A coalition of civil liberties, publishing, and online commerce groups are asking Congress to oppose a piece of anti-speech, anti-sex work legislation known as as the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act.
The bill is supposedly aimed at thwarting human trafficking but in reality would create harsh new criminal liabilities for websites and publishers, allow federal agents to censor online ads, make it harder for adult sex workers of all sorts to safely
connect with customers, drive traffickers further underground, and potentially expose anyone advertising online to new privacy infringements.
In a November 12 letter to the U.S. Senate, nine organizations--including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Internet Commerce Coalition , the Electronic Frontier Foundation , the Association of Alternative News Media, and the National Coalition
Against Censorship--wrote to convey strong opposition to the SAVE Act.
The SAVE Act would do several things:
create extensive record-keeping requirements for any website, online services, and print publication that hosts adult advertisements,
require anyone posting an adult ad to submit photo identification,
enable the Department of Justice (DOJ) to ban certain euphemisms or code words from online advertising entirely, and
make websites that host user-generated ads criminally liable should any of those ads wind up promoting the sexual exploitation or abuse of a minor. Under the law, the operator of a website such as Craigslist that hosts thousands of new user-uploaded ads
daily could could face up to 10 years prison if any one of these is eventually linked to child sex trafficking.
The act would mean that websites and services hosting user-generated content could be held criminally liable even if they do not have actual knowledge that an ad for illegal activity appears on their sites.
Consequently, virtually any user-generated content host--like Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Amazon or various online dating sites--will have every incentive to prohibit content that falls under the bill's broad definition of adult advertisements, which
includes communications that are wholly or only partially devoted to proposing lawful commercial exchange for lawful services--in other words, speech that is unquestionably protected by the First Amendment. At best, user-generated content sites will
default to taking down content that is flagged as an adult advertisement as soon as a complaint is lodged, regardless of whether the content appears to be related to child trafficking or state child exploitation crimes, or even fits the bill's
definition of adult advertisement at all.
In addition, any website, online service, or print publication that hosts any content falling under the bill's definition as an adult advertisement would be required to obtain photo identification from anyone posting the content.
Rather than risk inadvertantly hosting an illegal ad without having obtained the proper identification, many sites would simply start requiring a government-issued photo ID in order to post all ads.
And perhaps most egregiously of all, the SAVE Act would empower the DOJ to ban the use of certain words in all online advertising. If the agency determined that something was a potential euphemism or code word for trafficking, web operators,
publishers, and digital ad networks would be forced to censor ads containing these words or phrases.
Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York city has revised laws such that police can no longer use condom possession as proof of prostitution.
It has taken New York State almost 20 years in the Legislature, and the last year in the Assembly to finally change New York police officers' practices of detaining women carrying multiple condoms (4+, usually) on charges of prostitution.
For years it was standard for law enforcement to use possession of multiple condoms (which is totally legal in and of itself) as evidence to justify arresting and questioning women they believe to be involved in prostitution or sex trafficking. In
many cases, police officers confiscate and dispose of safer sex supplies carried by sex workers and other women found to be carrying multiple condoms.
The Department of Health in New York conducted a survey of 60 sex workers and found out that more than half have had condoms confiscated from police officers and around one third admitted that they avoided carrying condoms due to fears of being targeted
Brooklyn, Manhattan and Long Island have stopped using condoms as evidence in prostitution cases as of May 14, 2014. As part of a campaign to prevent HIV/AIDS and other STIs, NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced
the new policy of not confiscating condoms in cases involving prostitution, prostitution in a school zone and loitering for the purpose of prostitution. A policy that actually inhibits people from safe sex is a mistake and is dangerous, said Mayor
If passed, bill H.R.4703 will amend the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 to demand that the State Department take a country's prostitution laws into consideration when determining its rankings in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report.
Placement in the lowest tier of the Trafficking in Persons Report can trigger sanctions including the reduction or loss of non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance.
GAATW and the Freedom Network believe that this move is not about preventing human trafficking or protecting its victims. Under the guise of addressing trafficking in persons, the amendment instead seeks to include efforts to eradicate prostitution.
Creating such a strong link between prostitution and trafficking in persons is not uncommon but it is mistaken. GAATW has documented the harm done to sex workers, migrants and to people who have been trafficked by anti-trafficking laws, policies,
programmes and initiatives that conflate the two.
There is no evidence that criminalising or otherwise penalising sex workers' clients has reduced either trafficking in persons or sex work. International law on trafficking in persons makes a distinction between prostitution and trafficking. The USA's
international anti-trafficking work too makes this distinction plain, as several countries in the top tier of the State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report -- i.e. those countries who meet the minimum standards for addressing trafficking -- indeed
do not criminalise sex work. If anything, we can look to the 14 years of the Trafficking in Persons Report as the evidentiary link that sex work and trafficking are not connected.
The text of bill H.R.4703 is available here
. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Decriminalizing Indoor Prostitution: Implications for Sexual Violence and Public Health
by Scott Cunningham (Baylor University) and Manisha Shah (UCLA School of Public Affairs; NBER)
July 17, 2014
Most governments in the world including the United States prohibit prostitution. Given these types of laws rarely change and are fairly uniform across regions, our knowledge about the impact of decriminalizing sex work is largely conjectural. We exploit
the fact that a Rhode Island District Court judge unexpectedly decriminalized indoor prostitution in 2003 to provide the first causal estimates of the impact of decriminalization on the composition of the sex market, rape offenses, and sexually
transmitted infection outcomes. Not surprisingly, we find that decriminalization increased the size of the indoor market. However, we also find that decriminalization caused both forcible rape offenses and gonorrhea incidence to decline for the overall
population. Our synthetic control model finds 824 fewer reported rape offenses (31 percent decrease) and 1,035 fewer cases of female gonorrhea (39 percent decrease) from 2004 to 2009.
The inadvertent legalization of prostitution in Rhode Island after legislators tinkered with state laws wasn't made public until 2003, when police in Providence raided two massage parlors under a program they dubbed Operation Rubdown. The
defendant prostitutes hired Michael Kiselica as their attorney, and it was through his legal research that the women were acquitted at trial when the legal status of indoor prostitution came to light--and within two years, that legality was well-known
across the state, if not New England in its entirety. After debating the issue for several years, lawmakers finally revamped the law in 2009 to make indoor prostitution illegal once again.
The decriminalized paid sexual activity turned out to have unexpected benefits, as the researchers found. Shah said during an interview:
A lot of the literature on sex markets has focused on disease transmission because in a lot of places, we worry that sex markets are places where you have the spread of sexually transmitted infections from sex workers to the general adult population So
we said, let's look at gonorrhea [which] is one of these STIs which is really associated with risky heterosexual markets. We were able to get good data from the CDC and one of the first things we find is that post-2003, post-decriminalization of indoor
prostitution, we're finding decreases in gonorrhea incidence among the population of heterosexual men, and that's big finding number one.
There's a lot of data suggesting that indoor sex work is a lot safer than street work, in that people tend to use condoms more, disease prevalence is lower, and one thing we find is that post-2003, women are a lot less likely to engage in anal sex, which
is the riskiest type of sex one can have, and they're much more likely to be using condoms [and] providing oral sex with condoms, so it looks like their behavior is getting safer post-decriminalization. You also have all these new entrants into the
market, and you have this supply increase. A lot of the new entrants tend to be lower risk, so when you change a sexual network, even if more people are having sex, if you're infusing safer people into that network, there's possibilities for disease
incidents to actually decrease.
The researchers also found that reports of rape decreased nearly one-third from pre-legalization figures. While Shah and Cunningham could come to no clear conclusions why sexual violence decreased, they had a couple of theories:
We hypothesize that these sex workers are probably more likely to report rape after indoor sex work has been decriminalized than they were before, Shah noted. There's another hypothesis, that there's these men that might substitute between rape and
prostitution, and we do find a pretty significant correlation between men who both admit to seeing prostitutes and men who admit to raping, and so one potential hypothesis is when these markets grow, with supply increasing and prices decreasing, there
might be some men on the margin where, if 'all of a sudden I can buy sex a lot cheaper than I could buy it before, maybe I'm going to be more likely to go to see a prostitute rather than raping.'
Thanks to Alan
by Kate Mogulescu is the founder and supervising attorney of the Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project
Tens of thousands of people have descended upon the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area this week for tomorrow's Super Bowl, accompanied by the usual media frenzy. A now familiar feature of this coverage, wherever the Super Bowl is held, is
an abundance of stories, from Reuters to CNN, reporting that the event will cause a surge in sex trafficking to capitalize on the influx of fans and tourists.
The problem is that there is no substantiation of these claims. The rhetoric turns out to be just that.
No data actually support the notion that increased sex trafficking accompanies the Super Bowl. The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, a network of nongovernmental organizations, published a report in 2011 examining the record on sex
trafficking related to World Cup soccer games, the Olympics and the Super Bowl. It found that, despite massive media attention, law enforcement measures and efforts by prostitution abolitionist groups, there is no empirical evidence that
trafficking for prostitution increases around large sporting events.
The Super Bowl sex-trafficking hype isn't just unfounded, though --- it is actively harmful because it creates bad policy. In the days leading up to Sunday's game, local law enforcement dedicated tremendous resources to targeting everyone
engaged in prostitution.
This week's Super Bowl-related operation has required officers to be pulled from their regular details to serve on prostitution arrest squads. The New York Police Department said it had made 298 prostitution-related arrests through Jan. 26. In
Manhattan --- a borough that has approximately 300 arrests for prostitution a year --- there have been more than 100 arrests in the past several days. When Midtown Community Court opened on Wednesday morning, 25 women arrested on Tuesday night
were sitting in holding cells waiting to be arraigned after a sting operation at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Midtown.
Remove the guise of preventing human trafficking, and we are left with a cautionary tale of how efforts to clean up the town for a media event rely on criminalizing people, with long-lasting implications for those who are then trapped
in the criminal justice system. If we continue to perpetuate fallacies like the Super Bowl sex-trafficking phenomenon, we will continue to perpetuate the harm caused by prostitution arrests in the name of helping victims.