Prostitution and Trafficking: A Policy Debate


Published April 29, 2009 @ 07:00AM PST


One of the most controversial
both in the anti-trafficking field and on
this blog
has been  whether legalized or decriminalized
prostitution policies will help end human trafficking or exacerbate
the problem
.  I believe, based on overwhelming evidence,
that legalizing prostitution increases human trafficking and other
harms to women and girls.  A regular reader, Tessa Lynn* feels
differently.  I invited her to an email debate, and she accepted. 
Below is the beginning of what is a much larger debate, and Tessa and I hope you
will continue to engage in it openly and respectfully.


Amanda: Legal commercial sex markets exacerbate human trafficking
because they increase demand for commercial sex, provide a safe place for
criminals to exploit victims, and create barriers for police to help
victims.  For example, since prostitution was legalized in Holland, human
has risen, so much that Amsterdam’s mayor is now
closing many prostitution zones
.  The legal market has allowed
criminality- including drugs,
rape, and trafficking
– to thrive, harming thousands of women and lining
traffickers’ pockets. 


Tessa: Thank you for inviting me to participate in this debate, Amanda.
 Abuses you described thrive under the criminalization of prostitution.
  Criminalizing prostitution encourages human trafficking and violence,
while also creating barriers to receiving police protection.  In some cases, the police enforcing the
anti-prostitution laws are the
abusers.  Criminalizing prostitution
shifts the main focus away from stopping human trafficking and towards
incarcerating sex workers.  Trafficking sex workers into jail cages does
not stop human trafficking.


Amanda: Keeping prostitution illegal does not jail trafficking victims
or women in prostitution, but gives law enforcement a legal tool to identify and
arrest abusers, traffickers, pimps and buyers.  Police brutality is a
serious issue to be addressed, but should we make every crime where the
perpetrator has suffered police brutality legal?  No.  Keep
prostitution illegal and focus resources on educating and training police to
identify the abusers, pimps, and traffickers and protect and respect women.


Tessa: Even if you don’t intend for illegal prostitution to jail
trafficked people or sex workers, this is what’s happening.  A study by the
Sex Workers Project found that numerous sex workers as well as trafficked people
have been incarcerated under law enforcement raids that are “supposed” to be
about fighting trafficking
This report found that community based approaches to fighting human trafficking
are more effective than law enforcement tactics focused on incarcerating sex


Amanda: I agree we need more community-based approaches to fighting
trafficking, but that doesn’t mean we can or should disempower law enforcement
from helping victims as well.  Law enforcement agencies have
helped hundreds of victims
find safety and get T-Visas.  We can empower
both law enforcement and community groups to combat trafficking without
legalizing an industry that has the highest
homicide rate
of any for women.  Police and community organizations can
reduce victimization of women together.   


Tessa: Decriminalizing prostitution doesn’t disempower anybody from helping
victims. Rather, it would free up resources that could be used for this
purpose.  In response to comments about prostitution having a high homicide
rate, this isn’t the case under every system of prostitution.  Instead, the
criminalization of prostitution
encourages homicides
It’s scary to think about how many more sex workers might be murdered before the
dominant society realizes how harmful these prostitution prohibitionist laws


Amanda: Legalizing prostitution won’t save lives, but
cost lives.  It would remove tools and resources
from law enforcement- those with the most experience rescuing trafficking
victims.  It would increase the number of men demanding commercial sex, and
the number of women and kids traffickers lure to meet that demand. 
Traffickers thrive in legal markets, where humans are commodities.  Keep
prostitution illegal, empower community groups and law enforcement to
collaborate, prevent trafficking, prosecute traffickers, and protect


Tessa:  Criminalizing prostitution pushes it further underground
where traffickers and other abusers thrive, often without being held accountable
for their abuses.  Incarcerating sex workers and trafficked people doesn’t
protect victims or prevent trafficking.  It’s essential to reform policies
in a way that decreases the likelihood of becoming trafficked in the first
place.  Though decriminalizing prostitution is part of such efforts,
trafficking occurs in various industries. It’s also important to reform
immigration laws and global socioeconomic policies.


So what do you think?  Can Tessa and I find any common ground in our
differing positions?  Can we move forward and work together to prevent
human trafficking, arrest the traffickers, and care for the


(Go to the link to
read comments on the debate.)



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