Do senators and representatives even know what they just voted for on Thursday when they passed a piece of legislation? The bill included an amendment with egregious problems. The two worst ones are draconian cuts to the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP Office) and the endorsement of the decriminalization of prostitution for minors.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) attached his version of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2013 as Senate Amendment 21 (SA 21) to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 2013 (S. 47). Sen. Leahy originally introduced a version of this bill in the 112th Congress where it came up against opposition and died. Evidently aware that it could not stand on its own in the 113th Congress, Sen. Leahy added it to the Violenece Against Women Act (VAWA) and managed to sneak it past both the Senate and the House.
The once vaunted TIP Office is now on its way to becoming nothing more than white noise. In 2000, the first Trafficking Victims Protection Act created the TIP Office. From the beginning, this tiny part of the huge U.S. State Department bureaucracy was the target of bureaus and desks. Some of us worked hard to get an effective head of the office who could handle the in-fighting, work with international leaders and be given a title that would give him gravitas. Ambassador-at-Large John Miller fought hard to protect the office from attempts to dilute its authority and its mission to hold countries accountable in their efforts to end human trafficking through prosecutions and victim protections. Under Ambassador Miller, the U.S. became the world leader in ending modern-day slavery.
Leahy’s SA 21 amendment hands the regional bureaus of the State Department the means to undermine the significance of the annual Trafficking in Persons report prepared by the TIP Office. Instead of making the recommendations of the bureaus a part of the TIP Report, SA 21 establishes a new report wherein “each regional bureau shall submit a list of anti-trafficking goals and objectives for each country in its geographic area of responsibility.” The TIP Office was established to be the central location to direct the United States government’s anti-trafficking efforts. By dividing that authority, real leadership will be impossible.
Not satisfied with diluting the TIP Office authority, Leahy’s SA 21 slashes the TIP Office funding by more than 70 percent from $7 million to $2 million. This will make it impossible for the TIP Office to fulfill its statutory mandate as the agency responsible for leading and coordinating the Federal government’s anti-trafficking efforts. Without a strong TIP Office, the TVPA will never be faithfully implemented and trafficking issue decisions will inevitably be subordinated to such traditional agency concerns as maintaining good relations with foreign governments. It begs the question did the current head of the TIP Office, Ambassador-at-Large Lou CDeBaca, try to stop these changes to the funding and authority of the office currently his responsibility? Certainly those of us who raised the alarm met shocked staffers who had not previously heard there were problems regarding the amendment.
On the domestic side of the legislation, senators and representatives voted to endorse the decriminalization of prostitution for minors in the United States. Did they do this because there are many, many minors being arrested for prostitution? According to the latest Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reports, there were only 763 arrests of minors in the United States for “prostitution and commercialized vice” crimes in 2011.
SA 21 contains a provision to change the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Model State Criminal Provisions on Pimping, Pandering, and Prostitution, which is model legislation the DOJ promotes to the states. The change would, in effect, decriminalize prostitution for minors, meaning the DOJ will encourage states to prohibit the charging or prosecution of a minor for engaging in or attempting to engage in prostitution.
While this sounds like a compassionate thing to do, it may actually lead to an increase in the number of minors in prostitution. As the number of arrests shows, police are not arresting great numbers of minors. However, gangs are using prostitution to make money. According to an affidavit of a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent submitted in a case in the Eastern District of Virginia, “The FBI has received information that a number of Crips sets throughout the United States are engaging in sex trafficking as a means of making money.”
The National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) reports: “Prostitution is also a major source of income for many gangs. Gang members often operate as pimps, luring or forcing at-risk, young females into prostitution and controlling them through violence and psychological abuse. Asian gangs, Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples, MS-13, Sureños, Vice Lords, and members of OMGs are involved in prostitution operations, according to FBI, NGIC, and multiple law enforcement reporting.”
While pimping would still be illegal if states decriminalize prostitution for minors, imagine what a great recruiting tool it will be for gangs to tell minors they don’t have anything to fear, it’s legal. Of course, they might not even need a recruiting tool other than telling minors they can make money by having sex. In the FBI agent’s affidavit, he mentions a 16-year-old girl who was approached by a pimp who told her “she could make a lot of money by having sex with men for money” and the victim said “she was interested.” By the time the girl decided she no longer wanted to do this she said the pimp “choked her and threatened her with additional violence.”
Imagine what will happen to minors who think that prostituting is a good way to make money and besides, it’s legal. How many of them will join up with a gang or a pimp to sell their bodies and then facing the horrific reality of the decision realize they are trapped. Many will see their pimps as their boyfriend and will not self-identify as a victim of sex trafficking. When law enforcement does not have the power to arrest and through that arrest get the minor into a rehabilitation program, minors may remain trapped. When the judicial system no longer has the authority to keep victims in rehabilitation programs through an arrest charge, the victims will be able to walk away from a shelter anytime they choose. Most will walk right back into the arms of their pimps.
The FBI agent’s affidavit provides an example of what law enforcement officers will face if prostitution is decriminalized for minors in their state. Here is an excerpt:
18. M.W. is 17 years old. M.W. appears to work both as a prostitute for STROM and in recruiting other juveniles for sex trafficking by STROM.
19. On November 17, 2011, M.W. told a school staff member that she was hanging out with a man named “Jae” who is a pimp. M.W. stated that “Jae” gives her money for sexual favors that she provides to other people. She was not sure what to do.
20. The following day, investigators spoke with M.W. She told investigators that she does not need help, was not in danger, and is living the life she chose.
Sen. Leahy could have chosen to add provisions to the bill to expunge the records of victims who were arrested for prostitution or allowed for charges to be dropped after the successful completion of treatment or rehabilitation programs but instead he chose decriminalization.
So, did the 95 senators and the 286 representatives who voted for Senate Amendment 21 know for what they were voting? So much for caring about children; so much for working for girls’ and women’s rights.
Janice Shaw Crouse and Brenda Zurita are modern-day abolitionists for Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute, working at the forefront of American policy efforts to end sex trafficking and other forms of modern day slavery in the U.S. and around the world.