Beyond Strange Bedfellows
How the “War on Trafficking” Was Made to Unite the Left and Right
Six months into the Iraq War, then-President George W. Bush addressed the United Nations General Assembly.1“Events during the past two years have set before us the clearest of divides,” Bush declared, “between those who seek order, and those who spread chaos; between those who work for peaceful change, and those who adopt the methods of gangsters.” On the side of chaos and gangsterism, he continued, were terrorists. But he didn’t stop there:
There’s another humanitarian crisis spreading, yet hidden from view. Each year, an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 human beings are bought, sold or forced across the world’s borders. Among them are hundreds of thousands of teenage girls, and others as young as five, who fall victim to the sex trade. This commerce in human life generates billions of dollars each year—much of which is used to finance organized crime. There’s a special evil in the abuse and exploitation of the most innocent and vulnerable.
Terrorism was the work of “evil,” Bush had said long before—now, a new crime would join his index of evil: human trafficking.2 The link between the two may have been lost in the moment; terror, “weapons of mass destruction,” and then-President Saddam Hussein were still the star of the show. But for the policymakers, diplomats, and advocates who had been fighting for years to get human trafficking a prime place on the global stage, Bush’s declaration was a major win.
Bush was, in some ways, merely taking the national temperature of his base. “Each year, two million women and children worldwide have sex with strangers only because someone kidnaps them and threatens to kill them,” argued a feature story in Christianity Today published that same fall of 2003, already inflating the figures Bush quoted at the UN.3 “You may have passed some of these victims on the street,” the story warned. Like terrorism, this “hidden” evil was now close to home.
The story of human trafficking as President Bush told it in 2003 has become the dominant narrative found in media accounts, activist campaigns, and fundraising appeals to this day. But Bush didn’t craft this story; he merely delivered it. Its characters and moral dilemma were shaped by a relatively small group of political influencers on the Right—with dreams of organizing Christian activists around winnable social issues—and their newfound allies: liberal feminists whose longtime opposition to prostitution and pornography had, by the turn of the 21st Century, fallen far down the women’s rights agenda. What both groups sought, from different ends of the political spectrum, was a chance to adopt a new identity: neither preachers nor scolds, but defenders of human rights.
Together, this new coalition popularized the anti-trafficking fight as a moral crusade on par with the abolition of slavery in the United States, even adopting its language: abolition. And the “crisis” Bush placed on the world’s stage in March 2003 became an opportunity: to change their image, and to build a broader consensus, from Right to Left, that both recognized their moral authority and widened their appeal. And so they began, first by declaring war on what came to be known as “human trafficking,” and then by dedicating themselves to defining what this war would mean so that their aims and authority were always at its center.
Uniting the Bunny and the Hatchet Man
“You’ve got soccer moms and Southern Baptists, the National Organization for Women and the National Association of Evangelicals on the same side of the issue,” Michael Horowitz, senior fellow and director at the Hudson Institute, told Bob Jones at World magazine in 2002.4 “Gloria Steinem and Chuck Colson together.”
Today, nearly 20 years have passed since Horowitz managed to align onetime Playboy Club muckraker Steinem with Nixon’s “dirty tricks” man Colson under the banner of fighting human trafficking. But the fact of these “strange bedfellows” coming together despite their differences isn’t the whole story. From the outset, Horowitz’s goal was to unite conservatives and liberals, including religious and secular leaders. He had envisioned a coalition like this before he zeroed in on trafficking as the cause—the vehicle—that could achieve it. He’d tried before, in 1998, when he helped pass the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), to protect the human rights of persecuted Christians outside the United States, with support from Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ).5 At the time, Horowitz saw the religious freedom issue as one that could galvanize Christians to political action in the name of human rights, without appearing as stereotypical moral scolds. “Horowitz has almost single-handedly transformed persecution of Christians into a major issue,” deemed The New Republic in 1997.6
Not long after, he envisioned the fight against human trafficking as another joint cause, framing the terms of the battle so as to best draw disparate groups together. From the beginning, he saw the anti-trafficking issue as an opportunity he offered to lobbyists, politicians and the media—a chance to be on the right side of history. “Don’t try to join the establishment,” he said then. “Let them join you.”
He would use the same appeals to human rights he’d employed for the IRFA to push the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), again working with Congressman Smith. “The sexual component of trafficking, rather than its coercive nature, was what attracted Smith and other conservatives to the issue,” observed Alicia W. Peters, an anthropologist at the University of New England. “For conservative Christians and evangelicals, the issue of trafficking, and sex trafficking in particular, was an example of depraved moral behavior that violated the principle that sex should be reserved for marriage between a man and a woman… Debates around the TVPA became a way for conservatives to engage in ‘human rights’ work and put a moral spin on trafficking that reinforced a particular conception of sexuality.”
The movement to combat human trafficking, as conceived by Horowitz, would use that “moral spin” to attract more conservatives to this “human rights” cause. Allen D. Hertzke, a religion and politics scholar at the University of Oklahoma, says from their first meeting in 1998, Horowitz encouraged him to “be the chronicler of the movement,” including the passage of the landmark TVPA, in order to make trafficking into a major issue. “The legislative campaign built upon the earlier alliance against persecution,” as Horowitz worked to further his goal of Right/Left consensus, Hertzke writes in his book, Freeing God’s Children: The Unlikely Alliance for Global Human Rights. In May 1999, “in a hideaway room in the U.S. Capitol,” Hertzke continues, Horowitz convened a strategy meeting, which Charles Colson opened with a prayer.7
Also in attendance, Hertzke writes, were some familiar conservative faces: Rep. Smith and House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), who promised to get a vote on Smith’s trafficking legislation, as well as conservative pundit and former Education Secretary William Bennett, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals. But there was also David Saperstein, a prominent liberal rabbi (about whom Horowitz joked, “David’s constituency pays him to right the Christian Right, but with considerable courage he took on the persecution issue”), and Laura Lederer, a veteran women’s rights advocate, and, at the time, a convert to the anti-trafficking fight.
Lederer would be central to Horowitz’s mission to transform trafficking into “the human rights issue of our times.” He would use her, Hertzke recounted, “to get women’s groups behind the effort.” Lederer thought Equality Now would be the best group to recruit: through their connection to Gloria Steinem, perhaps she could use her influence to bring other prominent feminists into the trafficking fight. “That is,” writes Hertzke, “in fact, what happened.”
As a Bush administration official once characterized Lederer’s new ally in Washington to The American Prospect, “Horowitz is the Charlie to their Angels.”8 Alongside Lederer, he attracted Donna M. Hughes, a contributor to the National Review and a Chair of Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island. Like Lederer—editor of the 1982 book Take Back the Night: Women on Pornography—Hughes was a veteran of the feminist anti-pornography cause. She was also a neoconservative. Since 9/11, Hughes had entreated fellow feminists to look to the Right as allies on causes such as “Islamic fundamentalism” and “anti-Zionism.” As she argued in a Washington Post op-ed exchange with feminist activist Phyllis Chesler:
In the past, when faced with choosing allies, feminists made compromises. To gain the support of the liberal left, feminists acquiesced in the exploitation of women in the pornography trade—in the name of free speech. The issue of abortion has prevented most feminists from considering working with conservative or faith-based groups. Feminists are right to support reproductive rights and sexual autonomy for women, but they should stop demonizing the conservative and faith-based groups that could be better allies on some issues than the liberal left has been… Human rights work is not the province of any one ideology. Saving lives and defending freedom are more important than loyalty to an outdated and too-limited feminist sisterhood.9
This line of argument wasn’t unique to neoconservatives like Hughes who were seeking new ground on which to reposition their anti-prostitution politics as human rights concerns. It was also the position of Equality Now, an international women’s rights organization that campaigned to expand laws against prostitution in the United States and abroad.10 The group’s founder, Jessica Neuwirth, had once worked at Amnesty International, and she was quick to admit to The New York Times that she’d modeled Equality Now in its image.11 But she’d left Amnesty frustrated that they didn’t focus enough on women’s issues like female genital mutilation and prostitution. In Horowitz’s network of religious right influencers, she found a new set of allies willing to prioritize these issues as they made their own claim to human rights defense.
Organizations like Equality Now, writes Barnard women’s studies and sociology professor Elizabeth Bernstein, believed that by moving the field of debate on prostitution and pornography to “human rights,” they could finally emerge from the contentious sex wars victorious. In the “humanitarian terrain,” Bernstein writes, “the abolitionist constituency was more likely to prevail.”12 In seeking support for their rebranded anti-prostitution politics, such organizations would answer Horowitz’s call.
From the White House to the “Whorehouse”
At the close of the Clinton administration, these newfound allies faced their first public test of unity.
Between 1999 and 2000, as the Horowitz coalition gathered steam, the United States took a lead role in developing what would become the United Nations’ “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children,” which was signed by 80 countries in December 2000.13 From the beginning, debates about what constituted human trafficking consumed months of meetings, as recounted by trafficking researcher Jo Doezema in her 2010 book, Sex Slaves and Discourse Masters.
Over two years of negotiations, delegates heard from anti-trafficking advocates who urged a rights-based response that differentiated between sex work and human trafficking, while other groups, like the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, argued that human trafficking and prostitution were inseparable and required a tough criminal justice response they defined as “abolitionist.”
At first, the United States leaned towards the rights-based response, and supported the draft language that only “forced prostitution”—distinct from the broader category of all prostitution and sex work—would be defined as trafficking. This incensed the Horowitz coalition, from abolitionists like Jessica Neuwirth to Religious Right figures like Charles Colson.
Colson and William Bennett took to The Wall Street Journal to lay the blame with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, who, in her role as honorary chairwoman of the President’s Interagency Council on Women, had participated with the U.S. State Department in the UN trafficking negotiations. Neuwirth drafted other feminists to sign a group letter challenging the U.S. to drop the “forced” from “forced prostitution,” arguing, “The position taken by the administration suggests you do not consider prostitution of others to be a form of sexual exploitation… The definition would not only fail to protect a substantial number of trafficking victims, it would also shield many traffickers in the global sex trade from prosecution.”14
Many leading feminists signed, including National Organization for Women President Patricia Ireland; Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt; Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice; Dorchen Leidholdt, co-executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women; Julia Scott, president of the National Black Women’s Health Project; president of Feminist Majority Foundation Eleanor Smeal; and activists Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem.
Though aligned in purpose with the Religious Right leaders, the abolitionists were careful to say they didn’t blame Clinton herself; Equality Now followed its first letter with a statement that Colson and Bennett’s criticism of the U.S. government was “an attempted manipulation of feminist leaders as a political ploy to attack Hillary Clinton.” Yet Clinton remained a target throughout further contentious debates over the definition of trafficking. When it covered the debate, The New York Post headlined its story, “‘Hooker Panel’ Puts First Lady on the Spot.”15
The same group of abolitionists pressed Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN), who first introduced a more comprehensive trafficking bill in 1999, to separate human trafficking into “labor trafficking”—defined as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel labor—and “sex trafficking,” which would not require the presence of force, fraud, or coercion, thus mirroring the definition they pushed for the UN protocol to adopt.
When he would not, Clinton was blamed for that as well. In an interview with anthropologist Alicia W. Peters, a Congressional staffer at that time recalled, “It was this incredible, you know, ‘Hillary has a whorehouse’ [thing.]” The staffer, “Megan,” continued, “Now you kind of forget, but in that period…the right wing rhetoric was really ramping up and it was extreme… It was about sex, and it was about rape, and it was about…women’s virtue, and if you had the labor definition then you were…complicit in the rape of thousands of young girls.”16
TVPA was signed into law in the final months of the Clinton administration, on October 28, 2000, as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. In a compromise, the bill split trafficking into “labor trafficking” and “sex trafficking,” but it maintained a “force, fraud, or coercion” definition for both. The victory elated the coalition of religious conservatives and feminist abolitionists, but it worried other progressives. “[C]onservative and evangelical movements were becoming much more successful in human rights issues,” the congressional staffer, Megan, told Peters. “And there was a real concern that they were capturing this major issue, and not just as a kind of ‘oh, it’s ours,’ but also that they were going to redefine it.”
A year before his 2003 UN speech, President Bush had already declared war on human trafficking—in harsher terms than he’d use at the General Assembly—though few outside the anti-trafficking policy world had taken notice.
On February 25, 2002, Bush signed National Security Presidential Directive 22 (NSPD-22), defining human trafficking as a priority issue of national security, and holding that, “The policy of the United States is to attack vigorously the worldwide problems of trafficking in persons, using law enforcement efforts, diplomacy, and all other appropriate tools.”17 Four paragraphs of NSPD-22 remain classified, but what was public defined trafficking as a “transnational threat”—and one defined as related to sex work alone.
Our policy is based on an abolitionist approach to trafficking in persons, and our efforts must involve a comprehensive attack on such trafficking, which is a modern day form of slavery. In this regard, the United States Government opposes prostitution and any related activities, including pimping, pandering, or maintaining brothels, as contributing to the phenomenon of trafficking in persons. These activities are inherently harmful and dehumanizing. The United States Government’s position is that these activities should not be regulated as a legitimate form of work for any human being.
Sex work, the directive argued, was not only the sole factor responsible for driving trafficking, but opposing it—in any form—was necessary for a “comprehensive attack” on trafficking.
Donna Hughes was one of the anti-trafficking advocates who noticed NSPD-22. Before the House Committee on Foreign Relations in October 2002, Hughes explicitly linked the case for fighting trafficking and fighting sex work. “Trafficking is a modern form of slavery,” Hughes testified, employing what was becoming a conventional metaphor among many anti-trafficking advocates. “To not understand the relationship between prostitution and trafficking is like not understanding the relationship between slavery in the Old South and the kidnapping of victims in Africa and the transatlantic shipment of them to our shores.”18
As a prominent conservative, Hughes was closer to the Bush administration than other feminists involved in anti-trafficking movements. But it was Laura Lederer, Hughes would later argue, who ultimately convinced the Bush administration to regard trafficking as a national security issue.19 In 2001, Lederer was appointed as a deputy senior advisor to the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; the following year, under Lederer’s influence, Bush issued NSPD-22.
“This administration is saying you cannot clean [sex work] up,” Lederer told World magazine in 2002, a few months after Bush signed NSPD-22. “It can never be a legitimate way to make a living because it’s inherently harmful for men, women, and children. It goes in the opposite direction of President Bush’s pro-woman, pro-family, human-rights agenda.”
NSPD-22 was a validation of Lederer’s own mission to cast the fight against trafficking as a fight against sex work. “I think I’m safe in saying that many of the organizations taking the lead in the early days in the UN and in other world arenas were comfortable talking about one kind of trafficking—labor trafficking—and then addressing sex trafficking as a subset of labor trafficking,” Lederer said at a 2005 Commission on the Status of Women briefing in Washington.20
“We saw it as a degradation of the most intimate act between a man and a woman,” Lederer continued. “We saw it as encouraging exploitation and abuse of females and contributing to dysfunctional families. We felt it was linked to public and private health crises, and, last but not least, we believed it fueled human trafficking. We wanted a new policy that reflected these concerns.”
Though NSPD-22 ostensibly addresses trafficking as a national security issue, Lederer and Hughes understood it as a policy to support the continued criminalization of sex work. “A conservative Republican president of the United States had issued a policy consistent with both radical feminist theory on prostitution and sexual exploitation,” Hughes later wrote, “and conservative, religious philosophy of protecting human dignity.”21
Though couched in humanitarian terms, the war on trafficking has done less to protect human rights than to empower law enforcement on the global stage. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, while defining trafficking as a crime under U.S. law, is also a tool for shaping trafficking policy in other countries. It elevates the U.S. to the role of “global sheriff,”22 writes Janie Chuang, an associate professor at American University’s law school.
TVPA “establishes a sanctions regime,” writes Chuang. If the United States believes a country is failing to comply with its “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” then the U.S. may withdraw aid to that country. The TVPA created the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which each year issues its “Trafficking In Persons” or TIP report, as the primary mechanism for judging foreign governments’ compliance with U.S. anti-trafficking policy. The aim of the report isn’t just to document compliance, but publicly shame countries into doing more to “combat trafficking.”
“We’ve got to push them very hard,” Horowitz said in 2004. “That’s one of the great things about being a superpower.”23 (Meanwhile, the U.S. only began evaluating itself in the 2010 TIP report.)
“The stigma of the scorecard makes states change their behavior,” writes Judith G. Kelley, in Scorecard Diplomacy: Grading States to Influence Their Reputation and Behavior. No TIP report has been released without provoking controversy. Scholars have noted the methods used by the State Department to collect anti-trafficking data are inconsistent, and that the politics behind TIP compromise its credibility. “[T]he TIP Report weaves a simple—and ultimately comforting—tale of trafficking being about bad people doing bad things to good people,” wrote Anne T. Gallagher, a criminal justice and human rights scholar, in 2015. “It fails to seriously interrogate the deep economy of human exploitation—to ask what would happen to global wealth and productivity if such exploitation were suddenly removed.”24
The original Horowitz-convened alliance took issue with the TIP report as well. Donna Hughes protested25 in 2002 that it didn’t sufficiently punish countries that don’t criminalize prostitution, and complained26 that the U.S. was still funding groups who compromised the trafficking fight, whether by “work[ing] to ‘empower’ victims of trafficking rather than rescue them,” or “support[ing] unionizing prostitutes as the solution to trafficking.”
Congressman Smith elevated these claims in debates over the Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act (which created PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). Smith proposed that in order to qualify for PEPFAR funds, non-governmental organizations must adopt an explicit policy opposing prostitution. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who helped write PEPFAR, opposed Smith’s amendment. “I’ll never forget that day,” said Lee.27 “We thought we had the votes to pass [PEPFAR] based on negotiations, but then Chris Smith offers this—what did he call it? A conscience clause. This was the start of this anti-prostitution clause.” PEPFAR did pass, but with Smith’s amendment, enshrining what came to be known as “the anti-prostitution loyalty oath” or simply “the pledge” into U.S. law.
Notice of the new policy came in January 2003 in a cable from Colin Powell.28 The policy stated that “organizations advocating prostitution as an employment choice or which advocate or support the legalization of prostitution are not appropriate partners” for the U.S. government anti-trafficking grants.
The pledge didn’t just cost aid organizations desperately needed funding, but led to a global chilling effect. By 2004, how program officers, field workers, and human-rights advocates felt about prostitution had “become a litmus test for the Bush administration,” reported Tara McKelvey in The American Prospect. An NGO worker summarized the U.S. line on prostitution to her in terms familiar during the Bush era: “You’re either with us or you’re against us.”29
Congressman Smith continued to claim, well into the Obama administration, that the pledge was “designed to ensure that pimps and brothel owners don’t become, via an NGO that supports such exploitation, U.S. government partners.”30 In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that to require U.S.-based NGOs to sign the pledge was a violation of their constitutional right to free speech.31 But NGOs outside the U.S. had no such protection.
“America’s Children” and Beyond
“It was as if God whispered in my ear, ‘Touch her for Me,’” said Linda Smith, recalling her formative encounter with a young woman in the Mumbai brothel district in 1998.32 Smith, who was then serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, often describes this as the moment her career was born again.33
The woman who entered Congress as part of Newt Gingrich’s 1994 “Republican Revolution,” and was once named the House’s “farthest Right of the Right,”34 responded by turning her attention away from Washington and towards combating trafficking. She founded Shared Hope International to carry out her mission—rooted in her conversion moment in India, but aimed at children in the United States. Smith’s turn to what she calls “domestic minor sex trafficking” represents another evolution in the Horowitz coalition’s Right/Left appeal.
Smith is a fitting bridge figure for the future of the Horowitz coalition. “She’s the leader of a movement that opposes nearly everything feminists support,” The Seattle Times wrote of her early career in Washington state politics. “But she’s also a strong woman who could be mistaken for a feminist.”35Smith came into politics through Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, and Smith and Schlafly still moved in the same circles as recently as 2011, when, at the Values Voters Summit Schlafly keynoted, and Smith gave a talk promoting Shared Hope’s model trafficking legislation framework, called “Saving America’s Children from Pimps and Perverts: The Protected Innocence Initiative.”36Smith’s advocacy has a maternal feel; it rests in decidedly anti-feminist notions of gender roles and family structure. Before an audience at the Family Research Council, Smith once described a young woman she had personally “saved,” saying the woman had been “vulnerable” to traffickers because her mother worked two jobs, and her “daddy…wasn’t there.”37
Shared Hope’s method of activism was to test its anti-trafficking projects internationally,38 and then bring them back to the United States to target “domestic minor” trafficking. To create political pressure on “domestic minor sex trafficking,” Shared Hope promotes its annual trafficking report card, prepared in collaboration with the American Center for Law and Justice, one of the key legal advocacy groups on the Christian Right, with an anti-LGBTQ, anti-Islam agenda. The report card evaluates U.S. states as the State Department TIP report judges other countries. As the Horowitz coalition worked to link trafficking with prostitution internationally, Smith’s group links trafficking to domestic prostitution. By expanding her anti-trafficking focus to “saving America’s children from pimps and perverts,” she has also elevated her profile. In 2017, Smith campaigned, unsuccessfully, to be appointed Ambassador at Large to Combat Trafficking in Persons.39 (At present, President Trump has announced his intent to nominate former federal prosecutor John Cotton Richmond to head the TIP office. Richmond was also once the India field director for International Justice Mission, a Christian anti-trafficking organization.40)
The Horowitz coalition has evolved, now that his goal of claiming human rights for the Religious Right has found a new generation. As described by sociologist Elizabeth Bernstein, members of this new generation “do not identify with the Christian right at all, but rather describe themselves as Christian ‘moderates,’ and in some cases, even as Christian progressives.”41 Combating trafficking is one way for them, Bernstein says, to “not only embrace the languages of women’s rights and social justice but [also take] deliberate steps to distinguish their work from the sexual politics of other conservative Christians.”
The disparate groups Horowitz gathered continue to vie for influence and resources over what it meant to combat trafficking. Congressman Chris Smith remains in Washington, still working, as advocates noted in February 2018, to insert the anti-prostitution pledge into new legislation. According to some advocates, Smith is at odds with Sen. Bob Corker, the architect of the global fund to “end modern-day slavery,” which is possibly modeled on the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Smith considers anti-trafficking his issue. It’s this fund that Ivanka Trump announced at the United Nations in 2017, serving as the de facto head of anti-trafficking work under her father’s administration (usually a job reserved for the State Department). Her “braintrust” is stacked with current and former staffers of International Justice Mission, the Christian anti-trafficking NGO and a Horowitz ally from the late 1990s, which has worked with the Department of Justice.
Meanwhile, Smith and Lederer continue to find new angles on the anti-trafficking fight. In 2017, they spoke at a UN General Assembly side event, “Slave Trade in Minors in the Digital Age,” sponsored by C-FAM, one of two right-wing organizations President Donald Trump selected to represent the U.S. at the 2017 U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.42
The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women remains active in U.S. trafficking politics, defending Rep. Smith’s anti-prostitution pledge against its 2013 challenge at the U.S. Supreme Court. Most recently, CATW has lobbied Congress, with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (formerly Morality in Media) and Shared Hope International, to focus anti-trafficking laws on men who buy sex.
Hillary Clinton, the coalition’s onetime target, was again criticized over her stance on trafficking during her 2016 presidential campaign. In October 2016, just weeks before the election, right-wing blogs43 spread the news that Clinton had been asked, during a closed-door meeting with Black Lives Matter activists in 2015, whether she supported the decriminalization of sex work—one of the movement’s platform goals. Clinton, according to an email later published by Wikileaks, said, “I support the idea of it. I’m not sure exactly how you would implement it.” She added, “there is a difference between an adult sex worker and a child trafficked into being a sex worker, so you cannot just make a blanket statement, you have to figure out what the different work situations are.”
Donna Hughes, the longtime anti-trafficking leader, was among the first people on social media to share the story, which appeared to prove that Hughes had not, in fact, been wrong nearly 20 years earlier, when she claimed that Clinton saw sex work and trafficking as distinct concerns.
But the same 20 years have only further eroded such nuanced perspectives in terms of policies that link sex work and trafficking. In April 2018, President Trump signed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), expanding the century-old White Slave Traffic Act to include websites used by sex workers, so that state attorneys general can bring suits against such websites. Almost immediately after the legislation passed Congress, websites sex workers rely on to work in relative safety began going offline for fear of being targeted in new prosecutions. Since then, sex workers report that they are no longer able to use websites to share information about abusive customers,44 and that abusive customers they had once refused have returned45 to take advantage of their newly precarious position. The groups leading the charge for FOSTA include the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Shared Hope International. The Horowitz coalition has proven itself to be the first successful moral entrepreneurs of the war to combat human trafficking.⬛