Dangerous New Trafficking Bill Introduced in the U.S.

Dangerous new legislation that conflates trafficking with sex work, and has the potential to impact diplomatic relations, has been introduced in the United States Congress.

Rep. Randy Hultgren, an Illinois Republican in his first term, has introduced legislation that would amend the Trafficking in Victims Protection Act of 2000 to restrict foreign aid going to countries where prostitution is legal. Hultgren believes that legal prostitution leads to human trafficking.

Hultgren’s bill would force the State Department to take a country’s prostitution laws into consideration when determining which tier it belongs to in the annual Trafficking in Persons report. The TIP report assigns countries a tier according to how well the United States believes they are complying with the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons” (a low tier can result in sanctions). Hultgren told the Washington Examiner that he is meeting with the State Department in the next few weeks to discuss the bill, and his comments reveal that he is a little unclear on the bill’s impact, and vague on its objective:

“I haven’t felt a lot of pushback,” he said, but just some questioning of how will this impact the rankings and things”. “I’m not sure. But I know what we’ve got to do is do everything we can to protect children who are getting pulled into this, women who are getting pulled into this.”

On May 21st, the bill was introduced to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs as H.R.4703. The bill’s full title -- “To amend the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 relating to determinations with respect to efforts of foreign countries to reduce demand for commercial sex acts under the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” -- aligns it to the currently fashionable “end demand” approach taken by many abolitionist organisations. Working to end trafficking, according to the sponsors of this bill, is not enough; the demand for commercial sex must, too, be abolished.

The congressman is associated with Exodus Cry, a faith-based anti-sex trafficking organization, which is publicising his bill at their website and encouraging supporters to back it -- members of Exodus Cry are currently at the World Cup in Brazil, leading prayers and outreach actions based on the debunked notion that large sporting events lead to an increase in trafficking.

At a presentation for Congress members in May, the Washington Examiner reports, Laila Mickelwait, a representative from the group, argued that there is a correlation between demand for prostitution and sex trafficking and said she was "looking forward with anticipation to the important effect his forthcoming legislation will have in the realm of reducing the demand for commercial sex, which in turn will significantly help prevent the horrific injustice of sexual slavery from continuing."

New Jersey Republican, Rep. Chris Smith a co-sponsor of the bill, had this to say:

“If we are going to effectively combat human trafficking, we have to challenge the environment that makes exploitation normal, low-risk and lucrative," said Smith in a statement. "Rep. Hultgren’s bill does that.”

Smith, as Melissa Gira Grant wrote at Salon earlier this year, is responsible for the Anti Prostitution Pledge, a requirement that all recipients of foreign aid explicitly oppose prostitution or lose their funding, which was partially ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States last year. He also, writes Gira Grant, “may be best known for his attempt to codify something called “forcible rape” into an antiabortion law.”