Bill to Address Connection Between Prostitution and Human Trafficking

Representative Randy Hultgren, an Illinois Republican in his second term in Congress, has introduced legislation designed to combat sex trafficking by putting diplomatic pressure on countries with legal prostitution. The bill would make countries’ policies on prostitution a factor in their access to foreign aid money from the U.S. — and it could affect American relationships with countries where prostitution is legal.

Hultgren’s case for that change is based on the premise that legal prostitution fosters human trafficking. And he’s not alone in making that argument. Mark Lagon, former ambassador-at-large on the human trafficking issue at the State Department, argues that prostitution and sex trafficking go hand-in-hand, and that countries with legal prostitution see an uptick in trafficking. “The men who buy sex are part of the problem,” Lagon said. “My view is that you can’t address that unless it’s illegal for them to buy sex. Subtle people, whether it’s me or the current ambassador, feel that prostitution is the enabling environment for sex trafficking.” Legal brothels often provide cover for trafficking, he argues, and legal prostitution makes it harder for countries to prosecute johns who pay to have sex with trafficked persons.

Under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the State Department considers 11 factors when determining whether foreign governments are making “serious and sustained efforts to eliminate severe forms of trafficking in persons.” Based on these factors, countries are rated and placed in one of three tiers — Tier 1 being the best and Tier 3 the worst. Countries in Tier 3 can face certain sanctions and can lose nonhumanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance because of that status. The U.S. government can also oppose their access to assistance from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, or other international financial institutions.  Hultgren’s bill would make the State Department take a country’s prostitution laws into consideration when determining which tier it belongs in.

The congressman has enlisted Exodus Cry, an anti-sex trafficking organization, in his efforts. In May, he hosted a presentation for members of Congress and their staff that featured Laila Mickelwait, a representative from the group. She argued that there is a correlation between demand for prostitution and sex trafficking and said she was “looking forward with anticipation to the important effect his forthcoming legislation will have in the realm of reducing the demand for commercial sex, which in turn will significantly help prevent the horrific injustice of sexual slavery from continuing.”

Learn more at Betsy Woodruff’s Washington Examiner article: Bill angles to address sex trafficking’s relationship to prostitution.

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