THE BLOG
01/22/2013 12:34 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2013

Human Trafficking and Prostitution: Here's a Better Way to Confront Them

No matter what, when it comes to addressing the world's oldest profession, there's always going to be a demand for prostitutes willing to sell their bodies for a fee. Like illicit drug use, until it becomes legal, prostitution will continue unabated, unregulated, uncontrolled and untaxed.

Also, when it comes to the sex trade, there always will be occasional, much publicized sweeps of prostitutes and johns in some seedy section of a city. There always will be some righteous state legislators, too, introducing virtuous bills targeting some aspect of this socially unacceptable behavior.

Some examples: Last week, Florida's Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who has been described as not "just a local enforcer of laws but a more universal arbiter of morals," announced that a four-day prostitution sting had netted 78 arrests that included porn stars. He got bonus nationwide exposure for the effort. Judd said, "We seemed to have every thug and reprobate in central Florida under arrest... Let the word go forward, this is not our last operation, because we like it."

Like it? You can bet Judd loves it. Those morality raids are time tested, very effective political "tricks" for politicians, particularly sheriffs and prosecutors, to remind the public how well they are protecting the community from morally depravity.

And in this virtuous state of Florida, the latest moral flavor of the month is a new campaign in the Florida legislature to crack down on the massage parlor industry now flourishing. Many of Florida's massage parlors are alleged to operate as fronts for prostitution on a 24-hour basis. A measure is making its way through committee to make it a first degree misdemeanor for massage parlors to operate between10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and not to allow anyone to live in these establishments.

This bill, which has received unusual bipartisan support in both houses of the Florida Legislature, not only addresses illegal prostitution in these massage parlors but the issue of sex trafficking, where virtual sex slaves, many of them children, are alleged to work long hours treating clients while being held captive on the premises.

Introducing such a bill may seem altruistic But human trafficking is a serious problem that, unlike prostitution per se, deserves much more sophisticated action than the ineffective political gimmickry used to address pimps and street walkers. Prostitution is only part of the human trafficking problem, and solely dwelling on it to address slavery ignores legal distinctions between human trafficking and prostitution.

While prostitution is a moral crime that will always continue in one form or another and should be legalized, sanitized, taxed and controlled, human slavery violates basic constitutional and human rights precepts and can't be tolerated at all. It's much more than arresting johns and sanctioning massage parlors.

Human trafficking in the U.S. is exploding, and Florida, along with Texas and California, are hotbeds for human slavery.

Many of the slaves are children. According to the Florida Departments of Children and Families, there were 427 reported cases of child trafficking in 2011, up from 43 cases of child trafficking in 2009.

In a recent article in the New York Times headlined, "A Misguided Moral Crusade" by Noy Thrupkaew, a contributing editor at liberal publication The American Prospect. Thrupkaew correctly argued that to tackle human trafficking, instead of law enforcement employing "end demand" campaigns that result in the arrests of prostitutes and johns, there needs to be a major commitment "to seriously investigate and prosecute traffickers and impose harsh punishment on those who rape and assault sex workers."

So leaning on massage parlors is neither the answer nor a good start to free Florida's slaves.

Florida legislators in 2008 targeted a mushrooming gang problem by implementing a successful Florida Gang Reduction Strategy initiative. Now, lawmakers, along with Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, should be devising similar long-term law enforcement strategies specifically targeting those who promote human trafficking and freeing human slaves.

They should give the very moral Sheriff Judd the same, honorable mission that President Lincoln had 150 years ago to free slaves in his jurisdiction. Instead of arresting horny johns, he'd be part of a statewide effort to enforce the 13th Amendment and jailing truly criminal thugs and reprobates, but minus the titillating headlines to help him get reelected again.

This article appeared in The Florida Voices on January 21, 2013

Steven Kurlander is an attorney and communications strategist. He writes weekly columns in the Sun Sentinel and Florida Voices and blogs in Kurly's Kommentary. He can be emailed at kurly@stevenkurlander.com

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