Fighting Human Trafficking Requires More Liberty, Not Less


Jared Miller, April 14, 2017

A while back, our page posted a meme about human trafficking. It stated that if prostitution were legal, human trafficking would end. While it was an excellent conversation starter, the realities of this despicable practice are not that easy to solve. That doesn’t mean it was totally wrong. A strong solution includes multiple strategies, and a legal and well regulated adult services industry could very well be one of them.

Human trafficking is broadly defined as the illegal transport of humans from one area or country to another. Since that is such a vague definition, the objective of this article will be to focus solely on human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. What should be done from a libertarian perspective? There is no single answer, but I will do my best to put together a solid foundation from which to mount an attack.

First and foremost, we need to remember that a problem like this is exactly what libertarians believe government is supposed to address. There can be no more clear a violation of an individual’s life, liberty, or property than involuntary human trafficking. Sometimes it seems we libertarians get too caught up in what government shouldn’t do. Then, when we do come across a problem that fits our narrow vision of the just use of force we reflexively default to, “Muh liberty! Muh freedoms!” In this case, we may argue about what form intervention should take, but we cannot argue against its necessity. Personally I would love to see us rain hell on anyone involved in such a disgusting practice with even more ferocity than we have used against nonviolent drug offenders or middle eastern civilians.

Is direct police or military intervention the only answer though? Is that really all we can do? No, nor should it be. In this author’s humble opinion, we should approach it on three main fronts: law enforcement, adult services, and immigration reform.

The first I won’t spend much time on. Devoting law enforcement resources to tracking and eliminating traffickers is already happening, and it doesn’t need me to advocate for it. Although in conjunction with another necessary human rights reform, ending the drug war, many more resources could be devoted to a crime that actually has victims.

The second is adult services, specifically legal prostitution. Like all forms of full prohibition, making a product or service illegal does not eliminate it from existence, it merely creates a new black market to be exploited. Volumes could be, and have already been, written about the possible benefits of legalized prostitution, but the only one we must concern ourselves with is that now a new industry is ready to be staffed legitimately. Without the need to fill an illegal industry with illegal workers, the necessity for trafficking humans would also decline.

“Ah,” the astute observer may begin, “but you are making a huge assumption. You are assuming that there will be enough people willing to staff such an industry at a price the consumer can afford. What’s more, what if the customer has a specific request? Is there not still a demand that may not be filled by legitimate means?”

Mr Observer is correct. An easily overlooked reality of prostitution is that it doesn’t just create a black market service. It relies on the black market for people.

Which is why none of this will help without immigration reform. We don’t like to think of people as commodities, because they aren’t. But their labor is. Again I must repeat myself: Prohibition does not eliminate demand. It only creates a black market. There will be a demand for people to work within this newly legal industry. If there is not a high enough domestic supply of individuals who desire to work in this field then it also creates a new avenue for immigration. I do not have to tell you how hard it is currently even to enter this country on a work visa. If someone wanted to enter this country in search of a better life, and saw sex work as their most viable option, they should have the ability to do so. If, due to an unnecessarily arduous immigration system they are prevented from entry, someone will find a way to fill that demand. Some will voluntarily seek to be trafficked, while others are kidnapped and sold into slavery. Either way, we have only created both a criminal and human rights disaster without reducing either demand or willingness of someone to fill that demand.

It would take all three reforms happening simultaneously to truly address this complex issue. But there is an even more important reason to enact these reforms. It stands to reason that once these changes are implemented, child trafficking offenses will also diminish. In addition to the increase in vigilance by law enforcement, we can once more draw a parallel from the drug war. In order to use marijuana, I have to become familiar with an entire criminal world. I may get lucky and get a dealer that’s only selling weed, or I may find one that also pushes meth, ecstasy, heroine, etc. One day, for whatever reason, I may be looking for a more intense high. If I am already breaking the law, and already introduced to that criminal world, it is a very small leap to other drugs.

Several years ago a friend of mine wanted to buy some medical-grade cannabis oil for a loved one stricken with cancer. In order to do so, he had to familiarize himself with what is essentially the Internet black market. He showed it to me one day, and I could not believe what he could find: massive quantities of hard drugs, highly illegal weaponry, essentially any illicit craving a little black heart could desire. There were even listings for illegal services that make prostitution seem like child’s play by comparison. Incidentally, the fact that he had to go through all of that just to take care of a loved one is what made me realize that marijuana prohibition was a far greater evil than marijuana use ever could be.

Granted, the vast majority of people do just stick with weed. Just like most people stick with adult prostitution. But if the law is already being broken, those who are more inclined toward the more sickening side of sex work have just as easy access to it as they do adults. Making adult prostitution legal and relaxing immigration laws eliminates that easy access, and in this case may prevent lesser perverts from crossing over into much more sinister filth.

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The author’s views and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the entire Ask A Libertarian Team or its followers.


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