A Tucson Weekly investigation finds that federal funds to “fight sex trafficking” are actually perpetuating it.
The program raked in $1.5 million from the Department of Justice (DOJ) in its first year. Its mission: to disrupt human trafficking and help the crime’s victims in southeastern Arizona. Instead, Southern Arizona’s Anti-Trafficking Unified Response Network (SAATURN) largely engaged in arresting and prosecuting sex workers, including some suspected of being victims of sexual exploitation.
We know this thanks to some solid investigative work from Tucson Weekly. Last week’s cover story by Danyelle Khmara reports that in three years of SAATURN investigations, 516 cases were opened. But only 23 of these cases resulted in arrests related to sex trafficking, with just 14 leading to charges and only 10 so far ending in convictions or guilty pleas. (Three of the cases are still ongoing, while one suspect committed suicide while out on bail.)
Even in these cases, “sex trafficking” is used to describe a rather wide range of conduct, including things that may have caused harm but aren’t at all what people think when they hear human trafficking and sex traffickers. Just two cases “resemble the mainstream narrative of a kidnapped female forced to commit commercial sex acts against her will,” writes Khmara. “The rest of the cases vary widely.”