Trump Signs Heitkamp’s Anti-Human Trafficking Legislation, but It May Do More Harm Than Good


Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s staff is touting the fact that President Donald Trump signed legislation she sponsored which supposedly cracks down on human trafficking:

North Dakota’s other Senator, Republican John Hoeven, also voted for the bill.

The legislation is called Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), but it may actually make sex work more dangerous.

First, I think we need to draw a distinction between prostitution and human trafficking that opportunist politicians like Heitkamp do not. Prostitution is willing seller, willing buyer transactions for sexual services. Human trafficking is where people are forced into sex work through things like kidnapping.

The case against the latter is obvious. The case against the former, which amounts to transactions between consenting adults, is less clear.

It’s this latter group that Heitkamp’s legislation hits hard. “They’re now cut off from a means of elevating themselves into a safer work space,” N’jaila Rhee, an educator and sex worker, told The Verge.

What Rhee is talking about is the legislation removing protections for websites that play host to sex workers. The ability to screen clients online before meeting them in person has made sex work safer for the men and women who engage in it. Denying sex workers access to those tools makes them less safe.

It will drive them to the streets, Rhee told The Verge.

I’ve long felt that the best way to combat human trafficking is to undermine the market for it by legalizing prostitution. If sex transactions between consenting adults have the protection of law there will be less demand for services from trafficked sex workers.

However distasteful the public at large may find sex work, shouldn’t we at least agree that if it’s going to happen it should happen between consenting adults with some protections for their safety?

Heitkamp’s legislation makes things worse, I’m afraid, not better.