Anti-trafficking laws have made great progress
© Getty Images

The headlines are enough to make a sane person crazy: Washington is broken, Congress is hopelessly deadlocked, and many legislators are more interested in retweets than governance. Thankfully, this isn’t the case when it comes to domestic sex trafficking. Members of Congress have moved forward serious anti-trafficking legislation in an open, collaborative manner; and are writing smarter laws that address the problem at its roots.

Previous efforts to curb sex trafficking mainly provided funding for victim services, sharpened penalties for traffickers, and documented problems in other countries. While that work is important and must continue, an increasing number of Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate have had the “ah-ha moment” of realizing that traditional policy approaches largely ignore the source of the problem: men who callously buy sex from vulnerable women and youth.

ADVERTISEMENT
In a recent survey of more than 8,000 U.S. adult men, 6 percent said they paid for sex within the last year. High frequency buyers, who purchase sex dozens of times each year, are responsible for three of every four transactions in the illegal sex trade. This small group of men fuels the demand that drives the supply  of prostituted persons, which includes trafficking victims.

 

While support for victims is necessary, it is not enough. We must work with law enforcement to avoid penalizing and traumatizing those being exploited, deter men from buying, reduce rates of re-offending, and reserve significant penalties for dangerous and repeat offenders.

Multiple bipartisan bills currently weaving through both chambers are advancing these criminal justice approaches to hold buyers accountable for the harm they cause. One example is The Empowering Law Enforcement to Fight Sex Trafficking Demand Act, which supports law enforcement through access to funding for buyer sting operations. Another is a marquee piece of anti-trafficking legislation, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which is poised for reauthorization this year with new provisions to help scale back the demand that causes victimization.

Nowadays it’s easy to claim that Congress is out-of-touch, but current activity on Capitol Hill shows that members increasingly see sex trafficking and forced prostitution for what it is: victimization and trauma caused by men who believe their money and status entitles them to sexual access.

Senators and Representatives with vastly different political ideals have recognized that the best solution is to hold buyers accountable, so the need for victim services will decrease over time, and sexual exploitation will no longer operate as a vibrant market.

Alex Trouteaud, Ph.D., is Director of Policy and Research for Demand Abolition, an organization that fights to combat the illegal commercial sex industry in the U.S. — and, by extension, the world. 


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.