Minnesota Law Review

Note, From the Inside Out: Reforming State and Local Prostitution Enforcement to Combat Sex Trafficking in the United States and Abroad

Over the past eight years, federal and state governments have passed anti-trafficking laws and spent millions of dollars to combat sex trafficking. However, as evidenced by the minimal rate of convictions and the continually expanding sex trafficking market, these policies have not achieved proportionate results.

This Note argues that without a significant paradigm shift in state and local prostitution enforcement, national anti-trafficking goals will continue to go unrealized. The dominant prostitution enforcement model poses serious obstacles to domestic anti-trafficking goals. By arresting and prosecuting all persons in prostitution without providing a defense for trafficking victims, current enforcement practices frustrate federal victim-protection mandates. At the same time, by failing to investigate and prosecute traffickers, pimps, and purchasers, state enforcement practices undermine federal objectives of deterring traffickers and reducing the market for sex trafficking.

Prostitution has been largely discounted as a trivial or inappropriate matter for federal intervention. Nevertheless, the perceptions and protocols used by state and local “vice squads” often determine whether trafficking victims are ever identified and whether their traffickers are subsequently investigated. At the same time, since trafficking crimes are among the most difficult and resource-intensive cases to prove, a lax approach towards pimping allows traffickers to evade even baseline legal consequences. Consequently, the federal government should train and equip state agencies to incorporate victim-centered, demand-targeted anti-trafficking practices into existing prostitution response models.

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