The issue of law enforcement and sex trafficking is complex and bears much consideration. Outwardly, the relationship seems simple: Police enforce the laws. Invariably, the victim comes under scrutiny in a sex crime and in some cases is blamed.
For many it seems troubling. After all, do we blame the store clerk for the armed robbery? He or she is never deemed complicit in the crime. Do we blame the home owner who forgot to lock a window and gave a burglar easy entry into his house? Was this really an invitation to all would-be-thieves to come into his house and help themselves to his valuables? Of course not.
Why, then do we assign blame to sex crime victims? Child sex trafficking differs from the “average” sex crime because it’s a sex crime that is demand-driven.
These complexities bring us to two fundamental questions: What perceptions does society have that influence enforcing laws that combat demand and how can society influence law enforcement’s prosecutorial priorities?
Let’s take the first question and examine the perceptions that society currently holds that influence the enforcement against demand. Let’s consider “demand” the desire and willingness of men and women to purchase human beings for sexual experiences. The commonly used false adage that prostitution is “the oldest profession in the world” lends credibility to sexual transactions and makes prostitution seem like a valid career choice. Many argue that a woman has the right to sell her body despite illegality in all but one state. Media influence suggests that we are all sexual beings, “sex sells”, and “nothing is wrong with a little porn.”
All of these societal perceptions place road blocks in the way of law enforcement when we try to enforce the laws that criminalize deviant and abusive sexual experiences. No gender, race, socioeconomic status, zip code, or profession is immune from this desire to purchase another person for sex. Sexual deviance knows no boundaries.
Historically, law enforcement focus was on the arrest of prostitutes, to a lesser extent pimps, and to an even lesser extent, the purchasers. It begs the question: Would there be a supply if there wasn’t a demand?
The concept of supply and demand is at the core of all economic principles. In any free market society, demand always drives supply and the price associated with any goods or services relates to the amount of supply in the marketplace. In other words, as demand increases, so too does supply. The supply of children is a reusable, resalable commodity and people are not illegal in and of themselves to possess. For a person with criminal intent, buying sex with a child is a low risk, high reward proposition. It doesn’t take a degree in economics to understand that.
It is undeniable that there is demand for sex with children. A quick glance at any state’s sex offender registry reveals that there is a great demand for children; the number of offenders that are registered as sex offenders for sex offenses against children is astonishing. The number of images of children forced into the commercial sexual industry is equally staggering. Has this always been the case or is something driving that increase in demand? The internet has certainly contributed to the anonymous distribution of pornographic images of children. Experts assert that child pornography increases the desire for children by individuals who are sexually attracted to kids. Permissive societal attitudes toward deviant sexuality allows demand to thrive.
Finally, how can society influence law enforcement’s prosecutorial priorities? More than twenty years ago, society changed its perceptions of what constituted domestic violence. Society is now undergoing a paradigm shift on the issue of human trafficking as well, yet because prostitution and child sex trafficking are increasingly electronic crimes, they have disappeared from the public reality. The crime is no longer visible to the eye as you drive up and down the street in the seedier parts of town. The “track” in any given city can now be found in the new 21st century geography–the internet. There is no longer a call from the community to “clean up” that bad part of town. That part of your community may still appear run down and dirty, but there are no longer scores of women and men trolling for a “date” where everybody can see them. And everybody could see the men who drive that track looking for a “date.” So, if there is no call to law enforcement to take action, no action is taken. Certainly, if members of the community saw children walking up and down the “track” police departments would be flooded with calls for action.
Bottom line: In order for criminalization of the purchasing of sex with children to become a priority for law enforcement, there must be a call to action, an outrage, a community swell, an overwhelming public opinion that the sale of human beings is a bad thing for everybody involved. Whether the good members of a community can see it or not, it’s happening right beneath their noses. And no one is immune.