The war on human trafficking is the new war on drugs
The 2013 Nevada Legislature passed Assembly Bill 67 and made “sex trafficking” a part of the legal language in Nevada. The legislature stated AB67 was not about consensual prostitution, which is legal in parts of Nevada but is not in Clark and Washoe counties. The American Civil Liberties Union pointed out that judges don’t normally look at legislative intent but at the language of the law. Nevada signed on to what the bill’s backer, then-attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto, said was reliance on the good judgment of prosecutors. In other words, if an overzealous district attorney has less than stellar judgment, what happens in Vegas could get you a five-year mandatory minimum sentence.
For those who understand that the world’s oldest profession is never going out of business, the rights of sex workers to earn a living is recognized as a legitimate form of work, and actual sex trafficking is a labor abuse that harms their right to work in a safe environment. But the sex trafficking hysteria is proving worse than the disease.
Not only the women, or members of other genders, engaged in sex work, but their customers (“Johns”) should have the right to engage in consensual commercial sexual transactions without interference from the state. The Nevada trafficking laws remove certain defenses, like the defense that the woman drinking at the casino bar who solicited you was using fake identification. Targeting johns puts the sex worker in danger of increased violence by customers who fear public exposure and punishment. AG Cortez Masto’s only comment was that all solicitation, after all, is illegal.
Reno’s history includes the heavyweight boxing match between the black fighter Jack Johnson and the “Great White Hope,” James J. Jeffries, in 1910. In 1912, Johnson was prosecuted for violations of the Mann Act. Human trafficking began as a term for illegal transportation of undocumented immigrants. Recently, the term has evolved to primarily (almost luridly) mean slavery for commercial sex, but often refers to all prostitution. The human trafficking crusade claims trafficking is pandemic. In fact, there is no real evidence, except for arrest statistics (again, reliance on the good judgment of prosecutors and police) to substantiate the extent of the problem.
For neofeminists, a woman engaged in sex work is not a complex individual who chooses the occupation because it is the best work available, or because she likes the work, or simply, as in all jobs, likes the money. Instead, the sex worker is always the victim, always abused, always male-dominated and weak.
In order to perpetrate this view, the myth of the pimp was created—sex workers are seduced by violent, predatory pimps who exploit and terrorize them. Once in the life, they are hopelessly entrapped. Their salvation now lies in state approved group therapy, while in the 19th century it was community coerced prayer meetings. Only by government intervention to separate them from exploitative pimping males can they be redeemed from a life of degradation.
In fact, numerous studies and accounts by sex workers tell a far different tale. Only a small percentage of sex workers have pimps. And pimps are rarely the violent predators that the trafficking industry portrays them to be. Human trafficking laws puts the husbands, boyfriends and platonic friends of sex workers at risk of arrest, which hurts the sex worker by removing a vital source of emotional support. Sex workers know their greatest threat is not from pimps, but from police and prosecutors.