In 2011, Massachusetts passed a law to not only protect victims of sex trafficking but to increase penalties for people who pay for sex. But an investigation by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting finds this tough talk has had limited impact. Scores of men have been arrested, but few are convicted or fined.
Groups trying to stop sex trafficking believes society looks differently at men buying sex from women who are selling their bodies.The new anti-trafficking statute, which increased minimum fines up to a$1,000 and five years jail time for individuals who try to purchase sex from minors online. But two years after enactment of the law, prostituted women and girls are still paying a greater price in the courts than their customers. Prostituted women arrested for the first time statistically are still far more likely to spend time in jail than a john charged with a first-time offense.
And it’s not just in Boston, according to Sidharth Kara who lectures on human trafficking at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “One interesting statistic, depending on what state you’re in, is that you’ll see anywhere from 5 to 10 women arrested for breaking a prostitution law for every one male purchaser or john arrested for breaking the same law, purchasing someone or soliciting commercial sex. So there is some asymmetry and bias in the system.”
The culture of leniency towards johns still makes such encounters largely risk free. An examination of 2012 state and federal data shows that prostituted women are arrested twice as much as the men who purchase their services.Relatively mild penalties seem to encourage sex buyers to carry on business as usual.
Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley said, “I personally think anyone participating in this life but especially taking advantage of these very young girls, they should be charged and there should be stiff penalties and consequences, in particular since many of them are married men living pristine suburban existences and if there were stricter penalties and consequences perhaps we can reduce the demand.”
Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, frustrated with the status quom said, “I think we need to cut off the demand. We need to prosecute johns for taking advantage of prostituted women. If we begin to do that in a meaningful way in society as they’re doing in other societies. We might be able to end human trafficking.”
Learn more at Phillip Martin’s WBGH article: Prostituted Women In Mass. Pay Greater Price Than ‘Johns’.