Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

That New Anti-Human Trafficking Law Is Destroying Lives & Will Increase Human Trafficking


The cause of fighting human trafficking has been a hot topic for a few years now, and rightfully so. I’m one who has been so passionate about the issue that I did four years of doctoral work on the topic, from the brothels of India to all the major geographic regions of the United States– ultimately earning Fuller Theological Seminary’s 2016 Missiology Award for what was deemed unique and noteworthy contributions to the field and study of human trafficking.

There’s a lot in this world I don’t know, but I know a couple of things about human trafficking.

While awareness around human trafficking has grown exponentially in recent years, a dangerous thing grew at the same time: a frightening degree of ignorance, hyped-up generalizations, stereotypes, and outright false information. This has led us to the point where there is greater awareness– the term “human trafficking” is now one that most people know, but it has also led us to a place were this “greater awareness” in many cases, is actually just a widespread acceptance of not-quite-true information and horribly bad ideas.

Sometimes ignorance and misinformation is relatively harmless. In other cases, such ignorance can destroy lives and get people killed.

In this case? Well, what started as a few hyped-up episodes of Sex Slaves in The Suburbs has now cumulated in a sweeping new anti-trafficking law that instantly destroyed lives, got people killed, and has literally driven those most vulnerable to human trafficking into the hands of potential traffickers.

Trump recently signed into law the Stop Enabling Sex-Trafficking Act (SESTA) and the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), much to the celebration of many well-intentioned anti-trafficking advocates (but universally denounced by sex workers, countless human trafficking survivors, and by Freedom Network USA which is the largest coalition of providers in the anti-trafficking movement). However, these laws are the most damaging blow to the anti-trafficking movement that I could have ever imagined: SESTA/FOSTA is already getting people killed, instantly made people homeless, put pimps back in business, and just made it infinitely harder for us to identify and help victims of human trafficking.

You probably heard of this law when news broke that the government seized the website Backpage. Or maybe you noticed when Craigslist completely shut down its entire personals section. Let me explain what this anti-trafficking law actually is:

The new anti-trafficking law is actually an anti-free speech law– literally. The law modified Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shielded online platforms from what individual users said or did on their platform. For example, if you threatened to kill someone via Facebook, Facebook is obviously not responsible for what you did. However, this new anti-trafficking law weakened that protection and made online platforms liable if users posted an advertisement for erotic services. This is why Craigslist simply closed their personals section– shutting down all personals was easier than taking the chance of being sued if a user posted an advertisement for a sexual service.

Which brings us to the most dangerous part of this new law– it treats sex work (prostitution) as if it is the same thing as human trafficking, when it is not. Human trafficking is when you are forced or coerced by another person to do something you do not choose to do.

The Readers Digest of it is this: this new anti-trafficking law isn’t actually an anti-trafficking law, it is an anti-prostitution law and an anti-free speech law that makes websites criminally responsible if someone posts and advertisement for sex. That’s what it is.

This isn’t a human trafficking law, nor has it or will it help trafficking victims. In fact, this law will both increase human trafficking and make it harder to identify victims. Here’s why:

Whether you agree with it or not, some people in this world trade sex for something of value– and are not trafficking victims. Some do it by choice and find it empowering. Some do it by circumstance in order to survive. For these individuals, use of the internet has helped them take steps to stay safe. Online advertisement means they can screen clients and walk away when something doesn’t feel safe– something they might not be able to do if forced to conduct business in the streets. It’s also a place where they can share critical information like a “bad date list” to protect other sex workers from encountering potentially dangerous clients, and a variety of other potentially life-saving tools.

But those tools? Many of them disappeared overnight when this law passed.

For those who do not have the option to instantly make ends meet by other means, this law was devastating and forced them into either homelessness or street based sex work. And that is precisely how this anti-trafficking law will actually increase human trafficking and subject the vulnerable to further violence.

We already knew that the female homicide rate dropped 17% when Craigslist became the original place where they could advertise instead of working on the street, and that online advertisement made people safer. But that’s gone now. (Thanks anti-trafficking advocates.)

We also already knew that law enforcement consistently used online forums such as Backpage to locate and identify actual human trafficking victims who would otherwise be kept in the undiscovered shadows of society. But that critical tool previously used to identify and help victims is now gone. (Thanks anti-trafficking advocates.)

While many who trade sex were able to work independently, with reasonable safeguards, and off the street before SESTA/FOSTA, these well-intentioned but horribly misguided anti-trafficking initiatives stripped all that away from them. There are already countless stories of homelessness. Sex workers who went to work in the street and didn’t come home. Suicides from having lost one’s only income source in the blink of an eye.

Not one new victim rescued because of it, but many new ones were created.

The only people giving out high-fives more than the evangelical and the second wave, white feminist wings of anti-trafficking movement?

Pimps– because we just put them back in business, and we’ve already seen their recruiting efforts swing into gear. Without the ability to operate independently on the internet, or stay safe on the streets alone, getting a pimp– even with all the risks that come with that– will be the only option some have left to them.

So, there you have it. This anti-trafficking law is just an anti-free speech and anti-prostitution law. It stripped from us a critical tool we previously used to identify and help trafficking victims, and drove some of society’s most vulnerable individuals into the violence of the streets, and into the arms of those who could very likely exploit– and yes, traffic them.

Thanks, anti-trafficking advocates.

Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

It's not the end of the world, but it's pretty #@&% close. Trump's America & Franklin Graham's Christianity must be resisted.

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  6. Ben, Im pretty ignorant of this issue, but do many of the people ‘trafficked’ not end up in prostitution? I know this has happened to refugees offered ‘help’ to come to Europe, and then find themselves being forced into prostitution by those who had promised them ‘jobs’.

    1. Most human trafficking involves agricultural, factory, domestic services and other low- (or non-) paying jobs.

  7. Now you’re just sounding like a typical white male dudebro who thinks prostitution is a “choice.” If you think women choose to get paid to be raped, you’re out of your freaking mind.

    1. Believe it or not, some (very few, I imagine) do actually choose to get paid to be raped. It’s a kink. But prostitution is not rape, and to equate the two trivializes people who have actually been raped. Prostitution is, indeed, a choice for many. Just because it is a choice you can’t imagine making doesn’t make it any less of a choice for others.

    2. Actually, at least some prostitutes in western countries do choose to have sex with men for money. They would not view it as ‘rape’, but rather a ‘business’. I have heard a number of prostitutes being interviewed who view it as a choice they have made, typically for financial reasons.

      A recent example of this mind-set, selling sex for a good income:

      This of course does not reflect on those women who are forced to be prostitutes, often with the threat of violence by men, or those who have such a low sense of self-worth that they feel it is the only way they can live . Such men btw are b’stards and will be judged accordingly.

  8. sorry, Ben – not agreeing with you on this one. I see your position as similar to needle giveaways for heroin addicts – using the logic that by providing free clean needles the spread of disease is lessened. Facilitating crime, whether it be prostitution or human trafficking, by providing a platform for said crimes to take place, is not the answer.

    1. Then, may I ask, what would you do instead? Crack down harder? That often punishes the victims of trafficking, since it’s hard to tell whether someone was involved willingly. In fact, decriminalizing sex work generally makes it much easier to get those who are truly forced into it out – because they don’t have to fear prison if they go to the law to escape. Look into it – you might find the reality surprising.

      Also, needle exchanges do lessen the spread of disease without expanding the use of drugs. Again, look into it. You may have some bad information.

      1. gimpi1
        there is a big difference between enabling bad behavior and offering love and compassion and encouraging one to change said behavior.
        As Jesus said, “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more”.

        1. My take on that parable is a bit different. There’s no threat on Jesus’s part, no insistence on reform before help is offered, and an acute awareness of the hypocrisy that it often a part of judgemental behavior. Frankly, I take the “Go and sin no more,” as more advice than command. However, I am not a member of your faith, so my understanding may be spotty.

          Dr. Corey, however is a member of your faith. He’s spent years of his life studying human trafficking. He’s done extensive work with people caught in its web, not only those in sex trafficking, but domestic, seafood, textile and farm workers who have been caught up in trafficking. He might know more than you. I know he knows more than I do. I think it’s worth listening to him.

          Just an aside, and I know this may seem snarky, but I’m genuinely curious, since I’ll apologize in advance and ask anyway: Do you judge as harshly and want to see suffer for their sins people who do things not as, well, overtly sinful? I don’t see calls to strip all greedy people of their possessions or deny medical care to overweight people. Greed and gluttony are sins too, right? Yet, sex, booze and drugs always seem to get calls for ignoring science, best practices and results in favor of making people hurt as much as possible. It seems, well, selective. And hypocritical. It reminds me of the people I heard, who – as AIDS was making its presence known – called for denying treatment and not funding research because SIN. Frankly, that turned my stomach. Thoughts?

          1. Gimpi1
            I agree there is no threat on Jesus’s part, and perhaps you are correct that His admonition to go and sin no more is not a command – a request. But I do not see Jesus as accepting her sinful behavior, or enabling her.
            As far as Dr. Corey, I do listen, as a subscriber to his postings, and have much respect for him. But respect does not mean tacit approval. He is entitled to his opinion, and I mine. Respect is still there.
            As to your last question, I don’t feel that I am judging prostitutes or addicts.
            I believe them to be sinners just as I that need the saving grace of God.
            I do believe prostitution, human trafficking, and substance addiction are sinful, evil behaviors that should not be enabled or encouraged.
            Gluttony and greed are also sinful, evil behaviors that should not be enabled or encouraged.
            And no matter the sinful behavior, a Christlike response would be one of love and compassion, but not acceptance or encouragement of said behavior.

            1. Fair enough. I think you’re wrong, because things like needle exchanges and decriminalization have better outcomes, such as less sickness, suffering and needless death, but I respect the consistency of your beliefs.

              A couple of things for you to consider:
              Since laws against sex work make it much harder for those who have been trafficked and forced into it escape, how would you address that?
              If you consider yourself pro-life, how do you justify causing needless death in the name of morality?
              How would you want to see society punish greed, coveting or gluttony? Would those sanctions approach the severity of the punishment you consider appropriate for sex workers or addicts?

              Just things to consider …

            2. Do you understand that MOST of the people, here, are NOT volunteers; and, did not get a choice as to whether they wanted to have sex with strangers?
              Do you also understand that MANY are underage made-up to appear older? And, it’s not just for girls, anymore.
              If slavery (labor without pay or consent, which often includes sex) was not a problem, in the bible, why DID God spend forty years opposing the slavery of another human?

              1. if it is as you state and most are not volunteers or not doing it by choice then the removal of their online platform should not matter.
                as far as slavery, I am not in the least condoning it. On the contrary, it would be the freedom we have in christ that we all seek for all.

                1. This is where it gets tricky. When you remove their online platforms, you remove all traces of them from the internet- traces that police nation wide used to find victims and the perpetrators of crimes against them. You make it much harder to find them by chasing them further into the shadows. That’s the whole point of this article.

                2. I recommend that you read a book called “The Cross and the Switchblade”; it’s a modern (sort of) day Good Samaritan story.

                  Today you can replace switchblade with gun.

    2. It’s meeting people where they are. Prostitution has been against the law in most states for decades, but there has been no reduction in prostitution. The fact that drugs are against the law hasn’t stopped people from using them and overdosing on them, and dying from them. Portugal, on the other hand, has seen a fantastic reduction in addiction since decriminalizing drugs, as addicted people can now seek help without fear of arrest, and decriminalization has lessened the stigma of addiction. Likewise, decriminalization of prostitution in New Zealand has seen that sex workers are far more likely to report violence against them than they were before decriminalization.

      Not to mention the fact that addiction should simply not be criminalized- it’s a health issue, not a criminal issue. And sex work is also ridiculous to criminalize. Doing an act for free is ok, but the minute someone gives me something for it suddenly makes the exact same act a crime? How does that change the act? Which private party to this act- that takes place in a private location between two (or more) consenting adults- is the criminal? What about a minister who married a black man and a white woman when “miscegenation” was a crime? Some laws are simply unjust or unsustainable. Harm reduction- which is what decriminalization and needle exchange are- have proven to be the best approach to these things.

    3. What if your own dearly loved son or daughter, whom you did everything in your power to protect and nurture from birth through adolescence, nevertheless wound up becoming a heroin addict? This happens far more frequently than you might suspect, assuming it hasn’t already happened to your family. Imagine that your most passionate efforts persuade your child to overcome the habit, your being there and participating with him or her in one rehab program after another, all came to no avail. At this terrible, tragic point, when even God Himself seems to have abandoned you and your family and the child you so dearly love, what would you prefer, richard? That your son or daughter be able to get a clean needle and a pure nonlethal dose of heroin from a medical clinic, or that he or she be left to the drug dealer on the street?

      1. newton
        hypothetical situations are so vague, and almost impossible to understand one’s point.
        But, to answer your question, would I forsake all to keep my child from procuring a illegal product that would most likely ultimately lead to an early death ? yes.
        giving away needles is not curing an addiction. it’s feeding it.

        1. Giving away needles is a health issue.

          So in your fantasy, you would have your daughter shooting up with shared needles?

          People dont shoot up because of free needles.

          And many drugs today dont need needles.

          1. bones
            I advocate stopping the behavior, not the consequences of said behavior.
            You can justify giving away free needles as a health issue, just as Ben is advocating a website as a safety issue, but they are both encouraging bad behaviors.

            1. So, is it your goal to increase the suffering for bad behavior? You just want people to hurt more, in the hope the pain will make them change? Yeah, that has been tried, well, forever, and it doesn’t work. Ever. The thing is, people in pain and fear don’t make the best choices. Easing the pain and fear often helps them make better ones.

              I live in Seattle. We have a big problem with public drunkenness, as do most major cities. We were spending a lot of money on 911 calls for people passed out. It was decided to have a “flophouse” – a cheap supported housing center – where drinking would be permitted. People screamed bloody murder. We were just enabling bad behavior. However, not only did the shelter save a great deal of money on emergency medical calls, it turned out that giving people a very basic shelter helped them clean their lives up enough to get serious about stopping drinking. This program has a better rate of success for ending both homelessness and public drunkenness than those that demand instant sobriety.

              1. giving the drunks a place to sleep is a bit different than giving them free booze or clean glasses with which to drink. I don’t see it as enabling or encouraging the behavior.
                apples to oranges

                1. Not at all. The goals of all these programs is not modifying behavior, it’s about reducing public costs. The goal of our program in Seattle was to reduce the high cost of 911 calls due to public intoxication. Police and ambulance services were being called over people passed out or incoherent. The program was designed to reduce this expense by taking the “public” out of “public intoxication.” That it also made it more likely that people would be able to get sober was a happy and mostly unexpected side effect.

                  Needle exchanges are created to reduce public costs by preventing the spread of contagious disease. It’s cheaper to not have to treat someone for Hep-C and addiction. Likewise, decriminalization of victimless crimes such as willing, untrafficked sex work reduces police and court costs and allows resources to be spent on those who are victims of trafficking or force.

                  It’s not about enabling or judging. It’s about priorities and deciding how to allocate limited resources. Housing first, needle exchanges and partial decriminalization are all designed to reduce costs and direct resources to where they will get the most results. Reducing 911 calls, preventing the spread of contagious disease and concentrating police resources on those who have been victimized all do that. I see that as apples to apples.

            2. You can’t stop people’s behaviour.

              People are going to do drugs whether you like it or not.

              And it’s about time people saw drugs as a social and health issue eg alcohol and smoking and not a criminal one.

                1. Hmmm… yes- I think I have heard of it in regards to religious zealots trying to make gay people straight. Never works.

                  When you require someone to change, you require that person to lie to you.

                    1. If you treat it like a war, then it can never be won eg Prohibition.

                      In fact Prohibition is a perfect example which shows how organised crime will supply anything which people demand.

                      In the meantime people are sent to jail for having a few g of powder or pills (especially if you’re poor or black).

                    2. it is a war, a battle, a struggle, whatever you want to call it, but I am not going to call evil good, nor call evil good.

                    3. No, of course, you’re too bent on making evil good and good evil. Calling them the wrong things is positively quaint compared to that.

                      For starters, try not to conceive of war as a glorious enterprise, where the struggled-for value matters more than the casualties.

                    4. not sure what you mean. one cannot deny that there is good and evil.
                      and I call prostitution and human trafficking and heroin addiction evil.

                    5. But, you are giving the MONEY makers a free pass and putting the victims in danger.
                      The money makers will never walk up to you and say here I am, and these are the people I have exploited.

                    6. I call prostitution and human trafficking and heroin addiction evil.

                      Prostitution is not inherently evil, nor is taking heroin. Prostitution can be abusive, and when it is, it is evil. Heroin can be addictive, and when addiction takes over a life, that is evil. Your insistence on casting your net for evil too wide is neither helpful nor wise.

                      Pointedly, in your desire to “make war” on the evils of the world, it seems to escape your notice and attention that overly punitive approaches to heroin use or prostitution usually just hurt more people with no good results to show for it. That, too, is evil.

                    7. if you do not think prostitution and heroin addiction are evil, then we differ greatly.
                      good day sir.

    4. “Facilitating crime, whether it be prostitution or human trafficking, by providing a platform for said crimes to take place, is not the answer.”
      You fail to realize: the platform already exists.
      Only now, those caught in it are generally going to be there involuntarily and thus under abuse–and, because the market exists, more will get unwillfully caught in it.
      You free it up, like any industry, and the “quality” becomes better (healthier, less drug ridden, less abused), and pimps no longer have to violently take women in to their ring. And because supply will be much greater, and cheaper, it will no longer pay to be a pimp that uses drugs and physical violence to suppress their women.

      Freeing it up gets rid of the “criminality”.

      Unlike drugs, sex is generally not opiate-addictive for the majority of the population.

      1. sorry josh – isn’t that what amsterdam does – and not working out too good for them. I don’t agree with your logic.

  9. At first, I did have some reservations in calling Trump’s new signed anti-trafficking laws as unjust, but now, in how this article clearly pinpointed its fallacies, I now know that not only is there no merit in the laws, they actually will make the situation worse…

    I like the clear context as written from someone who has been involved in the subject matter…Thank ya kindly Ben…

  10. One of thee effects this law had is that Amazon removed many authors books based on a list of forbidden words in the content. So many erotica and romance authors either had to completely rewrite their stories with no forbidden words or have them removed from the platform. My daughter is an author who writes romance and erotica and she was telling me many of the authors were upset because there was no warning.

    1. It’s the same with licensed massage therapists and people who sell sex toys. I am sure it will be struck down eventually (completely unconstitutional), but not before ruining plenty of peoples’ lives.

  11. Sorry, but progressives need to stop being apologetic about this. People say this will harm sex workers, but Backpage actually willingly ignored trafficking activity to further their own pockets. You keep saying that conservatives support immoral practices since someone has an R by their side, well maybe the same thing can be said of progressive who will support anything that has a left wing cause and try to justify it as being the Christian way to do things.

    1. Hi JazzQueen,
      I don’t think this is a progressive vs. conservative issue. If this is a bad law (I don’t know enough about it to know whether Mr. Corey is correct or not in his analysis), then it is a bipartisan bad law. Only two members of the Senate voted against it (one R and one D) and only 25 members (pretty evenly split between parties) of the House voted against it. Some of the most progressive and conservative members of Congress supported it.

    2. I’m a conservative, everyone in this forum knows this, and generally conservatives of libertarian bent (philosophically, not the capital L) support legalizing prostitution primarily because it will get rid of the “disgusting” side of prostitution that involves enslavement of women, drug abuse, and physical violence. There’s a reason legal strip clubs don’t coerce their dancers: they don’t have to in order to feed market demand.

        1. “it didn’t get rid of the seedy side of things.”
          Neither has law; you’re not making a proper comparison. Such a line of thinking is called “Nirvana Fallacy”; it’s the comparison of real results to perfect outcomes, but what we have in other parts of the world are not perfect outcomes. What you need to ask is “compared to previous incidence (not Nirvana outcomes) of rape, has Amsterdam shown improvement?”
          To that end, yes. I posted a link in a previous reply to someone else where I link to a journal that supports this outcome.

          1. The problem here is that people say this is an attack on free speech, while ignoring how businesses like this have turned a blind eye towards corrupt practices going on. One comparison is with chocolate companies that willingly ignore child labor, in order to profit from their trade.

            1. “The problem here is that people say this is an attack on free speech”
              That’s not the topic I’ve moved forward with; if you don’t like addressing it from that perspective, that’s fine. But that doesn’t invalidate the other point(s), particularly the one I’ve advanced in which I’m suggesting it minimizes the incentive to coercive.

              1. The so-called statistics people back up with van be validated with the fact that anti-trafficking agencies have proof of the fact that these types of places like Craig’s List have been too lax.

                1. “these types of places like Craig’s List have been too lax.”
                  Well that’s not a fair comparison; Craigslist is just a platform from which to market…the problem isn’t that they’ve been too lax, the problem is that legal means of prostitution have been outlawed. Thus the only one’s with incentive provide for prostitution are the ones who must take on a lot of risk of punishment; so the supply goes away but demand doesn’t. And this means prices go up; they go up enough to motivate another human being to enslave another.

                  If you legalize prostitution, the price will go down as supply will increase and it won’t be profitable to kidnap and drug the women that are victims of it.

  12. Yeah, I’d heard that this anti-trafficking law was deeply flawed. Thanks for running down all the ways it makes the often already rough lives of people involved in sex-work harder and more dangerous. One would almost think that was the point… make the lives of sex workers harder and more dangerous and. what? They’ll get out of ‘the life?’ If they have been caught up in a trafficking ring, they’re not involved voluntarily… how does this help them.

    Seriously, this doesn’t touch people trafficked as slave-labor in domestic and agricultural work, more common than sex-trafficking. It doesn’t help people trafficked for sex-work find a safe way out. It doesn’t prevent trafficking or offer aid to people who have been trafficked. I really don’t understand what the goal was in its drafting. Just to ‘do something?’

    1. “One would almost think that was the point… make the lives of sex workers harder and more dangerous and.” Bingo. For them, the only good sex worker is a dead one. Or a former one who repents (but probably remains poor and dependent on handouts. They had the nerve to offer “help” to sex workers who had been affected by this law by posting a list of abolitionist organizations. It’s truly disgusting).

  13. Doesn’t the anti-trafficking law keep traffickers from soliciting on the internet? Plus, the anti-trafficking law keeps prostitutes from soliciting their dirty busy on the internet and entrapping young children into illicit sex and prostitution. Maybe prostitutes need to be homeless rather than destroying young lives. They are almost as bad as human traffickers.

  14. The Genocide in Israel/Palestine is real. I have posted several times for people to read the Balfour Compact and a few other pieces written in 1917… As the British and the US took a pen to maps and divided up the area, placing oil rich countries under their control and tied it to the US dollar. They gave Palestine to both the Arabs and Zionists… WAR is always about $$$$, Dirt and distraction as the rich get richer and the citizens fight each other… Paying no attention to the men behind the curtain…

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