Find Your State

Know the laws in your state that protect LGBT people and people living with HIV.


The Trump Administration is focusing on investigation and prosecution to address human trafficking by (1) erecting barriers to safer sex trade, (2) increase enforcement of existing anti-prostitution and anti-trafficking laws, (3) maintain or even decrease resources for support services that address poverty -- the root cause of human trafficking, and (4) enact new laws to expand the definitions of trafficking.

Attorney General Sessions identified human trafficking as one of the Trump Administration’s priorities,[72] and anti-trafficking initiatives are part of Senior Advisor Ivanka Trump’s portfolio.[73]  The Administration’s remarks on trafficking have focused almost entirely on the sex industry, both domestic and international, with little to no reference to labor and other forms of trafficking. 

Erecting Barriers to Safer Sex Trade

Federal efforts to criminalize the technological mechanisms used by sex workers, including internet platforms, are gaining momentum, with predictable impacts on LGBTQ people.  On April 11, 2018, President Trump signed the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” (FOSTA), expanding civil liability for entities that host advertisements for sexual services, while giving no clarity as to what constitutes “facilitation” of trafficking.  Its passage has resulted in the closure of numerous internet sites that sex workers used to advertise and find clients,[74] reducing their vulnerability to violence, HIV/STI transmission, and exploitation.

Increased Enforcement of Existing Criminal Laws

Advocates anticipate that the passage of FOSTA will lead to an increase in the enforcement of existing anti-prostitution and anti-trafficking laws and an increase in funding for policing and prosecution purposes. 

Insufficient Funding for Sex Trafficking Victims Support

State and local budgets that prioritize funding for aggressive enforcement of prostitution and trafficking laws fail to provide funding for supports and services that are proven to address the root causes of human trafficking such as poverty.  There is little oversight and little input from the community members most affected by trafficking over initiatives and resources deployed in their name.  Often, funding goes to local police departments and district attorney offices that prioritize enforcement, rather than local community-based organizations that provide services, support, and create peer-based safety.  In some communities, local organizations are able to better support people who are vulnerable, identify victims of trafficking, and receive people back into their communities after a coercive experience.

Expanding the Definition of Trafficking

The Trump Administration also supports the enactment of new laws expanding definitions of trafficking to reach non-participatory actors, especially clients and third-party websites, and increased enforcement of immigration laws through efforts described as trafficking investigations.[75]  Available evidence indicates that such increased enforcement efforts, which often conflate all prostitution with trafficking while simultaneously ignoring labor trafficking and the sexual violence routinely associated with it, will not have an appreciable effect on the prevalence of human trafficking.[76]

Tactics that primarily rely on law enforcement, be it criminal or civil, increase vulnerability to violence and exploitation for those who trade sex, including trafficking victims.[77]  These efforts fail to address the root causes of trafficking, such as economic instability, lack of competent resources and services, harsh immigration enforcement and border control, and highly restrictive immigration policies and instead focus on increasing resources to law enforcement for “raid and rescue” of sex workers. The result is increased isolation of people involved in the sex trade, compromising outreach and harm reduction efforts, and exacerbating the rift between victims and the justice system.


In the United States, the LGBTQ community faces a disproportionate level of gender and sexuality based profiling and policing for prostitution-related crimes.  Numerous factors, including economic instability and a lack of support services, lead many LGBTQ people to rely on informal and criminalized economies such as sex work to meet their basic survival needs.  A national survey of transgender people reported that 11% of respondents had, at some point, engaged in some form of sex work.[78]  One study notes that homeless LGBTQ youth were seven times more likely to trade sex for a place to stay compared to their heterosexual peers.[79]

Transgender women across the country report frequent profiling and harassment under laws that prohibit loitering for the purposes of prostitution.[80]  LGBTQ youth are also highly policed under these laws in the context of the “broken windows” policing being promoted by the current administration.[81]  In some jurisdictions, law enforcement officers use the possession or presence of condoms to profile LGBTQ people or to support a charge of prostitution.  This practice deters vulnerable populations from carrying and sharing condoms, and deters traffickers from making condoms available to the people they exploit.[82]

Intensified policing of prostitution and trafficking not only exposes LGBTQ people to greater levels of profiling and discriminatory enforcement, it also exposes them to heightened violence, including sexual violence, at the hands of police.  Additionally, LGBTQ people who are arrested on prostitution-related charges are more likely to carry the long-term effects of a criminal record, creating another barrier to housing, services and the formal economy.

Criminalization and targeting of internet-based, third-party advertisers used by LGBTQ people such as Rentboy.com has widespread consequences beyond arrest and prosecution of LGBTQ people involved in the sex trades and attendant harms.[83]  By allowing sex workers and trafficking victims to screen and negotiate with potential clients, these sites reduce vulnerability to violence that may not be available to those engaging in street-based sex work.[84] Additionally, using an online platform creates an electronic “footprint” which can be essential to the investigation of trafficking by law enforcement. When law enforcement practices criminalize this “footprint”, sex workers and traffickers move the communication underground, using means that are less traceable.[85]  Finally, eliminating such websites, which often serve as hubs of harm reduction information for LGBTQ people trading sex, including public health information about STIs, including HIV, reduces access to critical and potentially life-saving information for people in the sex trades.[86]


State and local advocates can deploy a number of strategies to protect targeted communities from the impacts of these federal administrative and legislative initiatives, including:

  • Addressing violence and stigma against people in the sex trade by diverting resources away from criminal-legal responses to prostitution and toward meeting the basic survival needs that render individuals, including LGBTQ youth and adults, vulnerable to trafficking and violence in the sex trades;
  • Working with state and local agencies to focus on non-law enforcement-based, proactive anti-trafficking efforts;
  • Advocating for budget re-allocation of anti-trafficking funds to affordable housing, employment, health care, and anti-poverty initiatives as an effective and important form of prevention of human trafficking;
  • Advocating for funding for providers or community-based organizations instead of directly funding police departments or District Attorney Offices;
  • Calling for impact assessments of anti-trafficking legislation prior to a vote on the legislation, and for effective oversight of local and state-based anti-trafficking efforts, including evaluations of the impact and effectiveness of current state and local law enforcement stings and anti-trafficking operations such as Operation Cross Country, in addressing the needs of trafficking survivors and people in the sex trades;[87] and
  • Calling for state-level administrative bodies to deprioritize enforcement efforts targeting third-party internet advertising platforms and instead facilitate partnerships with these operators as resources to connect with populations who may not feel comfortable seeking out law enforcement to report victimization.
[72] Press Release, U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Att’y Gen. Sessions Delivers Remarks at the Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Summit (Feb. 2, 2018), https://www.justice.gov/opa/speech/attorney-general-sessions-delivers-remarks-department-justice-s-human-trafficking-summit.
[73] Betsy Klein, Ivanka Trump delivers anti-human trafficking speech at UN, CNN (Sept. 19, 2017 7:00PM), https://www.cnn.com/2017/09/19/politics/ivanka-trump-united-nations-human-trafficking/index.html.
[74] Tom Jackman, Trump signs ‘FOSTA’ bill targeting online sex trafficking, enables states and victims to pursue websites, Wash. Post (Apr. 11, 2018), available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/true-crime/wp/2018/04/11/trump-signs-fosta-bill-targeting-online-sex-trafficking-enables-states-and-victims-to-pursue-websites/?utm_term=.4d9b3766c3e4
[75] Lisa Fernandez, Oakland mayor supports cutting off all ties to ICE after no human trafficking convictions: report, KTVU (Nov. 22, 2017 9:14 AM), http://www.ktvu.com/news/oakland-mayor-supports-cutting-off-all-ties-to-ice-after-no-human-trafficking-cases-found-report.
[76] Prostitution is the exchange of sexual services for resources by a consenting adult.  Under the federal definition, sex trafficking occurs when someone is involved in the commercial sex trade through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of exploitation, or the person involved in commercial sex trade is under the age of 18. Trafficking Victims Protection Act, 22 USC § 7102 (2015); See Svati P. Shah, Trafficking and the Conflation with Sex Work: Implications for HIV Prevention and Control Law (Third Meeting of the Technical Advisory Group of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Working Paper, July 2011).
[77] Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, Collateral Damage: The Impact of Anti-Trafficking Measures on Human Rights Around the World (2007), available at https://www.iom.int/jahia/webdav/shared/shared/mainsite/microsites/IDM/workshops/ensuring_protection_070909/collateral_damage_gaatw_2007.pdf;  Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, Moving Beyond “Supply” and “Demand” Catchphrases: Assessing the Uses and Limitations of Demand-Based Approaches to Trafficking, 44-46 (2011), available at http://www.gaatw.org/publications/MovingBeyond_SupplyandDemand_GAATW2011.pdf;  The Sex Workers Project, The Use of Raids to Fight Trafficking in Persons (2009), available at: http://www.nswp.org/sites/nswp.org/files/swp-2009-raids-and-trafficking-report.pdf.
[78] Erin Fitzgerald, et al. Meaningful Work: Transgender Experiences in the Sex Trade (Dec. 2015), http://www.transequality.org/sites/default/files/Meaningful%20Work-Full%20Report_FINAL_3.pdf.
[79] Lance Freeman, & Darrick Hamilton, A Count of Homeless Youth in New York City (2008), https://shnny.org/images/uploads/Youth-Count-Results.pdf
[80] Stonewalled, supra note 22.
[81] Meredith Dank, et al., Locked in: Interactions with the Criminal Justice and Child Welfare Systems for LGBTQ Youth, YMSM and YWSW who Engage in Survival Sex Urban Institute, 8 (Sept. 2015), https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/71446/2000424-Locked-In-Interactions-with-the-Criminal-Justice-and-Child-Welfare-Systems-for-LGBTQ-Youth-YMSM-and-YWSW-Who-Engage-in-Survival-Sex.pdf.
[82] Human Rights Watch, supra note 27 at 3.
[83] Press Release, Transgender Law Center, LGBT Rights Organizations Join Amnesty Int’l in Call to Decriminalize Sex Work (Aug. 20, 2015), https://transgenderlawcenter.org/archives/11885
“Sex Workers Project Statement on the Indictment of Rentboy.com,” Sex Workers Project, 28 Jan, 2016, http://sexworkersproject.org/downloads/2016/20160128-swp-statement-on-rentboy-indictments.pdf. Accessed 13 Oct 2016.
[84] Noah Berlatsky, Female homicide rate dropped after Craigslist launched its erotic services platform, ThinkProgress, (Oct. 20, 2017), available at https://thinkprogress.org/craigslist-erotic-services-platform-3eab46092717/.
[85] Freedom Network USA, Freedom Network Urges Caution in Reforming the CDA, available at https://www.eff.org/files/2017/09/18/sestahearing-freedomnetwork.pdf.
[86]  Michael Rodriguez, Here’s How Sex Work Changed After the Government Shut Down Rentboy.com, Mic (Dec. 4, 2015), https://mic.com/articles/129355/here-s-how-sex-work-changed-after-the-government-shut-this-male-escort-website-down#.kU6cciyEy.
[87] Such an evaluation should include information regarding the number of state trafficking prosecutions, the number of prostitution-related charges that stem from these operations and the disposition of these cases; the number of minor and adult victims connected with services; the number of individuals placed in deportation proceedings; how long-term success is assessed; the number of people who are not trafficking victims but are arrested for prostitution-related crimes, including loitering for the purposes of prostitution, patronizing, and promoting prostitution; and annual budget information for state-based anti-trafficking efforts.