Massive US Sex Trafficking Bust Ensnares Over 1,000—Including Law Enforcement And Clergy

by Claire Bernish, Activist Post:

From Seattle to Tuscaloosa, police arrested more than 1,000 people in just one month — including a law enforcement officer and pastor — as part of a sweeping crackdown on child sex offenders, and juvenile and adult sex trafficking in the United States.

Police from 37 departments in 17 states participated in the annual National Johns Suppression Initiative — a regular effort to ostensibly crack down on human trafficking and illegal sex work — rescuing 81 adult and child victims and arresting 1,020 people from Seattle to Chicago, and Texas to Tuscaloosa in the month-long effort spearheaded by Cook County, Illinois, Sheriff Thomas J. Dart.

Harris County, Texas, saw the largest number of people arrested, 170, while police in Seattle nabbed160 alleged perpetrators and authorities throughout Cook County, seat of Chicago, arrested 141.

“Three brothels were shut down in Cook County by the sheriff’s office and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the sheriff’s office said. Three people were charged with operating brothels and four others were charged with patronizing them. Six adult victims were offered help,” CBS Newsreports.

Meanwhile, CNN reports,

In Arizona, officials said more than 400 people were discouraged from buying sex when they received texts, calls or Web browser redirects informing them about the impact of the illegal sex industry.

Dart announced Thursday that his office will begin efforts to create a public database that lists sex buyers who are caught for a second or subsequent time.

Reports say more than 8,000 people have been arrested during the National Johns Suppression Initiative — just since 2011 — as the project continues taking aim at human trafficking and prostitution by arresting patrons, johns, pimps, and other sex offenders, while finding victims the assistance they may need.

On the surface, the news of more than 1,000 arrests sounds productive, if not sorely needed; but, scratch the gilding from this supposed payoff, and controversy — particularly that surrounding what many now view as an anachronistic view of sex work — bubbles furiously to the top.

As Elizabeth Nolan Brown pointed out sardonically for Reason, following a previous johns bust in 2015,

These coordinated efforts to entrap people around the country lead to large initial arrest-counts, ensuring them prominent placement in U.S. media. But few outlets ask questions about specific charges, merely accepting police PR that these were predators arrested and not largely adult men and women trying to have consensual sex. Nor do many folks follow up on the results of these stings. If they did, it would become clear that the ‘National John Suppression Initiative’ has naught to do with stopping sexual exploitation of minors.

Charlotte Alter, who accompanied police during stings for the initiative in Cook County for TIME Magazine, notes, “some human rights organizations, most recently Amnesty International, advocate for the decriminalization of all aspects of sex work, including buying sex.”

Indeed, the International watchdog organization published its policy on protection of the world’s sex workers in 2015. Reiterating the contents of that policy in May last year, Amnesty wrote,

The policy makes several calls on governments including for them to ensure protection from harm, exploitation and coercion; the participation of sex workers in the development of laws that affect their lives and safety; an end to discrimination and access to education and employment options for all.

It recommends the decriminalization of consensual sex work, including those laws that prohibit associated activities—such as bans on buying, solicitation and general organization of sex work. This is based on evidence that these laws often make sex workers less safe and provide impunity for abusers with sex workers often too scared of being penalized to report crime to the police. Laws on sex work should focus on protecting people from exploitation and abuse, rather than trying to ban all sex work and penalize sex workers.

One approach against the illicit sex industry, called the “Nordic Model,” developed in Norway and practiced by authorities in Canada, combats the entangled issues of human trafficking and consensual sex work — by arresting and penalizing customers and pimps, rather than prostitutes, who receive job and other assistance instead of jail time.

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