The justices ruled that the legislation, which withheld funds from organizations that did not explicitly oppose prostitution, violated free speech. This pledge banned US funding to any organization that was deemed a supporter of prostitution, even in places where sex trafficking flourishes most. Organizations who needed US funding, such as La Strada, must specifically state they are against prostitution by signing a promise to the US. If they didn’t they were ineligible for any funds. USAID staff in Ukraine vocalized this frustration, as La Strada had been recognized as one of the best and most effective anti-trafficking NGOs in the region. But directives came from thousands of miles away in Washington, a place that would never see the women who their policy was hurting.

NGOs like La Strada had their hands tied by this policy. Organizations that work on anti-trafficking at times have interaction with sex workers and the policy forced them to come out as “anti-prostitute”, which can be very detrimental and alienating stance to take. Many of these organizations had no interest in trying to legalize prostitution; they just didn’t want to actively take a stance against the people in prostitution. What is ironic about this policy is that it did nothing to eradicate the circumstances that allow prostitution and sex trafficking to flourish. If anything, it only led to preventative services being cut, services such as English classes and job training which are critical for helping poor women gain employment. NGOs like La Strada had to make already meager funds stretch even further, forcing them to choose which services and programs to keep.

When talking about the best way to fight trafficking, the debate about legalizing prostitution inevitably comes up. But prostitution itself is not necessarily the main problem. The problem is that women and children around the globe are being forced, coerced, and exploited for sex no matter how willing they may seem. Taking away critical funding because an organization refuses to parrot back US foreign policy in no way helps those being abused. It does not prevent young girls from being sold into the sex industry, nor does it increase the resources that would prevent her from being there in the first place. The Supreme Court took a crucial step in standing up for those being exploited, and for those working to end the exploitation. Let’s hope this trend continues and it is people, not ideology, who always come first.

Porter is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, and has worked on anti-trafficking initiatives for the past several years in New York and abroad.