Youth, Sex Trade and Sex Trafficking: Examining Policies and Practices
Alexandra Lutnick currently works with RTI international as a researcher, focusing on young people’s involvement in the sex trade. I saw her present some of her work at the XIX International AIDS Conference and I was very moved by her insights and experience. As my own focus is the impact of anti-trafficking policies within the U.S. I arranged to interview Ms. Lutnick in San Francisco where we both reside. The following are some excerpts from this interview which I plan to publish in full in the future.
Ms. Lutnick's current project involves a process evaluation of three community-based organizations that have been funded to work with what the federal government considers domestic minor victims of human trafficking. Prior to that her work had largely been with adults who work in the sex industry, conducting a 5 year study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse with UCSF, the University of California San Francisco and St. James Infirmary, a peer run occupation health and safety clinic for individuals in the sex industry. Ms. Lutnick also worked at a homeless family shelter, and extensively with the youth at the shelter. Her work on a study with young injectors, most of them between 16 and 24, so she became more aware and had more direct experience with that subpopulation of young people who might be trading sex. Ultimately she was brought into the current project both because of her experiences doing evaluations of programs, and because of her larger expertise in the area of sex trade and sex work.
CL: Currently much of the attention to trafficking in the U.S. focuses on young people engaged in sex trades. What are some of the policy proposals and changes associated with this emphasis? The passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000 marks the beginning shift to focusing on young people involved in trading sex here in the states. The reason why I highlight that is that the language within the TVPA re-categorizes a whole group of young people, any young person under the age of 18 who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident engaged in sex trades, as a victim of trafficking. If one is under the age of 18 and fits these other criteria, based on the federal definition within the TVPA, one is now categorized as a victim of sex trafficking.
This move changed the discourse substantially. Prior to the passage of the TVPA a number of populations were recognized, each with widely different circumstances such as young people subjected to force and violence, or those involved in casual sex trade in exchange for a place to live, or youth considered ‘at risk’ in various circumstances.
After the passage of the TVPA, the conversation shifted as the numbers and circumstances of all these populations were combined to make the claim that there was an exploding problem of US young people being forced into the sex industry. The “Catch 22” is that the federal definition doesn’t require force, fraud, or coercion in the case of people under the age of 18. Yet most states still have on their books laws that criminalize people’s engagement in sex trades regardless of their age. So, in many states, unless a young person is being transported across a state border, unless they’re on federal property, it’s rare that the victim status within the TVPA is applied to them.
(More from this interview can be found on http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2012/11/02/18724988.php )