by Sally Colton
Phoenix police arrested seven women and two men in connection with a prostitution ring last week. The ring focused on recruiting illegal immigrants as young as 19, and transporting them throughout the Valley using taxi drivers. This recent investigation and arrest brings up the question as to whether these women were illegally practicing prostitution as a result of their own choice, or if they were being forced into it by human sex traffickers.
Human sex trafficking is one of the fastest growing illegal industries in the world, bringing in 7 billion dollars annually. As this problem continues to grow, the United Nations is scrambling to find a functional solution to hinder this recent wave in criminal activity.
The UN’s latest consideration is to follow the lead of countries that have legalized prostitution and allow women the right to sell their bodies for sex. The rationale behind this is that if women are allowed to legally practice prostitution, they will be less vulnerable to human traffickers who will take advantage and abuse them. The problem with this, however, is that legalizing prostitution doesn’t necessarily mean that more women will want to become prostitutes. In fact, what most likely occurs is that the demand for prostitutes will increase because “johns,” a name used for consumers of prostitution, won’t have as many legal road blocks to access the services they want.
Studies have shown that countries that have legalized prostitution have not been able to get a handle on the growth of illegal trafficking. For example, the Netherlands, a country well-known for its legalization of prostitution, continues to struggle with human traffickers smuggling women from outside the country into brothels within. A study from 1999 showed that nearly 80% of the women in brothels in the Netherlands had been trafficked from around the world. Similarly in Australia, the police have found it difficult to enforce the rights of legal brothels as compared to the illegal brothels. Studies on the state of Victoria have shown there are anywhere between 70 and 400 illegal brothels currently open for business. These illegal brothels don’t have to live up to the expectations of the legal brothels, including having to ensure that human trafficking victims aren’t being forced into employment. The lesson to be learned from this is that legalizing prostitution only encourages an increased demand of prostitution services, but does not increase the supply. This just further encourages illegal trafficking practices.
Instead of legalizing prostitution, one solution to the human trafficking problem might be to penalize the johns that actually necessitate the services. Sweden has taken a strong approach in this regard, claiming that the johns requiring a variety of sexual partners create the incentive for human traffickers to “stock” a large supply of prostitutes, and the best way to solve the human trafficking issue is to cut off financial resources provided by consumers. This approach seems to make sense, considering that human traffickers wouldn’t be in the business of trafficking if they couldn’t get paid for it.
The answer to suppress human sex trafficking is not to promote the degradation of women by saying that prostitution is okay; nor is the answer to make the world’s stance on sexual slavery muddied and unclear. The only way we’re going to be able to stop traffickers is by squashing laws that legalize prostitution and promote global laws that enforce the rights of women to equality.