The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump administration’s action to end sex trafficking lacks credibility

Women sit in a karaoke bar in Thailand’s southern province of Narathiwat during a police raid as part of a campaign against prostitution and human trafficking involving women and minors on Nov. 9.
Women sit in a karaoke bar in Thailand’s southern province of Narathiwat during a police raid as part of a campaign against prostitution and human trafficking involving women and minors on Nov. 9. (Madaree Tohlala/AFP/Getty Images)
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The hypocrisy of this administration apparently has no end. If Ivanka Trump truly believes that “every government in the world has a moral obligation to do all in its power to stop” forced labor and sex trafficking, as she wrote in her Nov. 30 Friday Opinion piece, “Our moral duty to end modern slavery,” I would like her to explain why the Trump administration hired Alexander Acosta as its labor secretary. Mr. Acosta reportedly let sex offender Jeffrey Epstein off with what legal observers have described as “the deal of a lifetime.”

The Miami Herald’s top-notch reporting last week about the plea agreement that Mr. Acosta struck with Mr. Epstein a decade ago was chilling reading. Despite mountains of evidence that showed Mr. Epstein recruited “a large cult-like network of underage girls” to perform sex acts in his Florida mansion, Mr. Acosta appears to have let this monster and his lawyers essentially dictate the extremely generous terms of his plea agreement. Yet, President Trump put Mr. Acosta in charge of the Cabinet department that includes the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, whose mission includes combating human trafficking.

If the Trump administration wants any credibility on this issue, it should immediately replace Mr. Acosta as labor secretary.

Stacy Beck, Washington

I appreciate the administration’s commitment to combating human trafficking, which Ivanka Trump discussed in her Nov. 30 column. But Ms. Trump did not properly address the most important factor causing modern slavery, which is the demand side of the equation. With respect to sex trafficking, the high demand for paid sex has made this exploitation of people’s most fundamental rights an incredibly profitable enterprise in the United States. One report found that pimps in Atlanta make as much as $32,000 per week. Law enforcement agencies should obviously continue to punish traffickers, but they are not going to be successful unless we also reduce people’s willingness to pay for sex. My own research as a public-policy researcher suggests that countries that target the demand for paid sex experience lower levels of trafficking. One successful method for reducing demand is to not arrest prostituted people and trafficking victims but instead exclusively arrest traffickers and sex buyers.

Ms. Trump pointed to the administration’s investment in global efforts to remove the economic incentives behind trafficking. But that must not come at the expense of tackling demand on the domestic front.

Simon Hedlin, Cambridge, Mass.

Ivanka Trump touted in her Nov. 30 Friday Opinion essay the Trump administration’s bold action to combat trafficking. The commentary was dangerously misleading.

The contradiction between the administration’s words and actions is on stark display in its disregard for the basic human rights of migrating families, many fleeing exploitation. While the administration was implementing a family-separation policy that resulted in the detention of toddlers, the State Department issued its annual Trafficking in Persons Report with a strong condemnation of countries that institutionalize children away from family settings. Stunningly, the administration had called its own policies inhumane.

By painfully separating families and prosecuting asylum seekers as criminals, the administration empowers traffickers who target desperate men, women and children searching for refuge. These acts also signal an inexcusable lack of concern for those vulnerable to human trafficking and, in doing so, erode the United States’ long-standing leadership on combating trafficking worldwide.

Following the ratification of the Palermo protocol against trafficking and the enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000, Congress and the George W. Bush administration implemented a framework that other countries sought to emulate. Under this administration, there is far too little to emulate and far too much evidence of harm.

Melysa Sperber, Washington

The writer is the director of policy and government relations at Humanity United.