One such critic – Ann Jordan, director of the program on trafficking and forced labor at American University's law school in Washington, D.C. – has watched the US anti-sex-trafficking campaign with dismay.
A longtime advocate against human rights violations associated with various types of forced labor globally – such as indentured servitude, debt bondage, and slavery – Ms. Jordan says the anti-domestic-sex-trafficking movement "just took off and created its own industry," in part because it touched upon a conservative social nerve.
"Everybody wants to save the virgins, right?" she states. The hype, she says, ends up sidelining other concerns – such as the broader categories of human trafficking or even forced labor, which do not have to involve sex. "You need to tailor your response to the reality. You should not tailor your response to the hype."
What exactly is 'sex trafficking'?
When nonprofits and celebrities and even sex-worker advocates throw around the term "sex trafficking," what do they mean?
Some are referring to girls and women who are enslaved, transported from country to country, and forced to work in brothels. Others mean girls who are essentially kidnapped, shuttled from motel to motel, sold for sex and subject to violence from pimps and johns.
But federal law defines sex trafficking broadly to include all children involved in prostitution with a pimp. Some even interpret the law as covering all minors involved in prostitution at all. This includes girls who seek out a pimp for work, who are engaged in prostitution in their hometowns, whose families know about their prostitution, and even those who turn down opportunities to leave their "traffickers." In some ways, sex-trafficking laws are similar to statutory rape laws – the government has determined that a minor simply cannot consent to being involved in this sort of commercial sex.