My Turn: Collision course – prostitution, sex trafficking and our kids

For the Monitor
Published: 2/23/2019 12:15:00 AM

On Feb. 7, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted, 12-7, to retain House Bill 201-FN, which proposed enhanced penalties for sex buyers exploiting trafficked children. This means the bill will not go to the House floor in 2019, so the committee has kicked this can down the road to 2020.

The question is, why? You would think strengthening penalties for those who sexually abuse children was a no-brainer, but 12 New Hampshire House members, 11 of them Democrats, evidently didn’t agree. All votes against retaining the bill, or in favor of moving the bill forward, were Republicans.

And that’s not the whole story. The committee had some encouragement in making this decision courtesy of an out-of-state group, Decriminalize Sex Work, aided by hired lobbyist and former Republican Senate majority leader Bob Clegg. Clegg, on behalf of his client, lobbied energetically to amend the bill to include a study of adult prostitution with an eye to decriminalize prostitution altogether. (Note: Although both are dangerous measures, decriminalization and legalization of prostitution are not the same thing. Decriminalization removes all laws and prohibits intervention or oversight by governmental or law enforcement agencies. Legalization would involve legislation governing the sex trade as in Nevada.)

Proponents of decriminalization or legalization like to paint prostitution as a victimless profession that is little more than a simple transaction between consenting adults, neatly separating children and other victims of sex trafficking from honest brokers and the prostitutes who are happy to work for them. The facts point to a much more insidious reality – a tangled and dangerous intersection of prostitution and sex trafficking of vulnerable children and adults. While the pornography and prostitution brokers would have you believe differently, the statistics tell a different story.

■According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, child sex trafficking has been reported in every U.S. state (including New Hampshire), and one in seven child runaways were likely victims of child sex trafficking.

■A 2012 report from Shared Hope International stated that experts estimated at least 100,000 children in the United States are exploited through prostitution and that the U.S. sex trafficking industry alone was estimated to be generating nearly $10 billion in profit for the traffickers.

■The Department of Justice reported that 40 percent of their human trafficking cases over a two-plus year period involved children with an average age of between 12 and 14, with some as young as nine.

■Under federal sex-trade law, minors are defined as “victims” not “child prostitutes,” yet they’re often treated as prostitutes.

So, you might ask, why punish the customer? In fact, our country has a long history of trying to separate the innocent “john” from the guilty industry. Consider the ample evidence that purchasers of sex don’t stop there. In one cited study, more than 50 percent of women reported violence from their buyers, including stabbing, rape, gang rape, choking, beating, degrading sexual acts and torture.

Melissa Farley, an American clinical psychologist, has conducted extensive research in the attitudes of sex buyers, including interviewing hundreds in five countries (U.S., U.K., India, Cambodia and Scotland). She writes: “Normative sex buyer behavior includes a refusal to see one’s own participation in harmful activities such as dehumanizing a woman, humiliating her, verbally and physically sexually harassing her, and paying her money to coerce her to perform sex acts that she otherwise would not. Objectification and commodification are at the root of the violence in prostitution. Sex buyers don’t acknowledge the humanity of the women they use for sex. Once a person is turned into an object, exploitation and abuse seem almost reasonable.”

When you are in the business of satisfying the sexual (and objectifying) appetites of consumers, where do you draw the line? Certainly, it has to start with society’s most innocent – victimized children. Why would a pro-prostitution organization try to derail enhanced penalties for sex-trafficked children by attempting to co-opt an honest effort to further protect our children from exploitation to advance their own agenda? Pure profit.

And, make no mistake, it is about the money. Legalization or decriminalization isn’t about giving women, children, or men a self-empowering path to independence. We only need look to the Netherlands and Germany after their legalization of prostitution – as of 2016, 80 percent of German and Dutch prostitution was under the control of criminal mafias and prostitutes were no safer. It’s the nature of the “business” and its customers.

Why would we do less than our utmost to protect our children, the most vulnerable in our society, from sexual exploitation and abuse? Evidently, some of our N.H. lawmakers have erred on the side of the victimizer and the industry that makes it possible. The pro-prostitution voices have spoken. Who will speak for the children?

(Shannon McGinley is the executive director of Cornerstone Action – New Hampshire.)

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