ESPLER Project: End the Anti-Trafficking Scam

Feb 3, 2016 4:29 PM PST

SAN FRANCISCO — ESPLER Project today called on federal and state oversight bodies, including the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) and California’s Department of Finance to deliver “proper oversight” of anti-trafficking organizations in receipt of federal or state funds.

ESPLER also called on government agencies to halt funding organizations whose sole purpose is to “peddle misinformation” and disseminate “outright lies” to generate further funding. 

By some estimates, ESPLER Project officials said, 50 of the most prominent anti-trafficking organizations in the U.S. have annual revenues of about $686 million, much of which is from federal and state grants.

ESPLER Project officials noted that in its 2013 IRS filing, the Polaris Project showed that a quarter of its revenues — $1,520,541 — came from government grants.

These are significant numbers, the officials said, but it is almost impossible to determine where that money goes because the required IRS filings rarely break down expenses. 

Most anti-trafficking organizations make big claims — and sometimes fabricated stories paired with discredited stats — about rescuing victims from trafficking, but the reality is very different, the officials said.

Most "rescue operations" are law enforcement “raids,” which entrap consensual adult sex workers and often end with incarceration of the supposed victims, the group said.

“This is a huge self-sustaining industry largely supported by our tax dollars, but it does very little to advance its stated purpose of helping trafficked victims. Instead it is all about keeping the grants flowing,” said Claire Alwyne, a board member of ESPLER Project, known formally as the Erotic Service Providers Legal Education and Research Project,  a coalition self-described as one advancing sexual privacy rights through litigation, education and research. 

“We’ve long called upon legislators to create transparency and accountability of publicly funded anti-prostitution and anti-trafficking groups. It’s about time the GAO and state oversight bodies started cracking down on them.” 

Maxine Doogan, president of the organization, said, “Simply reciting fake statistics shouldn’t be enough to get government funding.”

“But thankfully some legislators, like California Assemblyman Bill Quirk, chair of the state legislative Public Safety Committee, are trying to develop policy and allocate funding based on real data. The oversight bodies should really do the same.”

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