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.

Comments
  1. Hello, please note that the original scholarly review was requested by H-Net and published there first: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=35320
    This is the sober review you undoubtedly agree with and should be citing.

    Counterpunch is an anarchist-oriented publication, remember the concept of spin?

    I have also put the original review on my website today, with yet another kind of introduction: http://www.lauraagustin.com/sex-slavery-solved-by-sleight-of-hand-siddharth-kara

    Best, Laura

    • stellamarr says:

      As a Columbia University graduate and a woman who was domestically sex trafficked for ten years, I feel quite proud that Columbia University Press published Kara’s book.

      I am a proud founding member of Survivors Connect, a leaderless international online network of prostitution/trafficking survivors. It’s time our voices were front and center in any discussion of the sex industry. We know more about the sex industry and prostitution than anyone else. As survivors we have important knowledge about the after-effects of prostitution.

      I think the people who try hard to make distinction between sexual slavery and prostitution are ignoring the fact that the sex industry creates a dehumanized prostituted class. The effort to enforce a distinction is logically similar to saying that there’s a difference between apartheid and racism.

      You can read the writing of seven eloquent survivors here:

      http://www.survivorsconnect.wordpress.com

      This “Hooker’s Letter to her Younger Self” gives a good sense of what it’s like to exist within prostitution.

      http://secretlifeofamanhattancallgirl.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/an-ex-hookers-letter-to-her-younger-self/

  2. silver price says:

    Sex Trafficking, Siddharth Kara’s meticulously documented account of the economics of the modern trade in women’s and children’s bodies, is a huge contribution to the human rights movement. Although Kara names economic globalization and the ensuing mass impoverishment and migration as the chief contributors to the past two decades’ marked increase in sex trafficking, he also rightly places blame squarely on individual actors responsible for modern-day slavery: the slave traders themselves and complicit law enforcement.

  3. Andrea Bruce says:

    Siddharth Kara: I first came across child labourers and bonded labourers in various sectors, such as agriculture and brickmaking, when I was a child in India. These early encounters made an impression on me, but it was probably my encounters in a refugee camp in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s that catalyzed my efforts in this area as an adult. As an undergraduate, I spent one summer volunteering in a Bosnian refugee camp near the Slovenian-Croatian border and heard numerous tales of genocide and sex trafficking. A few years later I decided I needed to understand how and why these crimes were occurring, so I set aside my corporate career and commenced what has now become more than eleven years of almost entirely self-funded research into all forms of contemporary servitude around the world.

  4. Grant Willis says:

    Please join us for a lecture and book signing with Siddharth Kara, author of Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. In 1995, Mr. Kara first encountered sexual slavery in a Bosnian refugee camp. He has since dedicated his life to traveling and learning the mechanisms behind the business of sex trafficking. Mr. Kara has taken a rare look at analyzing the local drivers and global macroeconomic trends that give rise to this burgeoning industry, in addition to quantifying the size, growth, and profitability of sex trafficking and other forms of modern slavery.

  5. Sex Trafficking, Siddharth Kara’s meticulously documented account of the economics of the modern trade in women’s and children’s bodies, is a huge contribution to the human rights movement. Although Kara names economic globalization and the ensuing mass impoverishment and migration as the chief contributors to the past two decades’ marked increase in sex trafficking, he also rightly places blame squarely on individual actors responsible for modern-day slavery: the slave traders themselves and complicit law enforcement.

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