September 23, 2022
by Alexis Goodman
Sex trafficking is underwhelmingly represented in daily mainstream news as the tell-tale numbers continue to grow larger and larger. With victims hailing from every country regardless of gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background, this is a global pandemic that bears no prejudice.
For example, Tenancingo, Mexico is what some consider to be the epicenter for human trafficking, especially in South America. A story not uncommon to the trafficking world is the testimony of Miranda. A young girl of fourteen when “Rodolfo” met her, she was soon manipulated and smuggled past the U.S. border and across the country. Her final destination was a small apartment in Queens, New York, where she was locked in a room and sold for sexual transactions by Rodolfo up to sixty times a day. Miranda was a minor and unfortunately, 50% of the 800,000 trafficked over borders around the world are minors.
A dilemma such as this should command the world’s attention, and leaders from every corner of the political playing field should be coming together to find ways to prevent growth in the sex trafficking industry. If we are not careful in our parade for human rights and social progression we might find ourselves accidentally encouraging this industry.
The Move to Decriminalize Prostitution
At the forefront of those pandering to the sexual revolution are New York Senators Gottfried and Salazar in their upcoming bill, Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act. This would essentially make the state of New York the first to decriminalize prostitution statewide. It would decriminalize sex work from all angles: the client, the worker, and the manager. On its face, the bill hopes to eradicate the stigma shrouding prostitution and create a safer workplace for those voluntarily selling their bodies. The authors of this bill hold that sex trafficking is still to be against the law and punished severely.
By repealing various laws that prohibit prostitution as well as terminating past offenses regarding prostitution, this act will be revolutionary and hopes to catapult the rest of American civilization in a similar direction. How is this bill being considered, and what power are they utilizing to see it through?
Impact of Supreme Court Rulings on the Sexual Revolution
The answer to the posited question can be found by looking at the past of the Supreme Court and the powers they have developed generations before. Privacy became a constitutional doctrine in the court case, Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, where the judiciaries “discovered” it in the fourth and fifth Amendments. These amendments afford us the right from “all governmental invasions ‘of the sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of life’”. Essentially, the right to privacy is the right to be left alone.
This right was then utilized in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. The court case ruled in favor of protecting sexual conduct with regard to homosexual individuals. They deemed it protected by the Due Process Clause and the right to privacy. Justice Kennedy said in his majority opinion, “Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places.” In everyday language, a person’s private life and conduct (aka, consensual sex) are protected by the constitution.
These rulings have since laid the foundational stones for the overwhelming movement seen today to decriminalize sex work. If consensual sex acts between two adults are a private sphere in which the government cannot intrude, then theoretically sex work is protected by the constitution, or is it? In the dissent of the Lawrence v. Texas court case, Justice Scalia stated that liberty can be arrested if there is a compelling state interest in doing so. So now, we must identify if there is a state interest in criminalizing sex work.
Does Decriminalizing Prostitution Protect Women?
Thorough research shows us where the dangers are in this prospective bill. In a study performed by three scholars from around the world, it was found that decriminalized prostitution increases human trafficking. Their study was composed of empirical analysis for a cross-section of up to 150 countries. They found that larger and more democratic countries were more likely to increase trafficking by 13.4% if they attempted to decriminalize prostitution.
The U.S. State Department concurred with those findings when in 2004 they said the legalization of prostitution creates a safe haven for traffickers. It was their understanding that “Legalization simply makes it easier for them to blend in with a purportedly regulated sex sector and makes it more difficult for prosecutors to identify and punish those who are trafficking people.”
Is it Really Their “Choice?”
Moving to the microlens in viewing this situation, we can easily determine the backgrounds of ‘sex workers’. A study conducted in San Francisco found of the 200 prostitutes interviewed, 70% entered the field because they were sexually assaulted as minors. When asked about how they felt about themselves and sex, only 1-2% answered positively. A different study that incorporated the experiences of detained women for engaging in illegal prostitution, found that there were two distinct ways in which a woman entered into the profession. The first was running away as a minor and the second was sexual victimization as a child.
It is quite evident that entering into the sex work industry is not the empowering move this bill would lead us to believe, and the majority of prostitutes are what they are because they have nowhere else to turn. Trying to make them believe that their “rock bottom” is a liberating profession is actually oppressive and abusive.
Therefore, by moving to decriminalize prostitution, we are allowing for more testimonies like Miranda’s mentioned previously. By moving to decriminalize prostitution, we are creating a protective shield for traffickers to hide their victims in the shadows of “legal” sex work and saying it is acceptable to remain in a negative environment.
That is the compelling state interest here and I hope the New York state legislature will seriously consider the implications of this bill. I ask those of you who are not in favor of this bill to write your senators, your governor, and your representatives and tell them so. The Lawrence v. Texas case told us that, “When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring.” I don’t think sexual transactions between two strangers were the intimate conduct that the supreme court judges were imagining when authorizing the right to privacy.
Cho, seo-young & Dreher, Axel & Neumayer, Eric. (2013). Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking?. World Development. 41. 67-82. 10.1016/j.worlddev.2012.05.023.
Griswold v. Connecticut (Supreme Court of the United States June 1965).
Lawrence et al v. Texas (Supreme Court of the United States October 2002).
McClanahan, S. F., McClelland, G. M., Abram, K. M., & Teplin, L. A. (1999). Pathways into prostitution among female jail detainees and their implications for mental health services. Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.), 50(12), 1606–1613. https://doi.org/10.1176/ps.50.12.1606
NY, D. (2019, June 10). For immediate release: Decrim NY, Legislators Intro First Statewide Bill to decriminalize sex work. DecrimNY. Retrieved March 27, 2022, from https://www.decrimny.org/post/for-immediate-release-decrim-ny-legislators-intro-first-statewide-bill-to-decriminalize-sex-work
Ny State senate Bill S3075. NY State Senate. (2022, January 6). Retrieved March 27, 2022, from https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2021/S3075
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Wbur. (2014, June 30). Prostitution pipeline to U.S. begins in Tenancingo, Mexico. Prostitution Pipeline To U.S. Begins In Tenancingo, Mexico | Here & Now. Retrieved March 27, 2022, from https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2014/06/30/pimp-city-tenancingo