Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa is hoping to stamp out the sex trade by taxing pimps and prostitutes, then jailing them when they don't pay.
The Senate Finance Committee is expected to vote Wednesday morning on the pimp tax. The bill also calls for more jail time for sex workers.
If passed, the provision will authorize at least $2 million toward the establishment of an office in the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation unit to prosecute unlawful sex workers for violations of tax laws.
"Recent headlines have focused on sex trafficking in connection with the World Cup in Germany," Grassley said. "This vile crime is under our noses in the United States, and it's a no-brainer to have the IRS go after sex traffickers. Prosecuting these tax code violations can get these guys off the street and yank from their grasp the girls and women they exploit."
Grassley said the problem is "especially horrible" when underage girls are involved.
Asked if taxing sex workers would legitimize their trade, a Grassley spokesman said the goal was simply to find "yet another alternative to track the money flowing in this industry to get at potential criminals."
Currently, the IRS has to prove a prostitute's or pimp's income to pursue a tax law violation. But under Grassley's proposal, a pimp could get up to 10 years in prison for each prostitute for whom the pimp hasn't filed a W-2, which means a pimp caught with 10 unregistered prostitutes faces a century in prison.
Carol Leigh, a representative of the Bay Area Sex Worker Advocacy Network in San Francisco, California, called the proposal short-sighted.
"Forced labor, kidnapping should be targeted. But this legislation broadly targets the sex trade in general, and could target your local strip club," Leigh said. "We want laws enforced against those who abuse us, against those who are violent, and enforcement of labor regulations. That is the only truly effective way to protect the welfare of the women who work in the industry."