Don’t Watch Porn Until You Read This!

Conchita Sarnoff | Executive Director, Alliance to Rescue Victims of Trafficking

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with his Gender Equality Advisory Council during the G7 meeting to discuss a fundamental human rights agenda including gender equality. At the meeting, Prime Minister Trudeau announced, “The empowerment of women and girls are critical to building peace, reducing poverty, growing our economies, and achieving sustainability.” In every society, these are important words to live by.

In spite of the prime minister’s remarkable goals, he overlooked an important challenge. According to multiple investigations, including a 2016 Globe and Mail report, Canada is riddled with reports of human trafficking.

“There are hundreds of missing and murdered indigenous girls in Canada,” described the Globe and Mail investigation. “To most Canadians,” the report said, “Human trafficking evokes images of women smuggled from far-off lands or over the border…Child sex trafficking does not necessarily involve “physically moving anyone anywhere.” In Canada, the United States, U.K. and many European nations, the legal definition of human trafficking is the recruiting, harboring, transporting or controlling the movement of a person for the purposes of exploitation, (sex, labor, organs or otherwise).” In 2016, 94 percent of the 330 cases Royal Canadian Mounted Police identified occurred in Canada. Most of the cases involved sex trafficking.

The only way to control the problem of sex trafficking is to enforce stringent legislation and online regulation.

In March 2018, the U.S. Congress passed a bill signed by President Donald Trump to protect victims from online sex trafficking especially kids being forced into child pornography. The House Bill “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” (FOSTA) #1865 passed both Houses almost unanimously. In April 2018, the Senate passed a similar bill “Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act” (SESTA).

SESTA and FOSTA help prevent victims from online sex trafficking and allow survivors to file claims against human traffickers. The law enables victims and their attorneys to also file claims against the websites used to exploit them. Websites that while advertising and facilitating human trafficking and child pornography reap hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues.

Detractors of the recent U.S. bills include adult sex workers who sell their services online. They fear physical endangerment if forced to return to the streets and employ pimps to sell their services. Some sex workers, such as Maggie McNeill, a call girl who blogs under the handle, “The Honest Courtesan” told the Washington Post that sex trafficking figures were lies and exaggerated.

Ms. McNeill claims that, “as sex worker’s rights organizations (UNAIDS, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International) have pointed out, those who are truly interested in decreasing exploitation in the sex industry would be better off supporting decriminalization of prostitution.”

On the other end of the professional spectrum, the tech industry and many website developers complain legislation such as SESTA will curtail their ability to do business and in the end, will not prevent or stop human trafficking and the selling of child pornography. Online personal ad providers and Silicon Valley are the most-fierce opponents of online regulation. Their lobbying efforts raise several challenges. Not the least of which is that technology companies fear new legislation will tighten industry regulations. “Wired,” an IT trade journal, said, “The most effective way to influence people online often is not through ads, but with viral content.”

Yet ads promoting child pornography on Craigslist, FB, Backpage.com, Bedpage, YouTube, MySpace, etc. make up that “content. “What you see is insidious because it’s content,” the report claims. “At a time when anyone can start a company and use Facebook to expand its audience, there’s little reason for someone to register and comply with whatever oversight comes with it.”

Another problem confronting the U.S. anti-trafficking movement is that federal bills signed by the president are not necessarily ‘working laws’ until they are enforced by the state. Without “enforcement,” the federal law remains ineffective at the state level. A glaring example of this is the lax or sometimes non-existent enforcement of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), a 2000 federal law enacted to protect victims and prosecute traffickers.

Criminal laws vary state by state and country by country. Penalties can range from a small fine for online sex trafficking to a slap in the wrist to life in prison. Human traffickers and transnational criminal organizations with deep pockets and some knowledge of the law conduct their illicit operations in the most tolerant and profitable environments. In Canada, which has its foundation in English common law, the Criminal Code carries a lax national penalty for different types of sex crimes perpetrated against minors (under the age of 18). In cases involving adult victims, the Criminal Code carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for kidnapping, aggravated assault, sexual assault or death. Yet cases involving children are given a mandatory minimum sentence of only 6 years for aggravated assault, sexual assault or death of the trafficked child and only 5 years in all other cases. As for material benefits, Canada is also quite lax. Section 279.02 of the Criminal Code states, “Anyone who receives a financial or other material benefit from human trafficking can be charged with this offence, but only if they knew the benefit resulted from human trafficking. It may also apply to anyone who buys services from a trafficked person if he or she knows the person the is trafficked. This offence is punishable by only 10 years in prison.”

In the meantime, for a person in Canada to withhold or destroy another person’s travel or identification documents, such as a passport or visa, for the purpose of human trafficking, or helping to traffic that person (section 279.03 Withholding or Destroying Documents), the offence is punishable by 5 years in prison. Similar sentencing guidelines are given to a criminal for withholding government documents as to a criminal who commits aggravated or sexual assault that leads to the death of a trafficked child. Something seems awfully lopsided.

In the U.K., thousands of horror stories abound about young female students trafficked for sex online. Prime Minister Theresa May described human slavery or human trafficking as “the greatest human rights issue of our time.” Recently, Prime Minister May said, “These crimes must be stopped and the victims of modern slavery must go free. As prime minister, I am determined that we will make it a national and international mission to rid our world of this barbaric evil.”

Prime Minister Trudeau was right to address these issues at the Gender Equality Advisory Council. Nothing will change however, until the country’s moral compass is clearly defined. And the laws protecting civil society are rooted in a watertight legal code. In the absence of stringent prosecution of human traffickers and online regulation, all efforts by government to empower girls and women, fight for human rights, promote gender equality, and end extreme poverty, will be nothing more than vacuous political speak. In the meantime, the dark forces of life continue to reap billions in the selling and buying of children online, for sex, porn, labor and organs.

Conchita Sarnoff is the executive director of the Alliance to Rescue Victims of Trafficking. She is also a research professor at American University.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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