A bipartisan bill brought forth by Republican Rep. Ted Poe of Texas and Democrat Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York would give judges the legal power to order the publication of names and photographs of those found guilty of buying sex from sex-trafficking victims.
Called the Shame Act of 2017, H.R. 440 simply amends existing child sex-trafficking law to allow the courts to order attorneys general to release to the public names and pictures of those convicted under the code. The basic idea is captured in the name of the act—to add an element of public shaming to the sentence in hopes would-be perpetrators might think twice.
“As a former judge in Texas, I used public punishment to keep criminals from returning to my court room and to discourage others from committing crimes,” Poe said. “I believe this form of public shaming can be successful in combatting human trafficking.”
Poe said the thought of having one’s face plastered on a billboard could go far in halting sex buyers in their tracks.
“Buyers will no longer be able to hide in plain sight under the cloak of anonymity,” he said. “Perhaps the thought of having their face on a billboard will make scoundrels think twice about participating in the modern-day slave trade. It is time to shame these horrible humans out of the business altogether.”
The nonprofit Polaris Project reported that its National Human Trafficking Hotline has fielded 14,588 calls regarding cases of sex trafficking inside the United States since 2007. A good number involve children; the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children reported that roughly one in six runaways referred to its organization for aid were likely victims of sex trafficking.
The Ark of Hope for Children said that victims of sex trafficking are often found in duly permitted businesses, like strip clubs, and that it’s important to remember the definition of the crime is broad. According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, severe forms of trafficking in persons include any commercial sex act “induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.”
Globally, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime cited an uptick in the reported number of minors involved in sex trafficking. Between 2012 and 2015, the estimated percentage of children versus adults victimized by traffickers rose by 7 percent, from 20 percent of all victims to 27 percent.
“The economic reality is that human trafficking is driven by profits,” the Ark of Hope for Children reported. “If nobody paid for sex, sex trafficking would not exist.”
And in America, sex trafficking is big business. The Urban Institute, for example, estimated that in 2014 the amount of money funneled through sex-trafficking commerce in Denver, Colorado, nearly reached $40 million, and in Atlanta the amount was $290 million.
“The perpetrators of these heinous crimes often operate in the shadows and are too often not brought to justice,” Maloney said. “This simple bill, the Shame Act, is another important tool for law enforcement and prosecutors as they protect their communities by cracking down on the demand driving this illegal industry.”
This isn’t the first time Poe and Maloney have paired up for legislation benefiting children. Just a few months ago, the two joined to introduce and pass the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which gave police more tools to go after human traffickers and provided funding to help those victimized by sex trafficking. The Shame Act, referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration, is an outgrowth of the JVTA.
This study doesn’t have the soundest methodology for estimating the economy. A more recent study (2016) in San Diego County estimated the 2013 illicit sex trade economy to be $840 million. “We estimate the size of the illicit sex economy in San Diego County in 2013 at $810 million dollars. We reached this number by duplicating and modifying the methods used by the Urban Institute to estimate the size of the underground sex economy in San Diego California in their 2014 study, with two changes. First, we included two industries in our estimate of the cash economy in San Diego that Urban Institute had not – recreation and gambling – industries that intuition might naturally associate with cash spending. In brief, it may be that Dank et al. (2014) considerably underestimated the size of the cash stock in San Diego, which likely biases downward their estimates of the illicit sex economy, as well.”
Editor’s note- Related story:
National Super Bowl Sex Trafficking Sting
In an effort to target and reduce sex trafficking, a national coalition of law enforcement agencies conducted coordinated sting operations that led to 752* arrests, including 723 sex buyers (or “johns”) and 29 pimps or sex traffickers.
In its 13th operation, the National Johns Suppression Initiative (NJSI) ran from Jan. 18 – Feb. 5 (Super Bowl Sunday) and included nearly 30 law enforcement agencies across 15 states. Both the arrest number and the participation level were the highest to-date for Super Bowl operations since the initiative began.
According to interviews of those who self-reported as being involved in prostitution, two-thirds started before they turned 21, 44 percent before they were 18.