Is Human Trafficking the New "War" in the criminal justice system? And if so, why should it be any more effective than the war on drugs.

If you follow the legislature, you probably believe that human trafficking is rampant. Each session produces new bills that have little - or nothing - to do with human trafficking. At a recent legislative update put on by the Texas District and County Attorneys Association the presenter joked that even if you don't know it, eveyone in the room had been trafficked in the last 30 minutes. These are the people who have to enforce the law, and even they recognize how little most laws have to do with actually addressing the problem.

Don't get me wrong - human trafficking is a horrible thing, and those who are involved need to be punished. There's not many things worse than treating another person like a piece of  property, and using them for your own selfish reasons. I know it happens  - the question is how often it happens, and more importantly, how do you stop it.

I was around for the so called "war on drugs", and hoped we had learned our lessons from that. It was never a war; instead, it was an artfully designed, and brilliantly executed PR campaign. I've been around long enough to realize that politicians are seldom interested in solving problems; they are only interested in doing things - i.e. passing laws - that keep them in office. They also don't want to do the hard things necessary to address the problem - because most of the time, those things aren't popular.  Instead, they take the easy way, and do things that only chip away at the exterior. They then incentivize law enforcement with money; billions of dollars went to law enforcement to fight the "war on drugs". I think most people in law enforcment would agree that most of that money did little to address the problem, but they weren't going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

The problem was it was never a war; instead, that was a brilliantly designed catch phrase, most likely developed by PR people. After all, if there's a war you need to fight - and throw resources at it. What they were fighting was human demand - and if there's one thing that civilization has learned over the last few thousand years is that you can't eliminate demand through legislation. How effective was prohibition. For a lot of people, making something illegal only makes it more desirable. And then you introduce a whole new set of problems - after all, criminals and criminal organizations are pretty good at adapting.

More than one person - our local Sheriff included - has stated that  the current initiatives to curb prostitution are aimed at eliminating demand. I have to believe they don't really believe that; if they do, you have to question whether have enough sense to be in office. There's a reason prostitution is called the "world's oldest profession." It's been illegal in the United States for years, and you can see how well that has worked. A lot of smart believe believe that sex is one of the basic human desires, and no one has yet found a way to eliminate that - short of maybe a lobotomy.

The problem with labeling this a war, is that you go for the easy fixes. Posting ads on the internet is an easy way to generate numbers - but does it really do anything to solve the problem. How are you supposed to find anyone that's actually involving in human trafficking? At least with the "war on drugs" they arrested low level drug dealers - who in theory could lead them up the ladder. If you were to apply the same tactics here, you would be answering ads on the internet - not placing them. You could then locate women who were being trafficked. That's not nearly as easy though, and you can't generate the big arrest numbers, that lead to more grant money. If you want to see how this really works, look at my recent post on the recent national push which produced only a handful of human trafficking arrests.

The other problem with this approach is that you destroy thousands/millions of lives. Look at the aftermath of the war of drugs. Entire segments of the our population were locked up, and given criminal records to carry with them for the rest of their lives. 

I'm not saying that law enforcement shouldn't focus on human trafficking - because they should. People who prey on the vulnerable should be held accountable. However, addressing that problem takes real detective work. Not sitting on the computer and responding to texts, which any 17 year old kid can do.

We should all learn from our mistakes. Unfortunately, when it comes to the criminal justice system, that seldom happens. 

Walter Reaves
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Criminal Defense Attorney Walter Reaves has been practicing law for over 30 years.
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