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September 10, 2018

Minnesota Aims to Connect Porn & Sex Trafficking—No Matter What

SAINT PAUL, Minn.—Republicans have controlled both houses of the Minnesota legislature for the past two years, so perhaps it's not surprising that they would pass a piece of legislation like HF2967/SF2554, which styles itself as "A bill for an act relating to public safety; requiring collection of information on the connection between pornography and sex trafficking; [and] expanding the authorized penalty assessment to include additional crimes." Seems the Gopher Staters, as of August 1, have been collecting information on "how pornography supports sex trafficking through things like demand, grooming victims and creating additional revenue streams for traffickers," according to a summary put out by the Minnesota House of Representatives Public Information Services department. "Sponsored by Rep. Kathy Lohmer (R-Stillwater) and Sen. Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake), a new law will acknowledge the link between sex trafficking and pornography by expanding the crimes for which the department must gather statistical data for its human trafficking report to include possession of pornographic work involving minors and prohibition of dissemination and display of harmful materials to minors," the summary states. "The law will also add eight crimes to the list of prostitution-related offenses for which the court imposes an assessment between $500 and $1,000 in addition to any fine. They include coercion, labor trafficking, solicitation of a child and possession of pornographic work involving minors." Now, one might think that Minnesota already has child pornography laws that would make this new bill unnecessary, but the House's summary sidesteps what some of those eight new crimes are, including one that could easily affect adults' access to sexually explicit material featuring all adults: Sec. 617.293, which criminalizes "harmful materials; dissemination and display to minors prohibited." Also, in terms of tracking human trafficking in the state, the bill newly adds "including pornography" to the "social factors ... that contribute to and foster trafficking, especially trafficking of women and children." The bill adds additional fines of between $500 and $1,000 to the sentence of anyone convicted of crimes like "unlawful conduct with respect to documents in furtherance of labor or sex trafficking," not to mention "promotion of prostitution," "solicitation of prostitution" and "other prostitution crimes," not to mention the aforementioned "harmful materials" given or shown to minors, which could be pretty much anything remotely sexual. And a court isn't allowed to waive those fines, though it may reduce them a bit if the perp is indigent—but he/she still has to pay something, even if in installments. Most of the money will go to police agencies dealing with "combating the sexual exploitation of youth." But as relatively bland as the law itself sounds, some of the local press appear have detected the bill's undercurrent. For example, Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) Newsweekly begins with the unusual claim that, "Unlike reality shows, pornography is very real. The sexual abuse and degradation that female and child porn actors suffer isn’t much different than what prostitutes go through. As the internet and other technologies help blur the line between pornography, actors and other sex workers, what remains clear is that the majority have been victims of sex trafficking." Um, no. Those who actually work in adult entertainment understand that adult actors and the majority of other sex workers aren't trafficked, but since OSV is a religious publication, of course it went to a religious source for backup. "'We consider pornography sex trafficking with the camera turned on,' said Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, which helped draft the law. 'I think that’s an important point to drive home to people: When you use [pornography] you’re fostering and nurturing the sex-trafficking trade.'" Again, not a view likely to find much agreement among those in the mainstream adult production industry—in other words, those who actually know what they're talking about. The article also claims that "Sex trafficking is defined as inducing commercial sex acts by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such acts is under 18 years, according to the U.S. government’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act," though in California, New York and New Hampshire, courts have already ruled that production of sexually explicit content is protected under the First Amendment as free speech. To attempt to undermine that legal protection, the article quotes veteran anti-porn activist Melissa Farley that, "Pornography ... meets the legal definition of trafficking if the pornographer recruits, entices or obtains women for photographing live commercial sex acts," a position that has no basis in law. But according to one of the bill's authors, "Sex trafficking has been a serious problem in Minnesota, and there is evidence that pornography plays a role," and the bill's call for the collection of statistics on such things as arrests, prosecutions and convictions of traffickers and prostitutes, trafficking routes and methods of transportation of victims, not to mention the "social factors, including pornography, that contribute to and foster trafficking" will supposedly back up the "seriousness" of Minnesota's problem. Exactly how that's supposed to happen remains unstated, probably for good reason: Porn plays little if any role in sex trafficking. A recent article on trafficking in Minnesota Monthly provides a checklist of things to look for in a trafficked person, including such telltale signs as "Paying for larger items in cash," "Visible anxiety or fear; lack of eye contact," and "Inappropriate dress for the individual’s age or for the weather." It's unclear how far concerned citizens will get when reporting such "telltale signs" to police, but what do we know? It's Minnesota, after all ...

 
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