Today President Trump is expected to sign the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which provides an excellent opportunity to talk about another law — the Law of Unintended Consequences — and how Congress often ends up hurting the very people it claims to be trying to help.
The actual subject is an unpleasant one: prostitution, and the markets for various kinds of prostitutes and their clients.
Yesterday I learned that there’s a website called The Erotic Review (no link — this is a family blog) where members share ratings and reviews of the prostitutes they hire, and prostitutes can compare notes on their johns. Due to yesterday’s passage of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, management announced that it will block US users from the site — even though it has nothing to do with sex trafficking.
This is where it gets complicated, not to mention a little gross. For that, I apologize.
Near as I can tell, there are three main classes of women having sex for money — just not always money they get to keep themselves, which is a vital distinction.
The first group are actual victims of sex trafficking. These women have been kidnapped in one way or another, and forced into sexual slavery for someone else’s profit. This is wrong beyond words, and every effort should be made to eradicate it.
The second group are the unfortunate streetwalkers you might see in the worst parts of town. It’s no great risk to guess that these women are drug addicts, by and large, and likely in thrall to pimps who may use them almost as badly as actual sex traffickers. They were a common sight in the San Francisco neighborhood where I used to live, and the whole scene was tragic — for hookers and johns, both.
The third group are essentially, for lack of a better phrase, independent contractors who have sex for money. It’s not the kind of work most people would appreciate or approve of — because yuck. But these prostitutes, whatever their reasons for joining the world’s oldest profession, are in charge of their own bodies, clientele, and profits.
It’s also obvious that of these three groups, it is only the third one which would be using websites like The Erotic Review — which is now unavailable to them or their customers.
Again, this is seedy stuff we’re talking about. But whether you feel that prostitution should be outlawed, or whether your attitude is more libertarian, three things ought to be clear.
• A site like The Erotic Review, while distasteful, at least affords prostitutes the ability to protect themselves by sharing information about abusive customers and the like.
• Another benefit, if you’ll allow me to call it that, of a site like TER is that it keeps a dirty business off the streets where the chances of harm to women are higher.
• All this effort does nothing to help the worst off, the actual victims of sex trafficking. It also increases the risks of harm to those who were previously the least prone to it.
So I’m not here to debate whether prostitution should be legal or not — it’s just a horrible topic and one I’d rather not have to address at all. But Trump’s signature on the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act may prove to do nothing to stop actual sex traffickers, while putting more women at risk of becoming victims.
The Law of Unintended Consequences, like the Law of Gravity, is invisible, omnipresent, and impossible to repeal.