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By Callista Chartier and Peter Keay

In our studies with the Human Trafficking Clinic, we learned victims of human trafficking often suffer even after leaving their traffickers. While they are trafficked, victims may experience run-ins with the law, fines, jail, and a criminal record. This can affect elements of their post-trafficking life like job interviews, housing applications, child custody hearings, and social services. Without intervention, survivors of human trafficking will have to deal with their criminal record—and its effects—for the rest of their lives. 

There are several approaches to managing the crime of prostitution and the subsequent creation of criminal records of trafficking victims.

The Dutch model involves the legalization of both the sale and purchase of sex. With full legalization, victims do not acquire a criminal record for the sale of sex. Under this model, prostitutes register with the government to legally work in brothels or sex clubs. After this model was applied, studies showed an increase in underage and adult sex trafficking.

The Swedish model legalized the sale of sexual services, but made it illegal to purchase them or sell someone else. This model prevents victims from developing a record, but allows for the punishment of those who purchase sex or exploit others. After implementation, there was a decrease in both street prostitution and the number of men purchasing sex.

Composite photo based on Jonathan Taylor and Kyle Broad’s pictures on Unsplash

Under the criminalization model, prostitution is still a crime and victims can still be arrested for selling sex, regardless of whether they were coerced into acting. Victims can still develop a criminal record under this system. Many victims in the U.S. have a criminal record because of prostitution convictions. Some states, however, do allow for trafficking to be an affirmative defense.

Some U.S. states have explored decriminalizing prostitution by opting not to prosecute instances of prostitution and only charge buyers and traffickers. Other states are considering decriminalizing prostitution for both sellers and buyers of sex. Nevada is currently the only state where prostitution is legal.

The legality of the sale of sex also raises moral questions. The Bible teaches that sex is to occur during marriage and is not to be purchased. Should Christians insist that American laws enforce the Biblical standard regarding sexual intimacy? Or is it better to recommend laws that alleviate victim struggle, and conduct moral advocacy in realms beyond the legal sphere?

This post was written by two students with the Center for Global Justice Human Trafficking Clinic. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.

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