In the fight against sex trafficking, one of the things we focus on at Shared Hope is the importance of ending demand. While it’s absolutely true that victim services, rescue and restoration, and prosecution of traffickers are vitally important, it’s equally important that the buyers be held accountable. If there is no demand, there is no industry. And so, ending demand is a consistent part of our message.
Last week, we received exciting news related to the issue of demand! It involves two men who, on separate occasions, attempted to purchase sex with minor girls. Both were arrested and charged with sex trafficking under the federal criminal laws, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591 and 1594.
Rather than deny their heinous action, both men argued that they were not traffickers, but merely “consumers” or “purchasers,” and therefore should be acquitted of the charges of sex trafficking. Despite their arguments, juries in both cases found them guilty as charged. The court, however, read the statute differently and agreed with the defendants that the law was not meant to apply to the actions of buyers.
The Justice Department appealed these decisions, convinced that the sex trafficking law was intended to include the actions of buyers of sex acts with adults who were caused to engage in prostitution through force, fraud or coercion, or minors without proof of force, fraud or coercion. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals released its opinion on January 7. The opinion is 20 pages long, but it can be summed up in this one sentence:
“Notwithstanding the defendants’ argument to the contrary, the… definition of ‘sex trafficking’… readily includes the actions of a purchaser whose sole purpose is obtaining a child for sex.”
In non-legal language, it simply means that the laws regarding domestic minor sex trafficking not only apply to those who sell, but also those who try to (and do) buy sex acts with minors.
Here are some other important statements made in the 8th Circuit Court decision:
– “The meaning of the terms Congress selected in drafting [the sex trafficking law] are broad enough to encompass the actions of both suppliers and purchasers of commercial sex acts.”
– “It is far from absurd to conclude Congress intended [the sex trafficking law] to apply to purchasers…”
– “The term ‘trafficking’ does not inherently exempt purchasers.”
Now that the 8th Circuit has established this precedent, prosecutors have another tool to punish buyers and seek justice for the victims of sex trafficking. This has the potential to be a game changer in the fight against sex trafficking, bringing the spotlight squarely on demand where advocates have tirelessly worked to put it. Over time, as potential buyers realize they could face serious consequences for their actions, demand could cease or be so dramatically reduced that the commercial sex industry is no longer profitable. If a pimp can’t make money exploiting women and girls, he has no reason to exploit them.
Next steps will require the continued support of the Department of Justice to the federal prosecutors willing to take on these difficult cases, to build a solid body of case law demonstrating the seriousness of the Department, and our society, to end demand.