Washington, D.C., has already declared itself a “sanctuary city.” Now the District of Columbia City Council is considering a bill to decriminalize prostitution. The combination of legally protected sex work and a refusal to cooperate with immigration authorities should have residents of the capital concerned that their city will become a destination of choice for sex traffickers.
According to the U.S. Department of State and the National Institutes of Health, between 15,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked in the United States annually. Women and girls make up the vast majority of trafficking victims. Most are trafficked for sexual exploitation. And trafficking is intimately tied to illegal migration. Criminal gangs regularly smuggle trafficked women and girls across both the northern and southern borders.
D.C.-area law enforcement agencies have recently noted a resurgence in criminal activity by the MS-13 gang. Many of the gang’s members are illegal aliens and one of its primary rackets is sex trafficking.
No one has conducted a formal study tying a rise in gang activity to D.C.’s status as a sanctuary city. But it’s a safe bet that illegal aliens looking to run a criminal enterprise appreciate it when local police stymie U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) efforts to arrest immigration violators. ICE is also the federal law enforcement agency charged with combating human smuggling and trafficking. Legalizing prostitution would only make ICE’s job harder and render the District more attractive to criminals.
One would think that human rights, anti-trafficking and feminist organizations would be protesting this lethal combination of legalized prostitution and protection for immigration violators. But they aren’t. In fact, such organizations typically support measures to decriminalize sex work. The popular narrative among progressive politicians and activists is that legalizing prostitution empowers sex workers and reduces trafficking.
But that hasn’t been the case in places that have decriminalized prostitution, like Holland or Denmark. In fact, legalized prostitution tends to encourage trafficking, in order to meet increased demand. Apparently many people who would not pay for sex are suddenly willing to do so when the legal and social stigma is removed.
Washington is well on its way to joining Amsterdam and Copenhagen as a paradise for human traffickers. And there is absolutely no reason to believe that MS-13 and other criminal gangs won’t see an American sanctuary city with decriminalized prostitution as the ideal place to set up a low-risk, high-reward trafficking operation.