A person who is being trafficked and a person involved in prostitution, whether legally or illegally, are different but exist in the same domain, as they all serve the same clientele. Because of this, they have some similarities. Understanding these similarities, the key indicators, and their differences is important when identifying and fighting human trafficking.
Is Prostitution Human Trafficking?
Strictly speaking, there is a difference between human trafficking and prostitution, but unfortunately, the waters get murky. This is largely due to the fact that there are degrees in legality when it comes to prostitution, which can make things confusing but also provide a shield of sorts for perpetrators to hide behind.
Even though there are distinctions between legal prostitution and illegal prostitution (more on that below), predators and “pimps” are not going to make it obvious as to who may be a human trafficking victim and who may be involved willingly. This is unfortunate and means that more awareness and vigilance needs to be put into the public mindframe about the difference between human trafficking and prostitution.
Hiding Behind “Legal” and “Decriminalized”
The lines between legal and decriminalized prostitution can also seem blurry to those who are paying for sex, especially because they are typically not overly concerned with the person’s status. For instance, the sale of sex in and of itself is not a federal crime. Rather, only state and local jurisdictions have prostitution statutes.
The term “decriminalization” means that the act itself is still illegal, however, those involved in the act will not be charged with a crime. Decriminalization of prositution mayprotect trafficking victims in this way, as it keeps them from being a product of the criminal system. Further, when these trafficking victims get out of this life, whether through their own means or from the help of organizations and law enforcement, it is easier for them to adapt into society and take control of their lives without a criminal record holding them back.
This should not be confused with “legalization.” Decriminalization is the act of removing criminal sanctions against an act, article, or behavior. Legalization, on the other hand, is making something that was previously illegal permissible by law. Sadly, this can be counter productive, as traffickers are more easily able to hide behind this shield, knowing they have more freedom to operate.
While these lines continue to be blurred in the public eye, it is easier for traffickers to showcase their victims under the guise of willing prostitution. This makes the situation of human trafficking vs. prostitution very dangerous and requires individuals to be more aware, and even provide assistance to law enforcement when they see something amiss.
A Comparison of Indicators of Persons Providing Commercial Sex Services Within the United States
Nevada is the only state in the United States where prostitution is legalized, but legal brothels in Nevada are highly regulated and operated only in isolated rural counties, away from the majority of Nevada’s population. Prostitution is actually prohibited in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located. People who work in these brothels can have differences from both trafficking victims and a person involved with illegal prostitution, but there are some similarities. Some trafficking victims even claim they have been trafficked through the network of legal brothels in Nevada.
The following indicators are not all-encompassing, but are factual and can help easily identify the differences between a domestic sex trafficking victim and people involved in prostitution, whether legally or illegally.
The Venn diagram below gives a visual comparison between domestic sex trafficking victims, a person involved with illegal prostitution, and a person involved with legal prostitution.
A Domestic Sex Trafficking Victim
A domestic sex trafficking victim is being solicited for the purposes of a sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion. They usually have a pimp or a manager (aka trafficker), do not keep all the proceeds of the provided sex act, and can be any age, to include minors.
A Person Involved with Illegal Prostitution
A person involved with illegal prostitution is in control of all aspects of their life, personal and professional. They are independent, always older than 18, keep all proceeds of the provided sex act, and they are always in control of when and where they provide their services.
A Person Involved with Legal Prostitution
A person involved with legal prostitution can only be found in licensed brothels located in one of the six rural counties where allowed by the state of Nevada. They are under strict regulations and micro-management by the state and brothel, and must pay a portion of their proceeds to the brothel. They answer to the brothel manager or madam, and are always older than 21.
An individual who is involved with either legal or illegal prostitution willingly receives money or goods in exchange for sexual services.
Trafficking victims and persons involved with illegal prostitution provide illegal services, claim to be independent, frequent hotels, advertise on illicit websites, and can regularly appear in pornography and/or work in strip clubs.
The common denominator among all of these people is that their clientele believe they are with a willing prostitute.