Let’s stick with the hunting metaphor for a moment. In terms of our justice system, “johns” have pretty much been “catch and release.” You catch the (usually) guy, slap him with a misdemeanor, and let him go. Don’t want to embarrass him, his family, put his job in jeopardy.
Thankfully, with rising awareness of human trafficking, this is changing. In today’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof sheds some light on what’s happening in Chicago.
Several police officers are waiting in a hotel room, handcuffs at the ready, when they get the signal. A female undercover officer posing as a prostitute is with a would-be customer in an adjacent room, and she has pushed a secret button indicating that they should charge in to make the arrest.
The officers shove at the door connecting the rooms, but somehow it has become locked. They can’t get in. The undercover officer is stuck with her customer. Tension soars. Curses reverberate. A million fears surge. Then, suddenly, the door frees and the police officers rush in and arrest a graying 64-year-old man, Michael. His smugness shatters and turns to bewilderment and shock as police officers handcuff his hands behind his back. Michael had reason to feel stunned. Police arrest women for prostitution all the time, but almost never their customers.
Yet that is beginning to change. There’s a growing awareness that sex trafficking is one of the most serious human rights abuses around, with some 100,000 juveniles estimated to be trafficked into the sex trade in the United States each year.
Kristof cites statistics that say about 15% of men in the U.S. has paid for sex in some manner, and that about 1 man in 100,000 will face arrest for that crime. He also says that laws have been tougher on people who download porn involving children than on those who pay for sex with minors. Why?
Thomas Dart, [Cook Co., Ill. sheriff], says that a basic problem is that the public doesn’t much sympathize with victims of trafficking. He remembers his department once raiding a dog-fighting operation to free pit bulls, and soon afterward raiding a sex-trafficking operation to free girls and women sold for sex. There was an outpouring of sympathy for the pit pulls, he said, but some carping about why the department was in the morals business and worrying about sex.
But ever so slowly, Kristof says, we are starting to realize “that this isn’t about policing morals but about protecting human rights.” It’s starting to make more sense to hunt the predators than the prey, at least in this case.