By: Olivia Hartjen
Prostitution, and the widely-encompassing commercial sex industry, has been a staple of all societies for centuries. Although the typical narrative regarding prostitution is one of moral
abhorrence and criminalization, prostitution’s spotlight has been recast with the acknowledgment and advocacy against related conduct: sex trafficking. Traffickers earn about $150 million annually from trafficking operations, $99 million of which is accounted for by sex trafficking. Although the United States officially criminalized trafficking in 2000, those engaged in prostitution, whether voluntarily or via trafficking, continue to be criminalized and further victimized through legal schemes perpetuated by the federal and state governments. Various other countries—including the Netherlands and Sweden—operate very different legal systems, ranging from complete decriminalization to making only the purchase, not the sale, of sex illegal. Although every legal scheme champions different goals and values, protecting individual freedoms and targeting exploiters, no system perfectly, or even effectively, protects sex trafficking victims.
This Note proposes state-level legislative measures designed to promote victim identification and victim safety, as well as to decrease exploitation in the commercial sex industry. These policy proposals include sex purchase laws prohibiting the purchase of
sex instead of the sale of sex, stricter penalties for pimps and sex buyers, increased funding for victims’ services and law enforcement education, and the criminalization of extraterritorial commercial sex with adults at the federal level.