Sex is one of the most natural things two humans can do together. It is the process of furthering our existence, and it will always be a part of the human condition. However, the connotation of sex changes when it is no longer a personal relationship, but a piece of commercialization, and business.
Human trafficking can be anything from selling people for sex to selling people for organs. Either way, it still produces $150 billion a year, including illegal prostitution and pornography, according to Human Rights First (2017). The avenue prostitution has created for sex trafficking is the major cause for its criminalisation. That being said, there are sex workers who do their work willingly and with pride.
Now, in Pittsburgh, PA, sex workers are hurting because of the FOSTA-SESTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) Law. The bill, sign by Donald Trump when he was still in office, was intended to cut down on sex trafficking. It means website publishers would be responsible for third parties found to be posting ads for prostitution, including consensual, on their platforms. Essentially, this is a lot of jail time for somebody who’s just trying to do their job — unless, of course, that somebody is involved with sex trafficking.
How does prostitution affect trafficking, if at all? A study conducted by Seo Young Cho, Axel Dreher, and Eric Neumayer (2013), proved that the places who have legalized prostitution have a higher sex trafficking rate than where it is prohibited.
“Our empirical analysis for a cross-section of up to 150 countries shows that the scale effect dominates the substitution effect. On average, countries where prostitution is legal experience larger reported human trafficking inflows,”(Cho, et al, 2013).
Their article states that prostitution is detrimental to the sex trafficking epidemic. However, they also state that criminalisation does not solve the issue and in fact, worsens it in some ways.
“The scale effect of legalising prostitution leads to an expansion of the prostitution market and thus an increase in human trafficking, while the substitution effect reduces demand for trafficked prostitutes by favouring prostitutes who have legal residence in a country,” (Cho, et al, 2013).
The two options, legalisation and criminalisation, have similar effects. Legalising prostitution furthers sex trafficking. If prostitution is legal, the only outcome is sex worker or victim. Rachel Lloyd (2015), former prostitute from Germany, describes the environment of the sex industry and how terrifying it can be.
“Violence is inherent in the sex industry. Numerous studies show that between 70 percent and 90 percent of children and women who end up in commercial sex were sexually abused prior to entry.”(Lloyd, 2015).
She argues that most people who enter the sex industry are not fully aware of or happy with the choice they’re making. She says that legalising prostitution encourages sex traffickers to recruit people and children to meet the high demand of the sex industry. She does not have a solution, but rather multiple examples of what cannot be the solution (i.e, full criminalisation, full legalisation, etc).
The reasons why those laws don’t stop sex trafficking or prostitution from happening are well-explained by Jessie Sage, a sex work columnist in Pittsburgh.
According to Sage, FOSTA-SESTA “does absolutely nothing to protect victims of sex trafficking. It is important to recognise that the law itself doesn’t offer any funding or resources, it is strictly punitive…by and large, it is an anti-sex work agenda, not an anti-trafficking agenda.”
The FOSTA-SESTA bill has only forced sex workers to go deeper underground. Instead of using Craigslist or some other popular website, they’re turning to the dark web or something very close to that. Now, sex workers can’t report assaults because they are also doing something illegal. The same thing was attempted by outlawing prostitution; sex trafficking rates went down, but sex workers suffered in the same way they are now. When one wins, the other loses.
A new type of law is necessary: one that treats prostitution like business instead of a taboo subject only discussed in the dark parts of our city. It is comparable to Nevada’s Moonlite Bunny Ranch. Noor Tagouri (2018), a Libyan journalist and activist, interviewed people at the Bunny Ranch for the documentary, Sold In America. After conducting interviews with workers at the Bunny Ranch, she describes the rules and regulations.
“The women here go through thorough background checks, and weekly STD tests. Someone could listen in at any time. There are security cameras and panic buttons, which is a lot different than the outside world of illegal prostitution.”
This is one of the best options that caters to both sex trafficking victims and sex workers. We should change the law so that only people with certain qualifications can own or operate brothels. Perhaps you have to have a degree or certificate. Not only this, but anyone entering the business as a sex worker must have a valid identification, as well as STD testing. The owners of the brothels should be able to listen in on any business transaction at any time, for safety reasons. As well as this, the workers are given labor rights. This way, prostitution is legal, and there is no way sex trafficking can occur within the regulated businesses.