Let me begin by thanking you all sincerely for making this blog surprisingly popular. This started as a small research blog with a target audience of 7 of my classmates. It has garnered amazing traction and, according to my latest WordPress stats, has received over 2,000 hits in 58 countries. Again, I can’t thank you enough for your interest in my work.

For anyone who would like to read my final research report entitled Indian Sex Trafficking Supply Chain: Retailer Focus on the Exploitation of Nepali Victims, I am more than willing to share it with you and read your feedback. My contact information can be found at the bottom of this post.

In concluding my research for this project, I have made several important determinations that I would like to share:

  1. The retail stage is where the victim is commercially sexually exploited. This the only link in the supply chain where new revenue is generated. All revenue generated in the sex trafficking supply chain flows from consumers to retailers and outward from there: to traffickers and recruiters; to corrupt state officials; and to peripheral industries such as real estate and underground medicine, to name a few. Because retailers interface with the end-user and facilitate the consumption of the product, much of the power in the supply chain is vested in them.  Thus, retailing is the most pivotal link in the sex trafficking supply chain; it is where all of the supply chain efforts converge to benefit supply chain participants.
  2. The tactics used by retailers to control victims are an important business consideration because as victims are treated more poorly in a given market, “…more women are trafficked because within a short time period they cease to be marketable. Therefore, the volume of contemporary trafficking is shaped not only by demand but also by the treatment of the victims.” (Louise Shelley, 2010).
  3. Some means by which a victim’s exploitation comes to an end simply feed back into the sex trafficking cycle. For example in cases of abandonment or escape, a victim may be unable to return home, or even survive, without money, and be forced back into a commercial sexual exploitation situation–though potentially under better conditions. Alternatively, it is common for former victims to move on to work on a less exploitative basis in the sex trafficking supply chain. For example, in a study by India’s National Human Rights Commission, over two-thirds of brothel-owners interviewed had previously been victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Recruiters in Nepal are also frequently former Nepali sex workers. Like the sex work they were previously doing, victims are often coerced into these positions. Still, from a victim’s perspective this move in work is better than being raped on a regular basis.
  4. A new consensus on human trafficking simplifies the issue by postulating that it is demand-driven and more intervention must be undertaken to address consumer demand. This is encouraged by experts like Kara and Hughes, as well as organizations such as the OSCE. However, contemporary sex trafficking is propelled by a multitude of factors, not least of which include socioeconomic push factors that drive women into commercial sexual exploitation, and encourage the cycle of former CSE victims remaining in the industry as retailers, traffickers, or recruiters. Addressing consumer demand in a vacuum minimizes these complicated push factors, which are not easy to address.

Again, thank you. By working together to advance knowledge on this topic, we can contribute to the advancement of effective solutions for intervention in the sex trafficking supply chain.

Please email me at cchung6@gmu.edu or craigchung234@gmail.com for a .pdf copy of my research paper.

The sex trafficking supply chain is composed of various stages or nodes. During one of these stages, the financial benefits are processed throughout the human trafficking networks. In a way, this stage is an ongoing process. Retailers are constantly reinvesting proceeds into their business by paying off government officials, buying new slaves, et cetera. These costs are a part of doing regular business. A major area of concern is the cover-up of human trafficking financial proceeds “through a series of transactions or investing them in legitimate businesses… so that there is a symbiotic relationship between upper- and underworld activities…” (OSCE, p. 20-23) For example, in a brief examination of Asian sex trafficking operations in the United States, Shelly found that much of the financial proceeds reaped from these operations were sent to China and Thailand to fund legitimate businesses such as gold shops (Shelly p. 124).

Retailing is the only place in this supply chain where new revenue is generated. All revenue generated in the sex trafficking supply chain flows outward from the retailer to all other links: traffickers, recruiters, corrupt state officials, victim families (in some cases), land/property owners, etc. Thus sexual slavery can only be suppressed if industry participants face greater risk and shrinking profits.  The United Nations argues that the best way to pursue these ends is to trace, seize, freeze, and confiscate the assets of industry participants (UNGIFT 2011). The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is currently leading the fight against the financial operations of human traffickers, holding conferences and publishing and great deal of information on the subject.

Sources

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. 2010. “Analysing The Business Model Of Trafficking In Human Beings To Better Prevent The Crime.”

http://www.ungift.org/knowledgehub/en/stories/oct2011/osceunodc-hold-expert-seminar-on-curbing-money-laundering-to-combat-human-trafficking.html

Louise Shelly. 2010. Trafficking in Women: the Business Model Approach.

In tightly organized sex trafficking groups there is more specialization and division of responsibilities than in loosely organized ones. For example local law enforcement Columbus and Toledo report that in these organized groups, “…people involved know only what they need to know to do their jobs. They do not know the traffickers names, or at least their real names, and whole operations can be run from the homes of traffickers without them ever coming into contact with the victims themselves.” (Wilson & Dalton 2007, p. 24)

In the US and throughout the world, many or most sex trafficking groups are ethnically-based (Shelly 2010b, 84). East Asian trafficking groups operating in the United States are particularly organized, in contract to domestic trafficking which consists mostly of loosely organized US-born pimps (Finnekauer 2007, Shelly 2010a). Operations are often vertically integrated, with organizations controlling operations from recruitment through to retail. For example, Chinese sex trafficking groups operating in the US “control the smuggling at all stages from recruitment…to an assignment in a brothel in order to secure long-term profits,” which are then reinvested back into legitimate businesses in East Asia. (Shelly 2010a, 124). This degree of organization makes their operations particularly effective and difficult to combat. For this reason we will focus on the operations of East Asian sex trafficking retailers operating in the United States.

East Asian groups in the United States typically operate out of different forms brothels. These typically take the form of East Asian “massage parlors,” located in many major US metropolitan areas including Washington, DC, where there are many of these businesses area (Washington Post). This contrasts with the model of domestic retailers in the US who typically utilize the ‘flying prostitute’ model.

Polaris Project (2011) reports that East Asian massage parlors are typically managed by older women (many of which are presumable former CSE victims) and owned by men. This reflects traditional East Asian social structure where women are subordinate to men. Other roles within East Asian trafficking operations include enforcers and transporters. (Polaris Project 2011).

East Asian sex retail operations outside of massage parlors are often conducted in “room salons/hostess clubs, residential brothels, karaoke bars, [and] escort services,” (Polaris Project 2011). Polaris Project Executive Director Bradley Myles believes that level of knowledge and effort required by retailers to hide behind the legal veil of legitimate business in these settings– regarding “laws, licensing, zoning, interacting with landlords and with legitimate reporting systems” – means that it would be very difficult for retailers to achieve or maintain this business model were they not part of a larger criminal enterprise (Washington Post).

Sources

Recruiters in Nepal are often former victims of commercial sexual exploitation who have ‘graduated’ from sex work and are now supplying victims directly to either traffickers or retailers. Or they are independent recruiters who resell their commodity to traffickers who in turn act as wholesalers by buying trafficked victims and slaves from the recruiter at the Nepal border and reselling them to retailers in the red light districts of major Indian cities. Recruiters in Nepal are able to take advantage of the South Asia’s crushing poverty to recruit victims using a number of deceitful practices. According to the Asian Development Bank, Nepal’s annual per capita GDP is $220. ADB notes that 44% of people in the rural West and mountain areas (Nepal’s primary source of sex trafficked persons) survive on income below the poverty rate of $77 per year. Practices used by recruiters in these areas include: “false promises of employment; approaching debt-bonded families and persuading them to part with their children to pay for their debts; abduction; and arranged marriages whereby young women and underage girls are ‘married’ to grooms willing to pay poverty-stricken parents a dowry. Once married (marriage makes this form of trafficking particularly difficult to challenge under the law), wives are either forced into prostitution directly by their husbands or abandoned/divorced and sold to a broker who resells them to a brothel,” (Joffres, et al. 2008: 2).

When families in extremely poor places face increasing economic hardship, some resort to selling family members into slavery in order to help support the remaining family unit. Human Rights Watch reported in 1995 that 86% of Nepali sex trafficking victims interviewed reported being “trafficked to India with the help of close family friends or relatives,” (28). In certain areas of South Asia this practice is so conventional that it has become local tradition; CNN reported in 2011 that in a village outside Bharatpur, India, “some members of this community practice a caste-based sex trade – and have done so for generations. The men knowingly send their own daughters and sisters into the sex trade.”

There has been a major focus by researchers and activists to put the focus of anti-trafficking / abolition efforts on the demand for trafficked sex workers, but it is important to keep in mind the factors that push victims into exploitative situations in the first place. These conditions are ideal for recruiters.

References

Christine Joffres, Edward Mills, Michel Joffres, Tinku Khanna, Harleen Walia and Darrin Grund. 2008. Sexual slavery without borders: trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation in India. International Journal for Equity in Health, 7:22.

Human Rights Watch. 1995. Rape For Profit: Trafficking of Nepali Girls and Women to India’s Brothels.

 

An examination of institutional responses is critical to understanding the businesses of human trafficking.  There are three main types of organizations involved in the response to human trafficking.

Government Organizations

Includes national, provincial, and community law enforcement. For example in the United States this includes local & state law enforcement such as the Atlanta Police Department and Virginia State Police, as well as Federal law enforcement such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Government organizations play an important role as the state’s on-the-ground representatives and enforcers in the fight against human trafficking. However, government organizations have been widely criticized for setting weak standards of enforcement, lack of collaboration with outside agencies and jurisdictions, and  susceptibility to corrpuption.

International Governmental Organizations

Examples include the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UNGIFT) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office of the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings. In a time of rapid cross border movement of people, the role of organizations such as these in facilitating cooperation between national governments is integral in the fight against human trafficking. IGOs monitor and report human trafficking trends across national borders and encourage collaboration amongst agencies disbursed across diverse jurisdictions. However, the broader weaknesses of IGOs apply in the arena of human trafficking. IGOs have little power to enforce the policies that they impose on member states, and so the policies are only as strong as member states’ willingness and ability to enforce them.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Social Services

Such as the Polaris Project and state social service organizations. NGOs are typically are funded privately and by grants from the governments and IGOs, and state institutions are obviously taxpayer funded. There are a wide variety of these organizations and it is difficult (and often, not very helpful) to make broad generalizations about these types of organizations. Many provide victim services, and this can come in many forms. For example some maintain homes for recovering human trafficking victims, while others provide counseling services or help with financial recovery. These are obviously valuable services. But NGOs and social service institutions have been criticized on several grounds. Chief criticisms include accusations that so-called “rescue organizations” overestimate the human trafficking problem to ensure their own viability, and that they unnecessarily portray non-trafficked sex workers as victims to be pitied. Both of these are valid criticisms.

Migration and sex work expert  Laura Agustin (who, as some readers may know, recently left a brief comment on this blog), has published a scathing criticism of Siddharth Kara’s Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, in which she launches into a tirade against Kara that alternates between valid critiques of his work and questionable criticisms of his personal motivations.

I’ve read Inside the Business of Modern Slavery from cover to cover myself, often citing it on this very blog . But I have hesitated to cite it as  a primary source in my academic work because of its own questionable references and research methods. With these shortcomings in mind, Ms. Agustin tears into Kara with statements like: “Apparently unaware of over ten years of difficult debates reflected in hundreds of scholarly articles and journalistic reports, Kara is an MBA on a mission, using statistical sleight of hand to solve the problem of slavery,” and “the absence of academic supervision to control his preconceptions, critique his lack of methodology, or check his spin makes one wonder what Columbia University Press thought they were doing publishing it.” I agree that we should all demand much more of so-called “scholarly works” than Mr. Kara provides.

Unfortunately however, Ms. Agustin intersperses her review with reductionist theories that frame the interest of ALL men in the sex trafficking “rescue industry,” or rather all “Good Men,” (Ms. Agustin’s terms) as limited to a stereotypical desire to “prove themselves” and rescue “damsels in distress.” Citing Kara’s “exalted sensibility and anachronistic rhetoric” as a base for these claims, she frames this as the latest in a long tradition of mens’ chivalrous attempts, which apparently include “slaying knights and giants.” More than anything, Ms. Agustin’s own anachronistic rhetoric feeds into the sexist mindset she attempts to shed light on with her piece. Must men have a “damsel in distress” complex in order to care about the horrible phenomena of sex trafficking? Do not all people, including men, have the duty to be aware of the heinous nature of sexual slavery and mitigate its damaging affects on society? Here I refer to duty not in the traditional chivalrous sense that Ms. Agustin is so critical of, but in a contemporary sense of social responsibility and caring for others who share in the human experience.

In broader terms, I appreciate Ms. Agustin’s efforts to delineate the distinction between sex slavery and prostitution. And I agree with her that Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery was not scholarly and should not have been published by the well-respected Columbia University Press. But I fail to recognize how Ms. Agustin’s reductionist theories of male interest in the abolition/rescue industry movement contribute any substantive thought to the debates taking place today over human trafficking.

See:

Agustin, Laura.  Feb. 27 2012. “Sex trafficking: not inside the business of modern slavery.” Counterpunch. http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/02/27/sex-trafficking (accessed 02/29/2012).

Kara, Siddharth. 2009. Sex trafficking: inside the business of modern slavery. Columbia: Columbia University Press.

Contrary to what many of us may think of when we try to imagine those who exploit sex slaves for profit, these individuals are most often former victims of commercial exploitation themselves. This is a common pattern, seen amongst sex retailers around the world.

For example, over two-thirds of Indian brothelowners asked about their previous occupations reported being victims of commercial sexual exploitation (NHRC 2004: 124).

In the United States, many retailers have been involved in the prostitution industry since young children; a 2010 study of Chicago-area pimps shows that 60% had family members involved in prostitution while growing up. Notably, “Over half (53%) of those with family members involved in prostitution said their mothers were prostituting and/or pimping. Others involved were uncles, sisters and cousins. Some of these family members prostituted the participants at young ages, often against their will.” (Raphael & Myers-Powell 2010: 1).

Organized crime expert Louise Shelley found that “Nigerian women trafficked to Italy replicate the exploitation to which they have been exposed. In other words, Nigerian trafficking is characterized not only by female leadership, but also by a self-reproducing organizational structure,” (Shelly Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective 2010: 91).

That may be one of the most important lessons of this research; slaves and other types of commercial sexual exploitation victims frequently end up working for the organizations and individuals that first exploited them. Thus to a great extent sexual retailing is a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, cycling new individuals into the retail business (i.e., exploiter role) from the pool of exploitation victims (that the retailers helped to create in the first place!), reproducing the organizational structure in the process, as Shelly notes.

Sources

Shelley, Louise. 2010. Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective. Cambridge University Press.

Raphael, Jody and Myers-Powell, Brenda. 2010. From Victims to Victimizers: Interviews with 25 Ex-Pimps in Chicago. Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center of DePaul University College of Law.

India National Human Rights Commission & UNIFEM. 2004. A Report on Trafficking in Women and Children in India: 2002-2003. NHRC.

Related Articles

New Voices: Prostitution and prison: Vicious cycle must stop (articles.orlandosentinel.com)

Never to Be Sold Again (goodmenproject.com)

Bras liberate women from sex slavery (thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com)

The Sex Trafficking of Men: A Trend Less Considered (stopthetraffik.wordpress.com)