CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — On Friday, law enforcement agencies carried out a sting in Cranston aimed at cracking down on human trafficking. Seventeen people were arrested.

But, now, the ACLU of Rhode Island is criticizing the operation, which it says mostly arrested “johns” and prostitutes.

The ACLU condemned human trafficking in any form. But, released a statement that reads:

“Human trafficking is a scourge, and efforts to eradicate it are to be applauded. However, as this operation makes clear, law enforcement stings like this one often end up having little to do with trafficking, but a lot to do with embarrassing and penalizing consenting adults engaged in sexual conduct for a fee. Conflating prostitution with trafficking does nothing to help the trafficking victims who remain ensnared while consenting adults are pursued and arrested. By humiliating and charging johns for seeking consensual sex and by giving prostitutes arrest records in the name of ‘helping’ them, these operations misleadingly purport to crack down on human trafficking, when their major effect is just to make the lives of prostitutes more difficult and dangerous, driving sex work even deeper into the shadows.

“We commend the organizations in the state actively working to provide social and other support services to sex workers who may have addiction or need other assistance.  But we emphatically reject the notion that the only way these individuals can be helped is if they are first put into handcuffs.”