FactCheck.org - Annenberg Public Policy Center [Philadelphia PA]
March 7, 2023
By Sean Christensen
Efforts to stop child sex trafficking in the U.S. have been underway for decades, led by presidents including Joe Biden. But an Instagram post makes the false claims that former President Donald Trump was the first to “acknowledge that children are being sold for sex in the U.S.” and that Biden “rescinded” a Trump order addressing the problem.
The conspiracy theory movement known as QAnon has spread the baseless claim that former President Donald Trump is battling a child sex-trafficking ring led by prominent Democrats and Hollywood stars, as we’ve previously written.
Trump’s role in the fight against sex trafficking is further distorted in a Feb. 26 Instagram post, which falsely claims Trump was the “1st President in U.S. History to acknowledge that children are being sold for sex in the U.S.”
The post also wrongly claims President Joe Biden “rescinded Trump’s Executive Order that helped combat child sex trafficking” on Biden’s second day in office. The post received more than 2,000 likes. A replica of the claim, posted on the same day to Truth Social, received more than 1,500 likes.
The claims aren’t new. On June 14, a Twitter user shared a clip of Jaco Booyens, an anti-sex trafficking activist, being interviewed on the conservative channel Real America’s Voice.
Booyens claimed that Trump was the “first president in U.S. history to acknowledge that children are being sold for sex in this country [and] first president to open an office in the White House to form coalitions with law enforcement.” He also alleged that a Trump-era executive order on child sex trafficking was “rescinded [on] day two” of the Biden administration.
None of the claims is accurate.
Presidential Actions Against Trafficking
Trump was not the first president to address the issue of child trafficking in the U.S.
Ali Boak, director of the Global Center on Human Trafficking at Montclair State University, told FactCheck.org in an email interview that “many, if not all,” presidents since Bill Clinton “have taken steps to improve the United States’ response to address child sex trafficking,” due to the issue’s bipartisan support.
Prior to addressing child sex trafficking, the federal government focused on combating sexual exploitation through legislation on child pornography. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation Act of 1977 into law. The act prohibited child pornography and outlawed transporting children across state lines for sexual exploitation. The law was then strengthened under President Ronald Reagan by the Child Abuse Amendments of 1984.
On March 11, 1998, Clinton released a “Memorandum on Steps to Combat Violence Against Women and Trafficking in Women and Girls.” The State Department labeled it “the first presidential directive ever issued on the subject.”
In the memorandum, Clinton said: “Here in the United States, we have seen cases of trafficking for the purposes of forced prostitution, sweatshop labor, and exploitative domestic servitude. … My Administration is committed to combating trafficking in women and girls with a focus on the areas of prevention, victim assistance and protection, and enforcement.”
Clinton also signed into law the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, or TVPA, which was the “first comprehensive federal law” on the issue, according to the National Center for Homeless Education. The law noted, “Traffickers also buy children from poor families and sell them into prostitution or into various types of forced or bonded labor.”
The TVPA officially codified labor and sex trafficking as criminal acts and established the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which “partners with foreign governments, international organizations, other federal agencies, civil society, the private sector, and survivors of human trafficking to develop and implement effective strategies to confront human trafficking.”
Marking the 20th anniversary of the act, Trump himself said on Jan. 31, 2020 that the victim protection act “took a historic step to protect the victims of this form of modern-day slavery here in the United States and all around the world.”
In December 2008, President George W. Bush signed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. According to the Justice Department, the act mandated that “all unaccompanied alien children be screened as potential human trafficking victims” and eliminated prosecutorial requirements “to prove defendants knew a sex trafficking victim was a minor.” Bush also hosted the first national training conference on human trafficking in 2004 and established the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2007.
In May 2015, President Barack Obama signed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, which codified human trafficking of minors and the production of child pornography as forms of “child abuse.” The law enabled the U.S. government to prosecute customers of sex trafficking victims. During the Obama administration, the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons focused on prosecutorial capacity and victim-identification efforts in the U.S. Federal agencies “initiated over 6,000 human trafficking cases and secured over 4,000 convictions.”
So U.S. presidents prior to Trump acknowledged and took steps to battle child sex trafficking.
Biden Did Not ‘Rescind’ Trump Order
Regarding the claim that Biden rescinded a Trump order regarding trafficking, we found only one executive order from Trump that specifically addressed child sex trafficking in the Federal Register.
On Jan. 31, 2020, Trump signed Executive Order 13903, which sought to strengthen the federal government’s response to child sex trafficking given the potential for “twenty-first century technology and the proliferation of the internet and mobile devices” to facilitate the crime. But he did not “open an office in the White House to form coalitions with law enforcement,” nor did Biden rescind this order, as the Instagram post claims.
As part of his policy, Trump announced “the Domestic Policy Council shall commit one employee position” — not an entire office — to fighting human trafficking in the U.S. “and to coordinate with personnel in other components of the Executive Office of the President.”
But Luis C.deBaca, former ambassador-at-large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons from 2009 to 2014, told FactCheck.org in a phone interview that the position had already existed. “The Domestic Policy Council and the National Security Council already had folks who were dedicated to staffing the human trafficking issue,” C.deBaca said. (The Domestic Policy Council itself was created by a 1993 executive order issued by Clinton.)
Trump’s executive order also did not task the assigned Domestic Policy Council employee with “form[ing] coalitions with law enforcement,” as the posts suggest. (Trump did instruct some cabinet officers to partner with law enforcement and other stakeholders to “fund human trafficking and child exploitation prevention programs” and improve the government’s “capabilities to locate children who are missing.”)
Biden never rescinded this or any other executive order on human trafficking on his second day in office, according to records from the Federal Register and White House briefing room.
The misconception comes from the fact that, in establishing a new council to fight transnational criminal organizations, Biden revoked one section of a Trump-era executive order on human trafficking.
In December 2021, Biden established a United States Council on Transnational Organized Crime, or USCTOC, to “lead whole-of-government efforts” on international organized crime. In 2017, Trump had assigned the Threat Mitigation Working Group — which was established under Obama — the role of coordinating the federal government’s response to transnational criminal organizations.
To avoid redundancy, the executive order that created the USCTOC also removed those same responsibilities from the Threat Mitigation Working Group. To do so, Biden had to revoke the section of Trump’s executive order that initially granted that authority to the Threat Mitigation Working Group.
But this does not mean that Biden stopped the federal government’s efforts to end child sex trafficking, as the post claims.
C.deBaca told FactCheck.org that a U.S. council is “something much bigger and more formal” than a working group, meaning Biden “elevated” the government’s response to transnational criminal organizations by creating the USCTOC.
But C.deBaca cautioned against using presidential actions to mitigate transnational organized crime as the only metric for their efforts to combat human trafficking. While there is some overlap, “many people who are not members of transnational organized crime networks also do this,” he told us.
Biden’s Efforts to Address Trafficking
C.deBaca pointed us to Biden’s 2021 National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking as “a real win” for federal government efforts to address the issue. The report amended an action plan with the same title that was released by the Trump administration in 2020. The two documents represent “a comprehensive plan” on human trafficking, which the U.S. did not have beforehand, according to C.deBaca.
In December, Biden then signed the Countering Human Trafficking Act of 2021 into law, which granted the Center for Countering Human Trafficking, or the CCHT, statutory authority to coordinate the Department of Homeland Security’s response to human trafficking, expanding the center’s power.
The bill also expanded victim assistance programs and transferred the Blue Campaign, a public awareness effort established in 2010 to combat human trafficking, to the CCHT — two policies that were supported by experts we interviewed.
Amy Farrell, co-director of the Violence and Justice Research Lab at Northeastern University, commended the victim support services the law provides in a phone interview with FactCheck.org. According to her research, she said, “the more comprehensive a law is … particularly including victim services, the more likely there are to be prosecutions and identified victims.”
Boak, of Montclair State, praised the Blue Campaign. She called the public awareness project “a critical tool against child sex trafficking as it provides public information and resources on the trafficking of children and youth.”
Discussing the Biden administration’s efforts to address child sex trafficking, Carrie N. Baker, chair of American studies at Smith College, told us in an email interview that Biden’s “policies of providing support for poor families has done more to decrease young people’s vulnerability to trafficking than any previous president.”
Booyens did not respond to a request for comment on the evidence behind his claims.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.
Amy Farrell. CSSH.Northeastern.edu. Accessed 6 Mar 2023.
Anne Mary Anderson (@RaquelCASoares1). “Jaco Booyens, whose organization fights child sex trafficking,says Trump was the 1st President in US History to acknowledge that children are being sold for sex in the US, and the 1st President to open a WHoffice to form coalitions with law enforcement to save America’s children.” Twitter. 14 Jun 2022.
Baker, Carrie N. Email sent to FactCheck.org. 3 Mar 2023.
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Executive Order 13773-Enforcing Federal Law With Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking. Federal Register Vol. 82, No. 10691. 14 Feb 2017.
Executive Order 13903-Combating Human Trafficking and Online Child Exploitation in the United States. Federal Register Vol. 86, No. 6721. 5 Feb 2020.
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Wyatt (@austerewyatt1). “Trump was the 1st President in U.S. History to acknowledge that children are being sold for sex in the U.S., and the 1st President to open a White House office to form coalitions with law enforcement to save America’s children. On his 2nd day in office, Biden rescinded Trump’s Executive Order that helped combat child sex trafficking.” Truth Social. 26 Feb 2023.
wyattaustere. “Trump was the 1st President in U.S. History to acknowledge that children are being sold for sex in the U.S., and the 1st President to open a White House office to form coalitions with law enforcement to save America’s children. On his 2nd day in office, Biden rescinded Trump’s Executive Order that helped combat child sex trafficking.” Instagram. 26 Feb 2023.
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