Last January a 33-year-old man named Anthony Parker was sentenced in Kitsap County to 601 months in prison for 11 counts related to sex trafficking. He had recruited a 23-year-old-woman, advertised her online, and prostituted her seven days a week—and up to 10 times a day.
The situations are complex and often the relationships between the victims and their pimps can complicate the situation when it comes to law enforcement.
Prosecuting traffickers can be challenging because it’s difficult to get women and girls to testify against their pimps, Talebi says. These are situations wherein the victims have suffered emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, have been threatened or had their families threatened, have been isolated and manipulated, and often will even feel that they “love” their pimps — seeing them as boyfriends. Part of what makes Washington state law enforcement so effective is its thorough understanding of these complexities.
States like New York are making progress, too, Leidholdt says. They didn’t even have laws against trafficking until 2007 and now, she says, there are laws that make sex-trafficking felony offenses and that protect minors who are being prostituted from being treated as criminals. Recognizing that trafficking and prostitution are intricately connected is also necessary in order to address the problem effectively.
“Our chief judge recognized the significant overlap between prostitution and trafficking by taking courts that were previously called ‘prostitution diversion courts’ and turning them into ‘trafficking courts,’” Leidholdt says. “This means saying every single person arrested for prostitution is either a trafficking victim or at risk for trafficking and they need protection and assistance and support — not criminalization.”
Turning the Focus
The only real way to address the problem of trafficking is to address demand, by passing legislation that considers buyers as traffickers in many instances. “That would represent a very important step forward,” Leidholdt says. “This is a $32 billion industry, and that money comes from buyers.”
It is for this reason that Leidholdt supports the Nordic Model and is encouraged by the recent passage of Bill C-36 in Canada, which will result in the criminalization of johns. The bill emphasizes that prostitutes are victims, not criminals, and targets those perpetrating abuse and exploitation – pimps and johns. This represents a huge step in terms of changing the way law enforcement addresses the issue of prostitution, but also in terms of working towards a society that no longer accepts men’s right to buy women and girls.
“We’re really looking to Canada with a great amount of hope,” Leidholdt says. “The fact that our Northern neighbors are on the verge of embracing the Nordic model is inspiring to all of us working on the issue of trafficking, and we really want the U.S. to move in that direction.”
“We’re in the process of trying to affect a paradigm shift, but we have our work cut out for us.”