to the child sex industry. The deeper shift into the underground would both make commercial sexual exploitation of minors more difficult for fautors, who come from every walk of life , and call for simpler techniques to expose sex traffickers. Law enforcement could intensify its raiding efforts—with the difference that they would be imprisoning pimps and fautors rather than victims of domestic minor sex trafficking.
Another interesting consequence to consider would be the effect that legalization of prostitution in the U.S. would have on the international sex trafficking industry, since is one of the primary recipients of sex trafficking victims. It is difficult to make predictions about what might occur, mostly because no other country as large and as deeply ingrained in the human trafficking route has legalized prostitution; however, it is possible to make several speculations. One possible outcome is that nothing would happen; traffickers could continue business as usual, counting on their victims to be poor, uninformed, and vulnerable. Another possibility would be that the sudden legalization of prostitution and criminalization of purchasing sex acts would make it so unprofitable to traffickers that they would slowly stop trafficking humans, or would shift their operations to drug or weapons trafficking. There is also a third possibility—the possibility that with the legalization of prostitution, the U.S. would see an influx of prostitutes. Unlike the current situation, which sees the influx of women and children who do not seek to become prostitutes but are forced to due to coercion from their traffickers, in this third scenario prostitutes would come of their own volition seeking a better life. Many prostitutes in foreign nations act illegally and under the constant threat of violence; they might see the legalization of prostitution in the U.S. as a chance to continue practicing, but with legal protections and more societal acceptance. Whichever scenario comes to pass, the U.S. government should have plans to confront the backlash.
Photo courtesy of Benzene Mohamed Aseel Hassan