Friday, November 9, 2012

Sex trafficking- America's dirty little secret

This past week, California passed Proposition 35 by an overwhelming 81% of voters. Proposition 35 increases prison terms for convicted human traffickers, requires convicted human traffickers to register as sex offenders, requires all sex offenders to disclose their online accounts, and increases fines for human trafficking convictions (however, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson of San Francisco said that civil liberties groups had raised “serious questions” about whether the online disclosure requirement violates freedom of speech and blocked enforcement of this portion of the law on Wednesday).

One of my Feminist Legal Theory classmates brought Prop 35 to our attention during our class discussion on Wednesday and expressed her dismay that the legislature has only recently taken up the issue of human trafficking. In fact, California didn’t enact a law making human trafficking a felony until 2006, and Prop 35 is the next step in increasing penalities. I noted that human trafficking is not something the media discusses with any frequency either, despite the fact that the United States, and California in particular, are international human trafficking hubs. Why don’t we hear more about human trafficking in the news? Professor Pruitt suggested that human trafficking is America’s “dirty little secret.”

In Misery and Mypoia: Understanding the Failures of U.S. Efforts to Stop Human Trafficking, Jennifer M. Chacon defines “human trafficking” as the migration of individuals across or within national boundaries for the purpose of performing labor, including sex work, under “coercive conditions,” including deception, abduction, or debt bondage.

"Human Trafficking in California," a report by the California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force, called California “a top destination for human traffickers” due to its international borders, major harbors, airports, and large immigrant population. The report states that traffickers lure victims from foreign countries to the United States with the promise of good jobs and better lives, and then force them to work under brutal and inhumane conditions in industries including pornography, prostitution, and servile marriage.

Traffickers recruit victims from inside the United States as well. A recent Fox News article reported that pimps lure minors through social media, targeting those from dysfunctional families and offering them gifts. In June, under the FBI’s “Operation Cross Country,” 79 child sex slaves (2 boys and 77 girls) were freed from their captors in 57 different cities across the country.

Several articles suggest that human trafficking and sex slavery in the U.S. are little known secrets. An NBC News article entitled “Sex slaves, human trafficking…in America?” tells the story of two young women from the Ukraine who were forced into stripping in Detroit by men that they thought were placing them in summer jobs. During the year before they were able to escape, they were subjected to physical, mental, and sexual abuse, and controlled by threats of violence against their families.

A Vanity Fair article from last year called “Sex Trafficking of Americans: The Girls Next Door” suggests that human trafficking and sex slavery are closer to home than most Americans think. The article estimates that there are currently 300,000 young American girls entering the sex industry and that their ages are declining drastically. “The average starting age for prostitution is now 13…I call them Little Barbies,” said Rachel Lloyd, executive director of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services in Harlem, New York. Krishna Patel, assistant U.S. Attorney in Bridgeport, Connecticut said
“I’d always dismissed the idea of human trafficking in the United States. I’m Indian, and when I went to Mumbai and saw children sold openly, I wondered, Why isn’t anything being done about it? But now I know—it’s no different here. I never would have believed it, but I’ve seen it. Human trafficking—the commercial sexual exploitation of American children and women, via the Internet, strip clubs, escort services, or street prostitution—is on its way to becoming one of the worst crimes in the U.S.”
Hopefully the passage of Proposition 35 will raise overdue awareness about human trafficking in the United States not only in California, but across the country, and cause us to think twice when we see a young girl in a short skirt and stiletto heels standing on the street corner.


CET said...

With regard to the declining age of the trafficking victims, I have to wonder if this has something to do with "customer's" desires to deflower very young girls. If there is a demand for these young girls, their commercial value would be very high. This surely motivates traffickers to bring younger and younger girls into the US.

Once these girls are in the US they have an ability to earn money over and over again. Unlike guns or drugs, these women and children can pimped out and sold on an ongoing basis, providing a constant stream of income to their traffickers. Just writing this comment brings to light how difficult it is to discuss sex trafficking...makes my heart hurt.

Sarah said...

I, of course, share your horror at sex trafficking, and all human trafficking. However, I believe that the marketing for Prop. 35 was misleading and took advantage of our communal horror. Prop. 35 serves to punish sex-workers and their families more than anyone. The primary opponents to the bill were sex-workers, and this is likely why the opposition received very little meaningful media attention. This law treats those who bring children in from Thailand the same as adult, consensual, sex-workers. I'm disappointed that this misguided proposition is the only response Californians have taken to combat what is truly a very real problem.

KSergent said...

As someone who used to work at a public defender's office, my main concern with Prop 35 was the lumping together of sex offenders and sex traffickers. There is a wide range of convictions that qualify a person as a "sex offender." In addition, our plea bargaining system may encourage someone to take a deal that requires them to register in order to avoid jail time or the expense of litigation.

I agree that Human Trafficking deserves more attention, but I think carefully designed legislation and some type of awareness campaign is a better route than a proposition.