“It’s Y2K Pimpin’” (Online Sex Trafficking)

Donna Hughes, a leading international researcher on trafficking of women and children, stated that “as a part of globalization, women and children are increasingly becoming commodities to be bought, sold, and consumed by organized crime rings, tourists, military personnel, and men seeking sexual entertainment or non-threatening marriage partners.”  Hughes’ work discusses how the sex industry and the Internet industry have become partners in the global sexual exploitation of women and children.  Here’s a little history in case you aren’t already aware of the interdependence between the sex industry and the Internet…

The Internet has created an industry for internet sex slaves, where the primary targets are women and young girls.  Prior to the internet, human traffickers had to travel within the U.S. or abroad to secure purchasing of females for sex slavery.  With the advancements in technology, and the growth of the internet, human traffickers began using the telephone and satellite transmissions to sell and purchase victims.  Now, human trafficking has become even easier.  Interested buyers can view images of potential girls, bid on them, and pay for them, all via the internet.  The use of the Internet to purchase sex slaves has become so popular because it cuts down on the amount of travel, allowing more trafficking transactions to occur, and most importantly, because it maintains anonymity, reducing the chances of getting caught.

In 1994, along with the initiation of the World Wide Web (also known as the “beginning of the Internet as we know it today”), the first web-based prostitution business was created.  In 1995, a search on Yahoo found 391 listings under “‘Business and Economy: Companies: Sex’ for phone sex numbers, adult CD-ROMS, X-rated films, adult computer software, live videoconferencing, prostitution tours, escort services and mail-order-bride agencies.”  Within a year, that number quadrupled to 1676 listings.

1995 was also the year of “the electronic merger of pornography and prostitution,” with the introduction of live videoconferencing to the Internet.  People could purchase strip shows and live sex shows over the Internet, “communicating and directing the sex shows taking place in another state, or even another country or continent.”  The sex industry has developed many of the ways of doing business over the Internet.  In the more recent years, pimps and traffickers use different social networking sites to find their victims, and websites such as Craigslist to advertise and exploit their victims.

As you can see, the growing use of technology and the Internet has facilitated sex trafficking.  “Modern conveniences such as digital cameras, Internet connections, and social networking websites make it easy for predators to entice, torture, and bribe young girls of all backgrounds.”  ABC News published teen girls’ stories of sex trafficking in the U.S.  To read some of those stories, or watch the Primetime Special, click here.

Debbie, one of the girls in the article, told ABC, “I heard them say there was a middle-aged guy in the living room that wanted to take advantage of a 15-year-old girl.  And then he goes, ‘Bend her over. I want to see what I’m working with.’  And that’s when he started to rape me.  And I see more guys, four other guys had come into the room.  And they all had a turn.  It was really scary.”

ABC describes Debbie’s indoctrination into the world of sex exploitation as particularly brutal.  More often, young girls are unwittingly lured in to unwilling prostitution with promises of jobs, money, clothing and modeling.

While what the online sex industry has to offer is considered, for the most part, legal, it does promote illegal activity (and has been since its inception).  The U.S. Department of Justice: Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) reports that “technology, including websites, is increasingly facilitating child sex tourism.”  Child sex tourists are individuals that travel to foreign countries to engage in sexual activity with children.  The U.S. State Department defines Child Sex Tourism as a form of human trafficking, and the U.S. has passed laws prohibiting sex with minors in other countries.

On April 10, 2003, the U.S. Congress passed the “Prosecuting Remedies and Tools Against the Exploitation of Children Today Act” (PROTECT Act), which provides a number of new measures that will protect children from sexual exploitation.  The PROTECT Act strengthened existing U.S. law by (i) increasing imprisonment penalties to 30 years for convicted sex tourists; (ii) criminalizing persons or organizations that assist or organize sex tours; and (iii) better enabling federal prosecutors to convict offenders by modifying burden of proof requirements.

Federal statutes governing trafficking and sex tourism include 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591, 2421, 2422, and 2423.  (To read the full statutes, click § 1591 and § 2421-2423)   Together, these statutes “prohibit sex tourism and the interstate and international sex trafficking of adults and children, as well as sex trafficking within a state.”  In this blog entry, I will be introducing these federal statutes.  My next blog entry will discuss the history of these statutes, the legal issues raised and constitutionality of the statutes, particularly 18 U.S.C.S. § 2422(b), and case law.

18 U.S.C. § 1591 (Sex Trafficking of Children or by Force, Fraud, or Coercion), as amended by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, prohibits trafficking by making it illegal to recruit, entice, or obtain a person to engage in commercial sex acts, or to benefit from such activities.

18 U.S.C. §§ 2421-2423 also cover interstate and international sex trafficking, but generally require that actual travel across a state or international boundary or other interstate activity has taken place, whereas 18 U.S.C. § 1591 does not require the victims to have crossed a state or international boundary.  Specifically, the following are some of the key provisions that hold the traffickers accountable:

  • 18 U.S.C. § 2421 (Transportation Generally), prohibits transporting a person across state or international boundaries for the purposes of prostitution or other unlawful sexual activity and carries a 10 year maximum sentence.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 2422 (Coercion and Enticement), (a) prohibits enticing or coercing a person to travel across a state or international boundary in order to engage in prostitution or other unlawful sexual activity and carries a 20 year maximum sentence; and (b) prohibits using the mail or other interstate communications such as the telephone or the Internet to entice or coerce a person under 18 to engage in prostitution or other unlawful sexual activity and carries a 5 year minimum sentence and a 30 year maximum sentence.  This statute was rewritten by the Child Protection and Sexual Predator Punishment Act of 1998.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 2423 (Transportation of Minors), (a) prohibits transporting a person under 18 across state or international boundaries for the purposes of prostitution or other unlawful sexual activity and carries a 5 year minimum, 30 year maximum penalty.

In addition to holding the traffickers accountable, federal statutes also hold those who travel to engage in any illicit sexual conduct, and those who benefit from arranging that travel, accountable:

  • 18 U.S.C. § 2423 (b) prohibits traveling across state lines or into the United States for the purpose of engaging in any illicit sexual conduct (which includes any commercial sex act with a person under 18) and carries a 30 year maximum sentence; (c) prohibits an American citizen or national engaging in illicit sexual conduct outside the United States and carries a 30 year maximum sentence.  It does not require that the citizen have traveled outside the country with the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country; and (d) prohibits arranging or facilitating, for financial gain, another person’s travel to engage in illicit sexual conduct and carries a 30 year maximum sentence.

While prostitution and sexual exploitation of persons is illegal in the U.S., the penalties are minimal for those convicted of human trafficking.  In addition, the laws apply to victims of any age; however, if the victim is over 18, it applies only if force, fraud, or coercion is used to cause the victim to engage in a commercial sex act.  If you read the ABC News article mentioned earlier in this blog, consider how the law protects, or doesn’t protect, someone like Miya, who was 19 years old.  The man who lured Miya into prostitution “was charged with pimping and pandering only in connection with the minor with whom he was traveling,” not Miya.  Just because force, fraud, or coercion wasn’t used to cause Miya to engage in a commercial sex act, doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be protected.  I’ll talk about this more in a later blog entry.


~ by natalielaw on November 11, 2010.

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