The Sexist

Cracking Down on Human Trafficking in D.C.

Last week, Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the Prohibition Against Human Trafficking Act [PDF] into law. The law will increase penalties for human trafficking in the District, provide services to victims, and mandate the collection of comprehensive data on human trafficking in D.C. Here are some highlights of how the bill will change D.C.'s approach to the problem, with details via the Polaris Project (emphasis mine):

CRIMINALIZATION. The new law creates crimes for both  "human trafficking" and "benefiting from human trafficking":

* Human trafficking is defined as: "knowingly recruiting, enticing, harboring, or transporting a person for the purpose of providing labor or services," either by "debt coercion; facilitating or controlling a person’s access to an addictive controlled substance; conduct that causes a person to reasonably believe that he or she is the property of a person or business; causing or threatening to cause financial or emotion harm to that person or another; [or] facilitating a minor to engage in a commercial sex act."

* Benefiting from Human Trafficking “includes cases where an individual knew or reasonably should have known that the services or labor were being provided as a result of human trafficking."

* The act also criminalizes "the act of destroying, concealing, etc., a victim’s identity documents, in order to maintain the person’s labor or services" and the "possession of child pornography" in the District (a detail the Polaris Project calls "a glaring loophole in current law").

INCREASED PENALTIES. Criminal penalties for human trafficking can be increased depending on several factors:

* "Defendants found guilty of human trafficking or benefiting from human trafficking can be fined a maximum of $200k and imprisoned for a maximum of 20 years, or both."

* "When the victim has been held for more than 180 days, the penalty for the defendant can be up to 1 ½ times the maximum fine or term of imprisonment, or both."

* "When there are more than five victims, the penalty can be up to 3 times the maximum."

* "Attempts can be punished up to half of the maximum for the completed crimes."


* Protects more minors: The act raises the "maximum age of a victim" from 16 to 18 years old.

* Prevents a victim's past sexual activities from being used in trial: "Creates an evidentiary privilege for victims to prevent evidence of past sexual activities of an alleged victim of human trafficking, including related pandering crimes, from being used in trial."

* "Consent" not a defense: The act "prohibits the consent or permission to engage in prostitution by an alleged victim or by anyone on behalf of the alleged victim from being used as a defense."

* Marriage not a defense, either: The act "expressly prohibits any kind of immunity from prosecution based on marriage, partnership or cohabitation
with the victim.

* Expands the statute of limitations: "Applies lengthier criminal and civil statutes of limitation for human trafficking crimes, and provides that the statute of limitations will not start running until the victim is no longer subject to the trafficker’s means of control and in the case of a minor, until they reach the age of majority."

* Compensation: "Protects victims’ access to the Crime Victims’ Compensation fund by allowing victims of human trafficking who have not reported the crime to law enforcement to satisfy this requirement for accessing compensation funds by filing for a civil protection order."

* Confidentiality: "Assures confidentiality of communications between human trafficking counselors and victims by creating a human trafficking victim / caseworker privilege."


* Reporting: The act "creates a mandatory reporting requirement for human trafficking counselors."

* Accountability: The act "requires the District government, with assistance from appropriate organizations and agencies, to collect and periodically publish statistical data on trafficking and trafficking-related crimes."

Congress has 60 days to review the law.

  • kza

    "facilitating or controlling a person’s access to an addictive controlled substance; conduct that causes a person to reasonably believe that he or she is the property of a person or business"

    We're passing laws helping drug addicts and stupid people now?

  • WonkyFactory

    I think it would be worth it for the Washington Examiner to ask why there's no greater penalties for Johns in the law. From what I hear, it's because there was too much pushback from powerful men who were worried about getting busted under it.

  • WonkyFactory

    And way to be a dick kza.

  • Amanda Hess

    WonkyFactory: Would johns not be covered under the "benefiting from human trafficking" clause? I just assumed that would be the case, but I could be wrong on that.

    kza: No, human trafficking laws should not contain loopholes that allow trafficking of humans as long as those humans are uninformed, uneducated, or high.

  • kza

    They should like...not do drugs...right?

  • Kit-Kat

    @kza--of course, they should not do drugs. And apparently, if you're dumb enough to do drugs, you deserve to be a trafficked into prostitution, sexual slavery, or forced labor. Clearly.

  • rhane


    I think the language in there to protect victims that are forcefully kept sedated to prevent them from escaping.

    That is not to say that drug addicts deserve to be treated like veal but I'm sure that argument falls on deaf ears.

  • Kit-Kat

    As to the issue of whether johns are covered by this bill:

    I looked at the text of the bill, which creates the crime of "benefiting from human trafficking," which makes it a crime for any "individual or business" to benefit from human trafficking by "receiving anything of value from or on account of labor or services that were or were to be provided by a person, if the individual or business knew or had reason to know that the person provided or was to provide that labor or those services because the individual, another individual or a business" threatened, coerced, blackmailed, kidnapped, deceived, etc. the person (all the acts included in human trafficking). My reading of that is that a person who purchases services from a prostitute who has been trafficked is guilty if he knew or had reason to know of the trafficking, which is defined pretty broadly and includes facilitating prostitution of minors. My read: be very careful if you're a john in the district, because the list of trafficked behaviors is pretty long, and you can be found guilty of a serious felony if you only had "reason to know," so ignorance isn't going to be much of an excuse. Enforcement will matter a lot, of course, but the language of the statute itself is pretty broad and pretty strong.

  • kza

    "you deserve to be a trafficked into prostitution, sexual slavery, or forced labor. Clearly."

    How is it slavery or forced labor if they can stop by not doing drugs?

  • K

    kza, I am going to suppose you aren't too familiar with human trafficking. Trafficking victims are commonly told they "owe" their pimps/traffickers for bus tickets, lodging, food, and/or drugs, and will be arrested if they leave without "paying" for them. They are also commonly moved from place to place, brothel to brothel, usually staying no longer than a week and not even knowing what city they are in.

    Plenty of them were trafficked into the country from elsewhere without papers, or have had their papers confiscated, and are told if they leave they will be arrested and deported. They don't know their own rights, they often don't know much English, and they are encouraged or forced to take drugs, to ensure they are doubly dependent on the traffickers. Further, lots of trafficking victims come from countries where the police cannot be trusted, especially if you cannot afford to bribe them, so they have no reason to go to the police. This belief is re-enforced by the traffickers.

    Trafficking is an insidious form of bondage predicated on ignorance, fear and shame, and is not the same as an addict using sex for survival (which is a related but different issue.)

  • kza

    I'm just going by what the proposed law said "facilitating or controlling a person’s access to an addictive controlled substance". To me that doesn't read as someone being forced to take drugs. That sounds like a drug dealer pimping out a girl and giving her drugs for her work. That doesn't sound like slavery to me unless the drug user wants to leave but is not allowed to. Obviously I wasn't talking about someone being drugged without their consent.

  • Kit-Kat

    As K pointed out, trafficked prostitutes are sometimes forced to take/tricked into taking drugs until they are addicted. Once they are addicted, the pimp has a hold on them--if they leave, they will lack access to drugs and therefore suffer the physical symptoms of withdrawal. They can also be punished by withholding drugs, or drugs can be used to keep them sedated or out of it. It's a way of inducing dependence, as well as reducing their credibility should they escape and try to report the crime to the police.

    The law lists a number of tactics used by human traffickers--the use of controlled substances is only one of many strategies to trick or force people into slavery and then keep them enslaved.

  • Em

    To be fair, even if someone wasn't tricked into taking drugs, they're still addicted for whatever reason, and addiction is a powerful thing. Too often in those cases, the person being pimped out is punished and the trafficker, who is doing something reprehensible and illegal, gets off. This would prevent that from happening and would allow organizations to try and help/rehabilitate the person who was pimped out in the first place.

  • kza

    I don't know anything about trafficking really, I was just commenting on the wording of the proposed law.

  • Melissa

    This sounds like a fantastic improvement, assuming it passes and is enforced!