You might have heard about the legalization of prostitution and the controversy over whether or not morality issues should be taken into account concerning a free trade marketplace. However, there is more to the issue than whether or not legalizing prostitution will help regulate the industry with safety and health guidelines. The issue is deciding who deserves protection. There are women who voluntarily enter the sex trade, but not all prostitutes choose to sell themselves for a living.
Prostitution is safer for those working in a legal brothel, but such institutions encourage more sex trafficking.
“Organized crime groups continue to traffic victims and run illegal prostitution operations alongside the legal businesses. Where prostitution is legal, both trafficking and prostitution have increased because men can legally buy sex acts and pimps, and brothel keepers can legally sell and profit from them,” wrote Donna Hughes in “Towards an Abolitionist Approach to Prostitution and Trafficking.”
Sex trafficking is when smugglers coerce women to travel away from home to work as waitresses, maids or other entry-level jobs, and then literally charge them rent for living like slaves in motel rooms, massage parlors and even false restaurants. Sex trafficking lures women from their homes and preys on their vulnerability by making them work to pay for transportation and living expenses. If they try to escape, they could be forced to suffer beatings, isolation, starvation, forced drug use or gang rape.
“These women and girls are not prostitutes, they are prostituted,” said Kristy Childs, a trafficking survivor and director of a local organization called Veronica’s Voice, which helps prostituted women reclaim their lives.
Childs ran away when she was 12 years old and turned to prostitution for survival. She worked for a pimp who told her horror stories about arrests and torture and used pills to keep Childs under his control. One night, when Childs was locked in the apartment while her pimp was out, she noticed some of her clothes were in the bathtub soaking wet.
“If you beat somebody with wet clothes on, it doesn’t leave marks,” Childs said.
Childs eventually left prostitution and used her experience to help others.
The U.S. State Department estimated that “about 80 percent of human trafficking victims are women and girls, and up to 50 percent are minors.” According to UNICEF, “There are nearly two million children in the commercial sex trade.”
The U.S. government estimates 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the U.S. every year from Latin America, East Asia, and Russia. In the past, the U.S. sex trade was not as organized as the Southeast Asia businesses, where thousands of European and American businessmen travel for business and pleasure. Now, U.S. sex trade is more popular than ever.
“Brothels are operating in cities across America, including Kansas City,” said Janel D’Agata Lynch, the program manager for community services at Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“The Midwest has become a kind of pipeline for human trafficking,” said Melissa Snow, an advocate for sexually exploited women and children with a non-profit organization called Shared Hope International.
Traffickers target U.S. minors through the Internet, at school or movie theaters. Snow said runaways in particular are very attractive to traffickers.
“Runaways are particularly vulnerable, often being approached or coerced within 48 hours of hitting the streets,” Snow said. The State Department estimates that “between 100,000 and 300,000 American children under the age of 18 are at risk of being trafficked within the U.S. for commercial sexual exploitation.”
Legalizing prostitution is not going to help sex trafficking victims. Ilene Shehan, the chief operating officer of Hope House Battered Women’s Shelter in Independence, Mo. said, “you never know, unless you look beneath the surface, if the young man or woman or the child you just saw is a forced-labor or sex-trafficking victim. We likewise don’t want to think that a trafficker could be an acquaintance or a member of our community.” Please do not ignore the fact that sex trafficking is going on in the U.S. this very moment, possibly even in your own hometown. The widespread practice of claiming women and children’s lives and taking away all of their human rights has to be stopped.