I don’t watch much TV, but one of the shows I sometimes watch is the Dr. Oz show due to my interest in health, nutrition, and fitness. Today, a segment about sex trafficking aired. It was a preview of an investigative report by Lisa Ling that will air on Oprah Winfrey’s channel, called the O Network. Ling was among the guests, as were two sex trafficking survivors, the mother of a sex trafficking survivor, and the head of the FBI’s Innocence Lost project.
I appreciated Ling and Dr. Oz both distinguishing between prostitutes and sex slaves, thus challenging the conflation of all prostitution with slavery. Prositutes get paid for sexual services, but sex slaves don’t. Ling also distinguished between sex slavery and consensual prostitution, saying that being a sex slave is different from being a prostitute because sexual slavery isn’t a choice.
Something else that really stood out to me was how one of the trafficking survivors named Holly Austin Smith said that she didn’t think she’d be able to get away from her trafficker if she wasn’t arrested. Here’s a link to her website: www.HollyAustinSmith.com . Did anybody reach out to Holly without arresting her? Was there anywhere she could go besides jail? It disgusts me so much that we live in a society where any trafficking victim needs to be arrested to get away from the traffickers and indicates a lack of outreach, accessible safe houses, and other services for trafficked people. This tells me that resources need to be redirected, with the funds used to arrest sex workers and trafficking victims being reallocated to outreach and safe houses. Arresting trafficking victims is treating them like criminals, so victims need other alternatives besides arrests. Ling acknowledged that child sex trafficking victims are being treated like criminals.
This is one of the reasons why advocating for the decriminalization of prostitution is part of the efforts to stop sex trafficking. This way, resources being wasted on arresting sex workers, non-abusive clients, and trafficked people can be put towards providing outreach, safe houses, and efforts to make trafficking less likely to happen in the first place. An anti-trafficking activist mentioned how there was a real scarcity of safe houses and how it was difficult to find funding for these, so it disgusts me that while people who have a genuine interest in assisting trafficked people are having trouble getting funding, so much is being wasted on making arrests against sex workers, clients (just for being clients even if they aren’t abusive), and trafficked people.
The FBI’s Innocence Lost project runs Operation Cross County, in which the federal government funds local law enforcement agencies and the FBI to set up sting operations in the name of stopping child sex trafficking. Yet, if that’s what these sting operations are mainly about, then why are adult sex workers being incarcerated under these sting operations.
I read an article in the Boston Globe about two sex workers who were arrested by 17 FBI agents in a sting operation at the Mariott though Operation Cross County. I have no idea why it takes 17 FBI agents to arrest two sex workers nor do I get what this has to do with stopping child sex trafficking. I read about how the sex workers were kicking and screaming as they were being arrested, and a hotel guest who witnessed this complained to management. I was traumatized just reading about this, so I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for the sex workers who experienced it. Here’s a link to the article: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/02/21/5_arrested_in_us_sting_at_marriott/ .
Arresting sex workers for prostitution isn’t simply a necessary evil in efforts to stop sex trafficking. It’s a major human rights abuse that must end. It’s a horrible violation of our right to our bodies that anybody is being arrested for engaging in consensual sexual behaviors, and if they’re not consenting, then why are they being arrested and treated like criminals. I don’t agree with criminalizing children for prostitution on either. On the one hand, they’re widely perceived as victims, but on the other hand, they’re being arrested like criminals or suspected criminals under anti-prostitution laws. This must change. If prostitution were decriminalized, then these children would no longer be criminalized for prostitution. However, it would still be illegal for adults to have sex with children in prostitution under laws prohibiting sex with underage people.
Not surprisingly, the director of the Innocence Lost project mentioned nothing about how sex workers are being arrested under this program.
Did anybody see this segment of the Dr. Oz show about child sex trafficking? If so, what did you think?