Sex trafficking and the decriminalization of prostitution

On its surface, the bill looks harmless enough. Decriminalize prostitution if those involved are 18 or older. Why, then, is every single anti-trafficking organization and every single survivor of sex trafficking in the D.C. area against it? The answer is that it’s a question of psychology rather than policy, and the victims understand the psychology of pimps and johns much better than lawmakers do. So why are we ignoring them?

Leaving the choice of the future of thousands of young girls — primarily black and Hispanic — up to the whims of rich bureaucrats has never gone well.

The Community Safety and Health Improvement Act of 2019 intends to decriminalize prostitution in Washington, D.C. Although politicians pretend that they are helping transgender people, there are far better alternatives to actually help them, and it is clear why politicians want it decriminalized. The maximum jail time for those caught buying from a prostitute or sex-trafficked slave in D.C. is 90 days — somewhat inconvenient when you’re pretending to be the voice of virtue on topics of either’s women’s rights or family values.

But the ones whom it affects have nothing to gain and a great deal to lose from the passage of such a bill. Survivors have spoken out on multiple outlets and at the hearing itself. They do not want full decriminalization. Both the pimp and buyer, however, will be delighted with their newfound freedom to move.

If the goal is to protect the victims, the answer is simple: partial decriminalization. This would allow the process of the woman’s selling sex to no longer be illegal, but the act of buying sex to still be illegal. The rationale behind this is that legal prostitution is an inherent “barrier to gender equality”, and that women deserve legal protection from it.

The partial decriminalization model, commonly known as the Nordic model, adds heavier penalizations to the buyer. It also guarantees harsher punishments for the trafficker, the pervert who has groomed, kidnapped, drugged, beaten, starved, and raped the victim until she submits.

Full decriminalization, however, the bill that is currently on the table, leaves no place to punish johns. It also makes it extraordinarily difficult for law enforcement to find traffickers.

If we really care about these victims, why were they not consulted in the drafting of this bill? Why were survivors forced to relive trauma as they spoke out against the bill at the council hearing? Why is the end result of this bill guaranteed to have sex traffickers and buyers “celebrating”? If you know about sex trafficking, anything that makes a pimp happy is no good.

Ironically, the bill, although titled Community Safety and Health Improvement Act of 2019, will destroy the very concept of community safety if it is enacted. The decriminalization of sex work will lead to an increase in tourists whose sole interest is raping underage girls. As Polaris observes, the few women who actually want to be paid to sleep with johns will not be able to cope with the demand, regardless of the men who want to profit from the influx of traffic and will start opening brothels. How is this community safety and improvement?

Traffickers will enter the picture once again — this time under cover of the law. Every non-profit against the sex trade has pointed out that full decriminalization will make it ten times more difficult to find the trafficked victims — and have no doubts, there will be victims. Police, FBI, and nonprofits will no longer have a reasonable case for entering with a search or arrest warrant. Bureaucratic red tape will result in the death of thousands more girls, wanted home, but unable to be found. Lawmakers cannot comprehend the fallout from the proposed nuclear bomb of full decriminalization, but survivors can.

The ones who escaped have given voice to the rest, and their answer is to ask for partial decriminalization.

First published in Fearless She Wrote on Nov. 12, 2019.

Posted in

Prisca Bejjani