The Washington Post chose a very strange article to publish for National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In “Who’s disproportionately prosecuted for human trafficking? Young black men,” the authors assert that federal human trafficking laws are written and prosecuted in a way that is unfair to young African-American men.
The article insinuates that a lower legal threshold for the sex-trafficking of minors incentivizes prosecutors to prioritize these cases over those where adults are the victims, or cases involving labor-trafficking. It goes on to state that because defendants in minor sex trafficking cases — which carry stricter penalties and more jail time — are more likely to be African-American men, the laws are being unfairly applied.
However, the writers of the Washington Post piece, Vanessa Bouché and Mark Daku, missed a critical point: It is the heinousness of the crime, not the relative ease of prosecution, that is the primary motivator of prosecutors in child sex-trafficking cases.
If you want to talk about disparities in human trafficking, let’s talk about the victims. In Georgia, where I serve on the Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force, we have a robust safety net for underage victims, and therefore we have robust statistics on the youth we serve. In 2017, Georgia Cares, our state intake agency for underage victims, served 596 youth, a 27 percent increase over the year before.
Of those youth served, 94 percent of sex trafficking victims were female, and 59 percent of them were African-Americans — almost twice the number of white victims. If 57 percent of domestic minor sex trafficking defendants are black, as the article states, that speaks more to a correlation between the race of a trafficker and his victims than racial bias in prosecution.
The Washington Post headline insinuates the traffickers are young men, but the body of the article reveals the average age of a minor sex trafficking defendant is 31 years old — not exactly a spring chicken. The victims are the ones who are young. In Georgia, the average age of minorsex trafficking victims when they entered treatment was 14.8 years old, and those youth had been “in the life” an average of 5.7 months before they got out and got help.
Victims often have a troubled home life and are vulnerable to the attention of sex traffickers. In Georgia, 82 percent of young victims had been in the child welfare system, 70 percent had been frequent runaways, and 88 percent of young victims — almost 9 in 10 — had experienced child abuse, including sexual abuse, before they were trafficked.
Life in the hands of a sex trafficker is brutal. Survivors report being verbally abused and beaten, burned with cigarettes, threatened with a gun or other weapon, and raped repeatedly — sometimes repeatedly on the same night. As many as 76 percent of youth victims in Georgia report substance abuse during their trafficking period, and traffickers often use drugs to control their victims and keep them working.
Fifteen-year-old girls should be hanging out with friends, gossiping about who is going to the prom with whom, and complaining about how much homework they have. They should not be servicing johns at the direction of a pimp. They are kids, and they deserve a life free of abuse and exploitation.
Domestic minor sex traffickers are abusers exploiting vulnerable youth for financial gain. They deserve every bit of punishment meted out to them. For the Washington Post to insinuate they are the victims of overzealous or lazy prosecutors is an injustice to the victims whose lives are changed forever by the abuse they received at their traffickers’ hands.
The only black-and-white that matters here is what’s right and wrong. In its effort to virtue-signal support for black men, the Washington Post inadvertently betrayed a population that has truly been victimized — the young black women who have suffered at the hands of traffickers.