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Policies around human trafficking and prostitution have been around since the BC period. These historical policies contributed to the exploitation of human trafficking. Unlike policies in the most recent years, early policies have also supported prostitution. For example, China adopted slavery in 221 BC, and created legal brothels to help stimulate the economy in 661 BC ). Records have also shown that in 1780 BC, prostitution rights were discussed in the Hammurabi Codes. There are other policies during this period that supported both human trafficking and prostitution.
Looking further in history at American politics, it has been demonstrated that Americans used public policy to participate in human trafficking on a global scale. In the 17th century, Americans perpetrated slavery by capturing Africans for forced, indefinite servitude in the United States. The United States used public policies to dehumanize slaves. Some of these laws included the 3/5th compromise, meaning that slaves consisted a third of a person. All during this time, Americans only regulated prostitution and did not completely outlaw the practice. Only when slavery ended in 1962, did Americans start enacting new public policy that criminalized sex workers, particularly in New Orleans. A notable shift happened at the end of American slavery when public policies started to criminalize prostitution. In New Orleans, the Red Light District became a popular place for sex workers. The Red Light District operated in a grey area of being neither legal or illegal, which meant that sex workers lacked legal protection from law enforcement or public harassment. Police officers used indirect laws to target Sex workers, such as for disturbing the peace. In part, these regulations came about from the cultural shift that viewed sex work as a social disease, and not as a profession.
Classifying prostitution as a social disease aligns with the Social conservatism paradigm, because it was seen as sinful, unfaithful to a nuclear bible, and breaking religious sanctions. While sex workers faced further stigmatization from policies, the United States made additional efforts to fight against human trafficking. In 1930, The United States passed the Tariff Act of 1930 that disallowed imported goods made from forced child labor. This was an additional step that established the United State’s position on human trafficking. Starting in the 2000s, prostitution became illegal in 49 States. For Human Trafficking, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was passed under Bush’s presidency. This law was designed to give protection to trafficking victims, offer financial grants for victim services, and punish perpetrators of human trafficking. Bush also offered grant funding for any organization willing to take an anti-prostitution pledge. This pledge was required under the notion that prostitution lead straight into human trafficking. One organization that received this anti-prostitution pledge funding was the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), who was tasked to help oversee the federal government’s services. However, the USCCB supported their own agenda by denying sex trafficking victims access to reproductive health services.
Shortly before the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was passed, section 230 of the Communications Decency act passed. This law protected online communication by not holding the web hosts responsible for content posted on their site This law allowed sex workers online protection to screen cliential. On the other hand, societies perspective, is that this law gave human traffickers protection from prosecution by keeping their identity hidden. In a blatant display of utter ignorance, a celebrity even claimed that ordering a child online for sex is as easy as ordering a pizza. Some of the websites used by both human traffickers and sex workers were backpage, craigslist, and many more. However, Congress heard testimonies of survivors that Backpage actively edited ads to hide the sex trafficking, and that it was too easy for children to access the sexual ads. Before SESTA though, Backpage used Section 230 to avoid lawsuits. While SESTA does hold Backpage liable for the site’s ads, the policy fails to give legal protections for both sex workers and human trafficking victims and instead forces both parties to the street.
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