Florida law enforcement find massage parlors one of the best places to root out human trafficking despite not being able to locate traffickers there during their numerous raids. Many persons get arrested and law enforcement claim to have rescued a few “victims” but, by and large, the usual result follows the pattern of the infamous 2019 Robert Kraft sting which resulted in 300 arrests – none of which were for trafficking.
In one recent case, which the county sheriff’s office dubbed a success, 125 persons were arrested and, according to the office, four women and one teen were rescued “from the heinous grasp of human trafficking.” The number of traffickers arrested? None. Almost all charges were related to prostitution: from “soliciting another to commit prostitution” to “entering or remaining in a place for prostitution” to “purchasing the services of a person engaged in prostitution.”
Anti-trafficking stings can cause harm
Trafficking stings continue to be a means to rooting out sex work. This explains how failing to arrest a single trafficker can still result in “success” in the eyes of law enforcement. This is not only problematic for sex workers, many of whom are migrants and may lack options for other means of employment, but also points to a deeper problem for trafficking victims.
In case you missed it: This webinar explores the links between trafficking and sex workers’ rights.
As advocates point out, raids are very expensive and the money spent on law enforcement anti-trafficking operations is money that is not being spent on actual survivors. What’s more, some sex workers are forced to declare themselves trafficking victims or risk arrest.
According to Slate,
Chronister’s office referred the women to Selah Freedom, an anti-trafficking non-profit based in Sarasota that runs a 22-bed residential shelter for trafficking victims. The organization, which brought in $4 million in revenue in 2019, is also part of the Tampa Bay human trafficking task force.
Stacey Efaw, Selah Freedom’s executive director, said it could not confirm it is providing services to these women, or explain the services it is providing them, for privacy reasons. She said their services, which include therapy and job assistance programs, are not mandatory in cases of law enforcement referrals. “It’s voluntary, if they want help,” Efaw said. But Alex Andrews, the cofounder of the Sex Workers Outreach Program Behind Bars, which provides support for incarcerated sex workers and victims of trafficking, says these services aren’t always perceived as voluntary by those who are referred to them by law enforcement. “It’s not referred for services so much as it is coerced into services. We call it coercive intervention, where they get a choice between going to jail, or going to this program,” Andrews said. “They try to talk them into being victims, because otherwise they’re going to criminalize them.”
Freedom United is also wary of proposed policies that aim to tackle sex trafficking yet end up causing more harm and make it more difficult for survivors to seek support from authorities. You can learn more about this topic on our dedicated resource hub. You should also check out this recent webinar featuring a presentation from our Senior Campaigns Advisor, Jamison Liang.