A coalition of civil liberties, publishing, and online commerce groups are asking Congress to oppose a piece of anti-speech, anti-sex work legislation known as as the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act.
The bill is
supposedly aimed at thwarting human trafficking but in reality would create harsh new criminal liabilities for websites and publishers, allow federal agents to censor online ads, make it harder for adult sex workers of all sorts to safely connect with
customers, drive traffickers further underground, and potentially expose anyone advertising online to new privacy infringements.
In a November 12 letter to the U.S. Senate, nine organizations--including the American Civil Liberties Union, the
Internet Commerce Coalition , the Electronic Frontier Foundation , the Association of Alternative News Media, and the National Coalition Against Censorship--wrote to convey strong opposition to the SAVE Act.
The SAVE Act would do several
create extensive record-keeping requirements for any website, online services, and print publication that hosts adult advertisements,
require anyone posting an adult ad to submit photo identification,
enable the Department of
Justice (DOJ) to ban certain euphemisms or code words from online advertising entirely, and
make websites that host user-generated ads criminally liable should any of those ads wind up promoting the sexual exploitation or abuse of
a minor. Under the law, the operator of a website such as Craigslist that hosts thousands of new user-uploaded ads daily could could face up to 10 years prison if any one of these is eventually linked to child sex trafficking.
The act would mean that websites and services hosting user-generated content could be held criminally liable even if they do not have actual knowledge that an ad for illegal activity appears on their sites.
Consequently, virtually any
user-generated content host--like Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Amazon or various online dating sites--will have every incentive to prohibit content that falls under the bill's broad definition of adult advertisements, which includes communications
that are wholly or only partially devoted to proposing lawful commercial exchange for lawful services--in other words, speech that is unquestionably protected by the First Amendment. At best, user-generated content sites will default to taking down
content that is flagged as an adult advertisement as soon as a complaint is lodged, regardless of whether the content appears to be related to child trafficking or state child exploitation crimes, or even fits the bill's definition of adult
advertisement at all.
In addition, any website, online service, or print publication that hosts any content falling under the bill's definition as an adult advertisement would be required to obtain photo identification from anyone
posting the content.
Rather than risk inadvertantly hosting an illegal ad without having obtained the proper identification, many sites would simply start requiring a government-issued photo ID in order to post all ads.
And perhaps most
egregiously of all, the SAVE Act would empower the DOJ to ban the use of certain words in all online advertising. If the agency determined that something was a potential euphemism or code word for trafficking, web operators, publishers, and
digital ad networks would be forced to censor ads containing these words or phrases.
Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York city has revised laws such that police can no longer use condom possession as proof of prostitution.
It has taken New York State almost 20 years in the Legislature, and the last year in the Assembly to finally change
New York police officers' practices of detaining women carrying multiple condoms (4+, usually) on charges of prostitution.
For years it was standard for law enforcement to use possession of multiple condoms (which is totally legal in and of
itself) as evidence to justify arresting and questioning women they believe to be involved in prostitution or sex trafficking. In many cases, police officers confiscate and dispose of safer sex supplies carried by sex workers and other women found
to be carrying multiple condoms.
The Department of Health in New York conducted a survey of 60 sex workers and found out that more than half have had condoms confiscated from police officers and around one third admitted that they avoided carrying
condoms due to fears of being targeted by police.
Brooklyn, Manhattan and Long Island have stopped using condoms as evidence in prostitution cases as of May 14, 2014. As part of a campaign to prevent HIV/AIDS and other STIs, NYPD Police
Commissioner William Bratton and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the new policy of not confiscating condoms in cases involving prostitution, prostitution in a school zone and loitering for the purpose of prostitution. A policy that actually
inhibits people from safe sex is a mistake and is dangerous, said Mayor de Blasio.
If passed, bill H.R.4703 will
amend the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 to demand that the State Department take a country's prostitution laws into consideration when determining its rankings in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report. Placement in the lowest tier of the
Trafficking in Persons Report can trigger sanctions including the reduction or loss of non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance.
GAATW and the Freedom Network believe that this move is not about preventing human
trafficking or protecting its victims. Under the guise of addressing trafficking in persons, the amendment instead seeks to include efforts to eradicate prostitution. Creating such a strong link between prostitution and trafficking in persons is not
uncommon but it is mistaken. GAATW has documented the harm done to sex workers, migrants and to people who have been trafficked by anti-trafficking laws, policies, programmes and initiatives that conflate the two.
There is no
evidence that criminalising or otherwise penalising sex workers' clients has reduced either trafficking in persons or sex work. International law on trafficking in persons makes a distinction between prostitution and trafficking. The USA's international
anti-trafficking work too makes this distinction plain, as several countries in the top tier of the State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report -- i.e. those countries who meet the minimum standards for addressing trafficking -- indeed do not
criminalise sex work. If anything, we can look to the 14 years of the Trafficking in Persons Report as the evidentiary link that sex work and trafficking are not connected.
The text of bill H.R.4703 is available
here . The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Thanks to Alan See
nytimes.com by Kate Mogulescu is the founder and supervising attorney of the Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project
Tens of thousands of people have descended upon the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area this week for tomorrow's Super Bowl, accompanied by the usual media frenzy. A now familiar feature of this coverage, wherever the Super Bowl is held, is an
abundance of stories, from Reuters to CNN, reporting that the event will cause a surge in sex trafficking to capitalize on the influx of fans and tourists.
The problem is that there is no substantiation of these claims. The
rhetoric turns out to be just that.
No data actually support the notion that increased sex trafficking accompanies the Super Bowl. The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, a network of nongovernmental organizations, published
a report in 2011 examining the record on sex trafficking related to World Cup soccer games, the Olympics and the Super Bowl. It found that, despite massive media attention, law enforcement measures and efforts by prostitution abolitionist groups,
there is no empirical evidence that trafficking for prostitution increases around large sporting events.
The Super Bowl sex-trafficking hype isn't just unfounded, though --- it is actively harmful because it creates bad
policy. In the days leading up to Sunday's game, local law enforcement dedicated tremendous resources to targeting everyone engaged in prostitution.
This week's Super Bowl-related operation has required officers to be pulled from
their regular details to serve on prostitution arrest squads. The New York Police Department said it had made 298 prostitution-related arrests through Jan. 26. In Manhattan --- a borough that has approximately 300 arrests for prostitution a year ---
there have been more than 100 arrests in the past several days. When Midtown Community Court opened on Wednesday morning, 25 women arrested on Tuesday night were sitting in holding cells waiting to be arraigned after a sting operation at the Marriott
Marquis hotel in Midtown.
Remove the guise of preventing human trafficking, and we are left with a cautionary tale of how efforts to clean up the town for a media event rely on criminalizing people, with long-lasting
implications for those who are then trapped in the criminal justice system. If we continue to perpetuate fallacies like the Super Bowl sex-trafficking phenomenon, we will continue to perpetuate the harm caused by prostitution arrests in the name of