By Dana Bruxvoort, HTC associate
Last week I wrote a blog post about rethinking anti-trafficking efforts, particularly raid and rescue missions. I argued raids are largely ineffective when they fail to differentiate between sex workers and individuals who have been trafficked. Worse, they can be traumatizing when those arrested in raids face criminal charges or deportation before law enforcement grants them access to service provision or determines their status as trafficking victims. As problematic as raids in their current form can be, there are encouraging signs raid practices may be improving.
The issue of raids came up again with the recent hype about possible sex trafficking at the Super Bowl. On January 31, the New York Times published an Op-Ed article by Kate Mogulescu, a lawyer who represents individuals arrested on prostitution charges. Mogulescu claimed the massive amount of media attention dedicated to sex trafficking and the Super Bowl pushed New York state officials to showcase efforts to “rescue trafficking victims and appear tough on crime.” New York law enforcement dedicated extensive resources to conduct anti-trafficking raids, targeting anyone engaged in prostitution.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman responded to Mogulescu’s article with a letter to the editor, saying when his office took down a major prostitution ring the week prior to the Super Bowl, his officers’ response reflected a shift in American law enforcement that “has begun to treat prostitutes as crime victims, not criminals.” Schneiderman also stated his office worked closely with service providers “to ensure that victims received counseling and support.”
If Schneiderman’s professed model proliferates, this paradigmatic shift would be an encouraging step for anti-trafficking interventions. When rescue missions treat all uncovered individuals as potential crime victims rather than criminals, and when law enforcement grants immediate access to service provision, raids and rescues can more effectively combat human trafficking, while remaining rights-based and victim-centered. Even with this example, however, we still need better evidence that law enforcement officials are consistently distinguishing between sex workers and individuals experiencing trafficking and empowering survivors of trafficking.