Back to blog

Could This Bill Help End Global Sex Trafficking?


Last week Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO-02) and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY-08) jointly introduced the bi-partisan Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Act HR 4326 in Congress. This important bill will strengthen the United States government’s efforts to ensure that nations around the world are effectively preventing sex trafficking by working to eliminate the demand for commercial sex. In practice, this means passing laws that greatly reduce the number of sex buyers.

Upon the introduction of the bill, Rep. Wagner said,

“Combating sex trafficking requires an all-of-the-above approach that fights not just the pimps who sell trafficking victims, but also the buyers who choose to exploit victims. Criminalizing the purchase of commercial sex acts and ending illegal sex ‘tourism’ are key to reducing the demand for trafficking victims and eliminating the worldwide sex trafficking trade.”

Rep. Jeffries concurred that,

“Sex trafficking is a heinous human rights violation that affects more than 4.5 million victims across the globe. The bipartisan Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Act aims to prevent the global demand for commercial sex and sex tourism in order to reduce the number of trafficking victims.”

This bill is critical because whenever strategies for combatting sex trafficking are discussed, one theme consistently emerges: the importance of prevention through demand reduction.

…sex trafficking increases in countries where the purchase of sex is legal and decreases in countries where the purchase of sex has been criminalized.

Years of compiled evidence, case studies, and credible research demonstrate that sex trafficking increases in countries where the purchase of sex is legal and decreases in countries where the purchase of sex has been criminalized. There is now international agreement that reducing the demand for commercial sex will reduce the exploitation of women and girls in the commercial sex industry.

The State Department itself has noted that, “where prostitution is legalized or tolerated, there is a greater demand for human trafficking victims and nearly always an increase in the number of women and children trafficked into commercial sex slavery.” This view has been shared by both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Recently the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons reiterated: “If there were no demand for commercial sex, sex trafficking would not exist in the form it does today. This reality underscores the need for continued strong efforts to enact policies and promote cultural norms that disallow paying for sex.”

RELATED: Breaking: German Politicians Want to Criminalize Sex Buying

Punishing those who seek to purchase commercial sex is the one proven indicator of whether a country is making efforts to reduce demand. But the State Department has been reluctant to turn its words into action.

Even though there is lip service to the importance of demand reduction, year after year in their annual Trafficking in Person’s (TIP) Report the State Department sidesteps the most critical aspect of determining whether nations are truly “making serious and sustained efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex,” as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act mandates.

The TIP report is important because it is the most comprehensive trafficking report published globally and is an effective diplomatic tool that compels countries to change policies based on their ratings. Countries follow recommendations in it and change policies to achieve higher tier rankings not only because they want to have a good international reputation regarding combating trafficking, but also because lower ratings can incur economic sanctions.

One example of how the State Department has not been honestly evaluating nation’s anti-demand efforts is found in its assessment of Spain, where purchasing sex is legal and most detected trafficking cases are for the purpose of prostitution. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime noted that 39 percent of the male population in Spain admitted to purchasing sex at least once.

According to a 2007 Spanish government study, sex is purchased between 900,000 and 1.5 million times a day in a nation of 47 million. Cities attract and cater to tourists for whom purchasing sex is an expected part of the nightlife. Club Paradise in La Jonquera, one of the largest brothels in Europe, boasts of having more than “200 girls” who work in 101 rooms to cater to the desires of men who are free to buy sex without consequence.

According to the US State Department’s TIP report, there may be as many as 400,000 women or more being prostituted in Spain, and up to 90 percent of these women are coerced into prostitution by organized crime groups—meaning up to 360,000 women are by definition victims of sex trafficking in that country alone. Yet for the past 18 years, Spain has received a “Tier 1” ranking in the report (the highest ranking possible), meaning the country is in full compliance with standards set forth to eliminate trafficking.

There has been no consideration by the US State Department of the fact that the legality of purchasing sex in Spain is a magnet for sex buyers and creates an enabling environment for sex trafficking to flourish.

In the report, the department has even explicitly given Spain credit for prevention of trafficking: “the government [of Spain] continued prevention efforts through a variety of public awareness campaigns involving flyers, banners, exhibits, and other displays.”

No amount of flyers should warrant giving a nation that allows men to buy sex with impunity a “passing” grade on prevention of sex trafficking. The same has been happening with other major hubs for sex trafficking such as the Netherlands, Germany and many others.

Congresswoman Linda Smith (1995-99), Founder and President, Shared Hope International said,

“In 2006, when Shared Hope International released research on sex trafficking markets in four countries, including the Netherlands, the common element driving those markets was the demand for commercial sex. Over a dozen years later, demand continues to drive sex trafficking, and failing to address demand perpetuates the market for exploitation that ensnares so many victims of trafficking. The Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Act ensures that demand cannot be ignored if we are to comprehensively address human trafficking.”

The bill will make it clear that all governments should enact policies to criminalize the purchase of commercial sex. If they do not, they won’t be given credit for making a serious effort to prevent trafficking by means of demand reduction.

The Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Act solves the demand problem by updating the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. It would require the State Department to assess sex purchase laws when determining, for the annual TIP Report, whether nations are making serious efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex.

The bill will make it clear that all governments should enact policies to criminalize the purchase of commercial sex. If they do not, they won’t be given credit for making a serious effort to prevent trafficking by means of demand reduction.

This report is taken very seriously by nations around the world, and lower rankings involve serious consequences. If applied correctly, this bill could have a great deal of global influence. The grades that the US gives in its global TIP report matter because they propel nations to improve their conduct and change their policies.

WATCH: The Key to Ending Sex Trafficking

Dawn Hawkins, Executive Director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) pointed out,

“Worldwide, the only way to prevent sex trafficking is to target the demand for prostitution. No country that normalizes or legalizes the sex trade should be Tier 1 in the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report. NCOSE is happy to endorse the Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Act to introduce reality into the State Department’s ratings system.”

If the purchase of commercial sex was eliminated, the entire 99 billion dollar per year sex trafficking industry would implode.

The reports would be a stronger tool if they took seriously the need for nations to hold accountable the men who would buy women and children for sex. It’s time to stop saying “boys will be boys” and recognize that abolishing sex trafficking requires placing the stigma and responsibility for sexual exploitation on the purchaser rather than the commodified women they buy.

This bill recognizes that effectively combatting the demand for commercial sex is the only way we will ever make real progress in the fight to prevent and eliminate sex trafficking globally. If the purchase of commercial sex was eliminated, the entire 99 billion dollar per year sex trafficking industry would implode.

As Taina Bien-Aimé, Executive Director for Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), pointed out,

“Demand reduction is the key to preventing the scourge of this injustice to continue. There is increasing recognition around the world, from governments to global survivor-led networks, that one of the most effective tools to combat sex trafficking and sexual exploitation is to end the demand for prostitution. Eliminating demand for the multi-billion dollar commercial sex market will dry up the immeasurable profits garnered from the pain and suffering traffickers extract from the most vulnerable among us. If we, as a nation, value human rights, this bill must pass.”

Contact your representatives today and ask them to co-sponsor HR 4326 The Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Act, because ending the demand for sex trafficking is the only way to ensure that every woman and child can one day be free from sexual exploitation.

Click below to contact your representative through an easy, one-step process.

Contact Your Representative

Here’s a sample email you can use:

Dear Mr./Mrs/ ______
As your constituent I want to bring to your attention, and ask you to co-sponsor, an important bi-partisan bill to combat sex trafficking globally called The Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Act (HR 4326). Reducing the demand for commercial sex is the only effective way to prevent and eliminate sex trafficking and this bill will be an important and effective way to ensure our nation is doing everything it can to put pressure on countries around the world to take demand reduction seriously. Please co-sponsor and support HR 4326.

Sincerely,

___________
City, State

Photo Credit: unsplash-logoAndy Feliciotti