I have written several articles over the years about efforts to grant prostitutes immunity from prosecution while simultaneously doubling-down on the penalties for pimps and johns.
From Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio)'s press release last week:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), founding Co-Chair of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) today introduced bipartisan legislation, the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act, which would help human trafficking victims by clearing any federal convictions for nonviolent crimes from criminal records.
Human trafficking is a modern day form of slavery affecting millions in the United States and abroad. This crime involves either the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit a person for labor or commercial sex, or the exploitation of a minor for commercial sex. As a result of being trafficked, victims are commonly charged with crimes such as conspiracy, money laundering, drug trafficking, and related offenses that then follow them for the rest of their lives. These charges make it difficult for human trafficking victims to find jobs and housing, leaving them vulnerable to being exploited and trafficked again.
“Trafficking victims are not criminals and they are not prostitutes. They are rape victims,” said Senator Portman. “I’ve met with a number of brave trafficking survivors in Ohio who have told me that after they were forced into sex, they were charged with prostitution. This just makes no sense and it hurts them at a time when they are recovering from the unimaginable trauma of being trafficked and sexually abused. It’s time to stop punishing these victims and instead help them get their lives back.”
“Under current law, when a human trafficking victim is forced into slavery, in many cases, they are tagged with a multitude of criminal charges, even though they have absolutely no freedom to say no to their captors,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “Congress has a responsibility to end these injustices, and our bipartisan bill would vacate the criminal convictions of trafficking victims who were forced to break the law while they were trafficked. We all have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable Americans, and I will continue to urge all of my colleagues to support this bill.”
NOTE: The Trafficking Survivors Relief Act would clear from criminal records any federal convictions for nonviolent crimes committed as a result of being trafficked. It would require victims to provide supporting documentation in order to get their non-violent criminal records vacated.
Sounds like a good law, right? From the text of the legislation*:
“Sec. 2.(b)(1)(A) CONVICTIONS OF COVERED OFFENSES.—A person convicted of any covered offense (or an eligible entity representing such a person) may move the court which imposed the sentence for the covered offense to vacate the judgment of conviction if the covered offense was committed as a direct result of the person having been a victim of trafficking.
What is a "covered offense", you ask?
Sec. 2.(A)(2) the term ‘covered offense’—(A) means a Federal offense that is not— (i) a violent crime; or (ii) an offense, of which a child was a victim . . .
The important thing to know here is that, in general, the practice of prostitution itself is not against federal law**. This legislation is basically handing out get-out-of-jail-free cards for any OTHER laws that "victims of trafficking" may have committed, which the press release helpfully enumerates: conspiracy, money laundering, drug trafficking. Okay, but as Sen. Gillibrand said, "they have absolutely no freedom to say no to their captors." Right?
Sec. 2(a)(8) the term ‘victim of trafficking’ has the meaning given that term in section 103 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (22 U.S.C. 7102)
Following the link:
22 USC 7102 (15) Victim of trafficking: The term "victim of trafficking" means a person subjected to an act or practice described in paragraph (9) or (10).
(9) Severe forms of trafficking in persons: The term "severe forms of trafficking in persons" means-(A) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or (B) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.
(10) Sex trafficking: The term "sex trafficking" means the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.
(4) Commercial sex act: The term "commercial sex act" means any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.
When we get to the end, we realize that, despite the PR representation of them as "rape victims", the beneficiaries of this legislation include prostitutes who were ever recruited, harbored, transported, provided for, obtained, patronized, or solicited, i.e. ALL prostitutes. Actual victims of fraud, force, or coercion are defined separately, but both groups count as "victims" for the purpose of the law.
I don't have a settled opinion on whether or not this is good legislation or not. But I am prejudiced against any law whose advocates believe themselves reequired to lie about it to get it passed.
* The text is taken from the version of the law proposed in the just-expired legislative session; Portman and Gillibrand may hav e new text, but I haven't found it.
** As far as I know, though there are all sorts of restrictions beyond the "White Slavery" laws. For instance, federal civil servants are prohibited from engaging prostitutes.