The Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the Decency in my Soul

Professor Ann Bartow implores her readers at Feminist Law Profs: “Please, if you have any decency in your soul, support passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.” (source) I don’t agree with much that Bartow says, but on this one I was inclined to agree.

But, I wanted to read the Act with a critical eye first.

Most of the Act is the kind of thing that you would have to be a beast to oppose. Forcing people into prostitution, human trafficking, modern slavery, this is all ugly stuff. Support a law that punishes people for that kind of offense? Where do I sign up?

Unfortunately, the drafters of this law just couldn’t resist the temptation to also nibble away at the civil liberties of law-abiding citizens in the process of writing an otherwise noble piece of legislation.

Take a look at this excerpt:

Sec. 2431. Sex tourism

`(a) Arranging Travel and Related Conduct- Whoever, for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain, knowingly arranges, induces, or procures the travel of a person in foreign commerce for the purpose of engaging in any commercial sex act (as defined in section 2429), or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both. (source)

And since I know you’re wondering, the term `commercial sex act’ means “any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.”

In other words, if your buddy is over in Amsterdam and he calls you up and says “duuude, prostitution is legal here, you gotta hop the next plane!” You buddy has just “induced” you to “travel” for “the purpose of engaging in a commercial sex act.” The next time someone asks you for a bachelor party selection, and you arrange for the boys to go to Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Bangkok, or Tijuana, you are now engaged in “human trafficking” and looking at a 10 year sentence.

Edit: A reader pointed out that your buddy would need to induce you to come to Amsterdam “for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain.” Accordingly, it would require a bit more than that. How about arranging “red light district” packages to Amsterdam? Prostitution is legal there, why shouldn’t American companies be able to fly Americans there to partake?

It isn’t as insidious as I initially, and carelessly, thought. Nevertheless, I’m still uncomfortable with a law that magically turns legal travel to a legal destination to engage in behavior that is legal at that destination into illegal conduct.

For the most part, I can get behind this Act. But, as usual, the zealots involved in the mix couldn’t resist. Accordingly, I’ll be one of the few people advocating against the Act until such imperfections get fixed.

On the other hand, the story that provoked Prof. Bartow’s post — I would have no qualms about carving up Javon Gordon if he is guilty as charged.