Monday, January 09, 2012
Massachusetts Lawmakers Approve Human Trafficking Bill
On November 15th, Massachusetts’ House and Senate approved a Human Trafficking Bill that has been urged by human rights advocates. The bill imposes life sentences for pimps and other traffickers found guilty of coercing children into sex and forced labor. The bill also confronts the important matter of treating children as well as adults forced into prostitution as victims and not as offenders. Additionally, the bill will create a panel to study approaches to prevent trafficking. The sex trade is an increasing problem in Massachusetts, yet the state is one of three states that have yet to enact an anti-trafficking law.
While slavery is often considered obsolete, the exploitation through forced sex and labor is estimated to include trafficking of 27 million people around the world. This modern slavery has evolved through the use of the Internet, which conveniently allows traffickers to recruit and sell victims over websites, taking prostitutes off of the streets and out of the view of the public and law enforcement and placing them into hotel rooms.
Much attention has been given to advertising websites and their “adult” sections, which are intended as a means for consenting adults to find other consenting adults. Inevitably, the advertisements have been used for soliciting sex and in some instances sex with minors. When Craigslist banned sexually related advertising in the US in 2010, a majority of this activity found a new home on BackPage.com. The site has recently received demands from anti-trafficking advocates, including the fifty-one attorneys general and an interfaith social justice group, to remove the section in order to stop the online advertising for prostitution, emphasizing the exploitation of minors made possible through listings.
The letter from the attorneys general states that efforts made by BackPage.com to reduce trafficking of both adults and children have been unsuccessful, and more than 50 instances of trafficking or attempting to traffic minors through the site have been discovered. The letter provides an example of how a trafficker, in Dorchester, MA used the site to exploit a minor by “forcing a 15-year-old girl into a motel to have sex with various men for $100 to $150 an hour” and found the customers by “post[ing] a photo of the girl on BackPage.com.”
While shutting down the advertising will put an end to trafficking on those sites, with the Internet’s infinite domains, any setbacks for traffickers will be minor and clients will merely be required to use some extra effort to find other sites. Sadly, if traffickers are capable of physically abusing, controlling and exploiting children, they are also capable of looking elsewhere and creating other means to continue making a profit off of forcing others to work for it.
The recent Massachusetts bill approval is a great start to shed light on the fact that there is a problem and treating the victims as criminals is not the solution. The bill places the blame where it belongs: on the trafficker. Arguments have been made that not all adult prostitutes are trafficked, and it is a nice theory that a consenting adult has a right to make a living selling their body. However, prostitution by choice is not the rule but the exception. Children are trafficked as young as eleven and twelve years old and often remain in the sex trade into adulthood, demonstrating that even adult prostitutes are unlikely to have chosen this life for themselves. The reality is that all trafficking victims are controlled by fear, coercion, and violence, and the Internet is allowing this activity to go unseen. By shifting the current social stigma surrounding prostitution to victimization, trafficked individuals are more likely to seek help from the medical community and from law enforcement.
The bill, which will more likely than not soon become law, is important in officially recognizing there is a problem that needs to be addressed. A significant part of the bill is the establishment of a panel to study ways to prevent trafficking. Educating young people at risk of being trafficked as well as the entire public is essential. Eliminating the role of the Internet in trafficking is to be expected as a major issue in prevention to be addressed by this future panel.
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