Considering Criminality in the Sale and Purchase of Sex
The New York state court system this week unveiled its Human Trafficking Intervention Initiative to expand a network of pilot courts specially aimed at linking prostitution defendants with a range of social services, and offering the potential for non-criminal dispositions or reduced charges for these defendants. The program represents an important step toward addressing the exploitation of women, men, and children through sex trafficking. The recognition of coercion in the sex trade and of the coexistence of prostitution with needs for housing, healthcare, immigration assistance, job training, and drug treatment echo reforms in the domestic violence context to create more integrated judicial approaches to addressing the needs of victims.
These reform efforts raise the question of how much attention should be paid to the market supporters of the sex trade. Law enforcement has tended to focus on sellers of sex, rather than its purchasers, although every state in the U.S. but Nevada criminalizes both the sale and the purchase of sex. Our American approach, however, is not self-evident. Sweden criminalizes patronage but not prostitution, akin to many European countries. The NY reforms suggest further thinking about allocation of criminal responsibility.