North Dakota Examines Partial Legalization Of Prostitution

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With Forum Communications running a multi-part series on human trafficking in North Dakota (“trafficking” is the new media/political buzzword for what is traditionally called prostitution), the issue is in a lot of people’s minds. And rightfully so. The virtual enslavement of human beings to be used as for-hire sex toys is despicable, and those guilty of that sort of forced servitude and rank victimization ought to be caught and prosecuted.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with these sort of issues, concern over these crimes has resulted in a lot of bad policy making as politicians grandstand on the issue and knee-jerk legislation is passed.

For instance, a few sessions ago the legislature created “human trafficking” sections in our state law which make it an A felony to traffick and adult for sex and a AA felony to traffick a minor (see this chapter of the Century Code). Under the law, human trafficking “means the promotion, recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, enticement, provision, obtaining, or receipt of a person by any means” for the purposes of prostitution.

But also on the books is the state’s old prostitution law, which makes selling sex services a Class B Misdemeanor as long as it doesn’t include trafficking.

Last year a SAB reader who also happens to be a prosecutor in the state emailed me in frustration over these changes in the law noting that there is far too much overlap and redundancy:

Since you can’t solicit sex from another, or pay for sex under this section without necessarily “promoting” or “enticing”  the sex act as defined in the human trafficking law, what the legislature did was convert a number of routine prostitution cases to Human Trafficking class A felonies.   I have seen some of the “Human Trafficking” stories in our media when they have been charged out because human trafficking gets the headlines, and they appear to be just the same old prostitution under a new name. …

By the way, if you look  at whole prostitution chapter, you will see that it has always been a felony to traffic hookers in ND, it just didn’t have the scary headline grabbing name of “Human Trafficking”.    We need our PR charades I guess…

Indeed.

But today’s chapter in the Forum series deals with legislation which would decriminalize prostitution for minors who are victims of trafficking. You can read the article here. The bill is SB2107, and actually exempts minors who are victims of trafficking from more than just prostitution statutes:

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This seems like common sense reform to me. It seems counterproductive, and bordering on cruel, to criminalize acts of desperation engaged in by someone who is themselves the victim of a monstrous crime. Especially when we’re talking about minors.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]”If we decriminalize prostitution for victims of human trafficking, what we’re saying is that prostitution is only a crime if you do it willingly. Does that make any sense?”[/mks_pullquote]

This is a step toward recognizing that the criminal act in trafficking isn’t the sex (although sex with minors by adults is and should be illegal), but enslavement of sex workers.

Prostitutes aren’t criminals. Nor, for that matter, are people engage in willing seller/willing buyer transactions with prostitutes. People who hold prostitutes captive and force them to provide services against their will are criminals. They are the root of the problem in the human trafficking issue.

Which brings me to a point I’ve been making for some time: If we want to get at the root of this problem, why remove the legal circumstances that empower human traffickers? Why not end the prohibition of prostitution which empowers shadowy networks of criminals to provide in-demand sex services on the black market in the same way organized crime enriched itself by providing alcohol in the era of the Volstead Act?

If we decriminalize prostitution for victims of human trafficking, what we’re saying is that prostitution is only a crime if you do it willingly. Does that make any sense?

We are never going to stop prostitution. As long as there are people who are willing to pay for sex, there will be other people willing to provide that sex. Given this reality, wouldn’t it make sense to legalize sexual transactions which consist of a willing seller and a willing buyer (as distasteful as most of us find it) in order to isolate and undermine those who would traffick in sex slaves?

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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