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I noticed a front page headline in the Seattle P-I about Washington State Attourney General Rob McKenna’s participation in an agreement with Craigslist aimed at urbing at curbing the sex trade on the popular site. The authorities appear to be emphasizing the exploitation of minors and women from other countries as motivation for this action, but McKenna is hoping Craigslist’s new policies will deter “illegal activity,” including the business of uncoerced adult prostitutes. In my opinion, the government should not regulate sex between consentign adults. Hence my disappointment when I saw this headline. (Many of the comments to the P-I article reflected my feeling.)
I think there ought to be laws against sex with minors, due to their inability to consent. Although one has to admit that there is a degree of arbitrariness to the age of consent — why not 19 or 17 rather than 18? But I suppose the line has to be drawn somewhere. I hesitate to be fully candid in discussing this issue due to public nature of this blog.
Sex trafficking involving adult women (or men, I guess — can’t men be prostitutes, too?) should be illegal for different reasons. The most easily defended one I can think of is that such trafficking necessarily involves illegal immigration. Although I believe that we should have far, far more liberal immigration policies, a nation should have control of its borders. So traffickers are weakening the US’s control of its borders. Of course, for most commentators, illegal immigration is not the outstanding feature of sex trafficking. Instead, the focus is on the unfortunate situation of the women whom traffickers bring here. Either because the women do not want to be deported or do not have the skills to survive without their captors (language, culture, etc.), their captors have the leverage to force them to work as prostitutes. I don’t really know a whole lot about sex trafficking, so maybe I will hold off on coming to a conclusion, but I would just point out that an unfortunate situation is not necessarily one in which the government should intervene. For example, investors in mortgage-backed securities are in an unfortunate situation but should only be bailed out if their losses pose system risks to the economy (an externality).