By Terri Galvan, adjunct faculty at American Public University System
Can the words “patronize” and “solicit” make a difference in the fight against sex-trafficking? The current sponsors of HR 2805 think so.
As it stands, a person must recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide, obtain or maintain another human being to meet the definition of a sex-trafficker. By amending the federal criminal code and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 to include “patronizing or soliciting”, the activities that are considered sex-trafficking are broadened to include those that purchase sex from minors.
Is someone who patronizes a child a sex-trafficker?
Is someone who solicits a minor responsible for the sale of that child?
Because this supply chain begins with the customer, the answer is an easy yes.
Victims of commercial sexual exploitation face unimaginable physical, mental, and emotional harms. For example, more than 70 percent of prostituted women have been raped, rates of infectious disease are up to 60 times higher for victims, and the homicide rate for women actively engaged in prostitution is higher than any other set of women.
Victims become entangled in this lifestyle because sex traffickers manipulate, violate, and harm them in order to have a supply of people they can sell for sex. The end user, or the buyer who solicits and patronizes, sets the entire system in motion. As with all commercial endeavors, supply simply follows demand.
In order to fuel this system, traffickers look to some of the most vulnerable in our communities, youth that can be exploited, usually because of a combination of factors that include poverty, sexual identity issues, and disabilities. Being a runaway and those with prior sexual abuse are at particular risk.
Studies show that minors that were sexually abused are 28 times more likely to be arrested for prostitution at some point in their lives than those without a history of abuse. In many cases, this arrest comes after they become adults. As children, they were not protected from abuse in their home and, later, they were not protected when sold as a commodity on the streets, in brothels, and over the Internet.
We know that on average, youth are first exploited through prostitution by their 14th birthday. By the time they reach adulthood, this broken system leaves them with an increase in contracting HIV, STD’s, PTSD, depressive and anxiety disorders, and substance abuse problems.
When viewed from this perspective, every person involved in the chain of events that results in the commercial exploitation of children is a sex-trafficker. This includes the person who recruits and the person who patronizes, in equal measure.
We will not end sex-trafficking by rescuing survivors and arresting pimps, because this leaves demand untouched. Before long, a new supplier will fill the void. Because sex-trafficking is a joint venture between a supplier and a customer to victimize some of the most vulnerable members of our community, both should be held accountable.
If adding the words “patronize” and “solicit” to legislation helps law enforcement do their jobs better while holding buyers accountable for their true role in the world of sex-trafficking, then they are two words that can make a world of difference.
About the Author: Terri Galvan is an adjunct instructor at American Public University System, teaching courses in government and public policy. She has worked extensively in the non-profit sector improving housing outcomes for chronically homeless women. In addition to teaching, she currently serves as the Executive Director of Community Against Sexual Harm (CASH), a non-profit organization in Sacramento, Calif. that works with victims of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Terri received her Master of Public Policy degree from the University of Southern California, specializing in urban and social policy. Her graduate research focused on developing community capacity in impoverished neighborhoods.