Decriminalizing Sex Work May Not Solve Trafficking and Exploitation

Not everyone who becomes a victim of sex trafficking is able to get out. And some advocacy groups are trying to change how people in the adult sex industry are seen in the eyes of the law.

By Rhonda FanningAugust 19, 2015 11:17 am, ,

Last week Amnesty International joined a chorus of other human rights groups, including the United Nations and the World Health Organization, in calling for the decriminalization of sex work.

Joining us in the studio is Angel Daniels, Assistant Professor in the Department of Forensic Psychology at Marymount University. Daniels teaches and studies the psychology of sex work, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, violence and abuse.

On the argument for decriminalization:

Amnesty International is taking the stance that the decriminalization of prostitution would result in the reduction of harms that are faced by the parties involved in prostitution: the person who is selling sex, the person who is buying, and the person who profits from that which we usually call pimps or brothel owners. They hope, and they’re claiming that decriminalization would allow those individuals to operate with less fear of discrimination and abuses they often face unfortunately at that hands of law enforcement.

On the difference between decriminalization and legalization:

Decriminalization is when the state actually takes a stance that they’re essentially going to step out of the involvement of prostitution all together…. They basically pretend it doesn’t exist. So decriminalization does nothing to actually… protect any of the parties involved in prostitution. It just kind of turns away from it all together. Legalization on the other hand is when the state or government takes a legal stance on prostitution and all aspects of it are condoned by the state. The state would actually collect a portion of the profits from it. So some say that with legalization, that a state becomes a pimp.

On whether decriminalization works:

Unfortunately no. The rates of harm that are faced by people in prostitution: violence against prostituted people, illegal trafficking, trafficking of children. All of that seems to remain constant regardless of the decriminalization status. The research actually doesn’t support that it benefits people in prostitution in any way. In fact, it seems to increase the rates of illegal trafficking and child trafficking.

On an approach that does work:

There’s a really great model which seems to be having some great impact called the Nordic Model. It was introduced in 1999. It’s kind of a hybrid approach. They have taken the stance that people involved in prostitution are actually victims of a series of abuses and oppressions and should be treated as such. They also hold that those people who are benefitting or exploiting that victimization should be criminalized. So the buyers or the johns, and the pimps and traffickers are criminalized while the people who are selling the sex… are provided victim services.

On current prostitution laws in Texas:

Current laws in Texas are kind of taking the opposite approach. The current laws heavily penalize the selling of sex itself. Whereas there’s very little penalty exists for the johns and the pimps. However there are several very progressive approaches being taken by Texas law enforcement agencies that more closely resemble the Nordic Model. Essentially they are training law enforcement there for example in Dallas, Corpus Christi and Houston, to use a victim centered approach to prostitution and to offer alternative programming in lieu of arrest for women in prostitution.

If you, or someone you know is a victim of sex trafficking please contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center or your local law enforcement.