Selling Drugs to Sex Workers Could Result in Human Trafficking Charges Under PROTECT Act
The United States government has attempted to tackle the issue of human trafficking for decades. Unfortunately, Ohio is all too familiar with the problem of human trafficking. The state was ranked fourth nationally for number of cases of human trafficking according to a report by the National Human Trafficking Outline. The data estimated that 95 percent of those cases were linked to some type of sex trafficking.
In 2000, the United States implemented the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). The federal statute protects victims of trafficking from deportation and bestows them certain rights. Now, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown wants to extend human trafficking laws with a new bill also known as the PROTECT Act, which stands for “Protecting Rights Of Those Exploited By Coercive Trafficking.”
What Does the PROTECT Act Intend to Do?
The purpose of Sherrod Brown’s is to punish those who coerce human trafficking victims by using drugs. Most would agree it’s certainly wrong and criminal to force another person to use drugs in order to do labor or a sexual act. However, the bill doesn’t address this issue. In fact, it’s so vague that it seems anyone who sells drugs to a sex worker as a sex trafficker could be charged with human trafficking on top of drug trafficking.
The bill states it will amend criminal law by saying that if a person obtains work or services "by means of supplying, furnishing, or providing any drug or illegal substance to a person, including to exploit the addiction of the person or cause the person to become addicted to the drug or illegal substance," could be counted as human trafficking.
In addition, a person could be charged with sex trafficking if they entice, transport, harbor, recruit, advertise, patronize, obtain or solicit someone for sex by "supplying, furnishing, or providing any drug or illegal substance to a person, including to exploit the addiction of the person or cause the person to become addicted to the drug or illegal substance."
It’s important to note that neither provision state the offender must have exploitative or addictive means as a necessary element for committing the crime. Simply providing, selling or supplying drugs could lead someone to human trafficking charges if it’s in exchange for a sexual act with a sex worker.
Brown states the bill will make it substantially easier to obtain a human trafficking conviction because the current statute’s elements are difficult to fulfill. Brown goes on to state that “This will help with getting the conviction because addiction is a part of it… and it protects the victims from being prosecuted – it walls them off and gives them those protections.”
What Would Be the Impact of the New PROTECT Act?
Brown’s PROTECT Act was introduced late July during 2019, but it’s already gained some well-known sponsors such as Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein (California), Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), Rob Portman (Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota), Thom Tillis (North Carolina), and Senator John Cornyn (Texas).
This isn’t the first anti-human trafficking bill sponsored by Robert Portman. He also sponsored SESTA (stands for Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) in 2017, which would make facilitating prostitution through the web a federal-level crime.
We won’t know the fate of the bill until it’s processed through the Senate. Although, many are already pointing out the flaws within the legislation. The PROTECT Act basically prosecutes two act that were already illegal in the first place, which is selling illegal controlled substances and forcing others into sex or labor. It essentially makes the already illicit acts a higher-level offense and adds a human trafficking charge even if the sex worker bought the drugs out of their own free will. It’s eerily similar to drug laws during the 90’s, which didn’t hinder drug trafficking but led to a surge in unnecessary incarceration.
If the legislation passes, it could be used for coercive plea deals for both sex workers and drug users so they can escape a human trafficking charge. The bill could make a dent in hindering human trafficking, but it isn’t specific enough to target only human traffickers. It could in the end lead to U.S. citizens receiving longer sentences and not reduce human trafficking at all.