“…[T]he [US Trafficking Victims Protection Act] defines human trafficking as “a form of modern-day slavery,” yet no other forms are identified; it defines “severe forms of trafficking” but does not specifically define nonsevere forms; “trafficking” is not synonymous with “movement,” as it is in common usage; and the term “abolition” has been co-opted such that it now refers to the eradication of prostitution, not the eradication of slavery.” (Miriam Potocky, PhD. The Travesty of Human Trafficking: A Decade of Failed U.S. Policy, in Social Work 55:4. 2010. p. 373).


The passage above perfectly describes the vague definitions of and vague boundaries between sex slavery and human trafficking previously alluded to in earlier posts. Dr. Potocky argues that as a result of these inconstant, vague definitions in public policy, researchers, social service providers, and the public at-large must often draw conclusions about forced sex work by piecing together information from disparate sources with still more variation in definitions. Nowhere is this truer than in the US. Because of the difficulty finding information on forced sex slavery in particular, my research on forced sex work in the US is based primarily on information from two categories of sources: secondary sources that document forced sex slavery specifically, and primary sources with empirical data about general trends in sex trafficking. This latter category includes data on forced sex work, voluntary sex work, and varying degrees in between.

For the purposes of my research, human trafficking (or just trafficking) refers to the movement of people across or within international borders. This includes people who migrate voluntary and involuntarily. Sex trafficking is a subset of this category; some individuals are knowingly trafficked into prostitution, while others are deceived.

Slavery/slaves refers to forced labor exchanged for little more than the meeting of basic human needs (rather than monetary compensation).  A slave does not have freedom of movement or control the terms of her labor.  My research examines sex slave retailers in particular, those who exploit saves for profit. The work conditions imposed upon the person being exploited, as well as the conditions for compensation, are factors which determines whether a laborer is being enslaved. Agency of laborers is a key concept in the definition of slavery. Are laborers performing work voluntarily or under threat of physical violence? Are they free to stop working or will this result in physical violence?

I suppose at some point we’ve all questioned the direction of our research, and that’s something I am in the process of overcoming.

To refresh your memory, my research is on the role of retailers in the sex slavery supply chain. By retailers, I am referring to the brothel-owners, pimps, and others who control the direct supply of  victims to end-users (a.k.a. consumers).

The structure of my paper is coming together well. It will walk through different stages of the supply chain before focusing on the retail stage and examining a few country-specific cases before going into a final summary and conclusion. But something seems to be missing. Never mind (for now) the trouble I am having finding data for my case studies (which I wrote about briefly in a previous post). I need to explain why my analysis actually matters; the “who cares?” question needs to be addressed.

This is what I am struggling with at the moment. What seems to make the most logical sense is to discuss the public policy implications of the analysis. After all, the greatest advantage brought by having a full picture of the sex slavery supply chain structure is that it can help “identify strategic points of intervention” (as Kara suggests in Sex trafficking: inside the business of modern slavery). On the other hand, I don’t want to distract from the business analysis that I have spent so much time on, or give the wrong impression that I actually conducted a full-fledged policy analysis. So here I stand, torn halfway between not wanting to distract readers with a public policy analysis but also making sure that my paper grows from a recitation of disparate facts and findings into a purposeful, logical argument.

I’ve read several things recently that have me contemplating the roles of agency and force in migration and sex work.

Agency and force are important topics in thinking about migration and sex work because many anti-human trafficking definitions take these into account. For example, the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children defines trafficking in persons as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

Author Rutvica Andrijasevic discusses the problem with definitions like this in Migration, Agency and Citizenship in Sex Trafficking, particularly regarding the deception facet: “It is obvious that those women who were promised jobs as waitresses or domestic workers and were then inserted in the sex industry had not been informed about the terms of their sex-work contract. However, neither have they negotiated the terms of the contract for work in a restaurant or a private home. This situation is not that much different    to the one in which women agreed to sex work but knew very little about the concrete working conditions…If, according to the UN Protocol, a case of ‘trafficking’ takes place when, by means of deception, a person has been recruited and transported by a third-party into exploitative working conditions so as to profit from her labour, then the ambiguity lies with the notion of deception itself. The fact that the definition of trafficking presupposes an interrelation between deception and subsequent exploitation of migrants on the part of ‘traffickers’ conflates the range of interests third parties might have in supplying vague information concerning the working contract. Third parties might profit from migrants’ recruitment or travel rather than from their labor. The vagueness of the notion of deception, together with force, coercion and exploitation as distinctive components of trafficking then establish an oversimplified and ultimately erroneous demarcation between voluntary and involuntary processes of migration.This is particularly important since violence, coercion, deception and exploitation may also occur in voluntary and legally regulated systems of migration and employment.” (2011. p. 36-38).

A separate topic but one related to agency and sex trafficking comes from the 2002-2003 Report on Trafficking in Women and Children by the Indian National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). As part of the report, researchers interviewed 412 brothel owners about how they run their businesses. When asked about their motivations for choosing their line of work, more than half of respondents reported that they had no other income options. About 30% attributed their motivations to a desire to earn easy money, and presumably had other income options. What I found interesting was that a considerable 7.5% reported being forced by others into managing the brothel. How can one be forced into managing a brothel? The logistics are hard to fathom, but if people are being forced into sex work as well as brothel management, these could be indicators of a larger organized crime regime.

This is what I have been considering as I continue to carry out my own research.

I feel like I’m close to having done a complete review of existing literature on my topic, or as complete as possible given the time constraints of this course. At this point I really want to move on to an analysis of raw data. But what am I even looking for, and where do I find it? These are questions that I’m currently trying to feel my way around.

I know that I need 1) interviews with pimps, data on the finance and operations of illegal brothels, and related information for my overall research. For one section of my paper, I would like to look at 2) how the forced prostitution industry compares and interacts with both legal and illegal (but voluntary) prostitution industries in different places. While it would be great if there were existing secondary sources that have already done this analysis, I would also like to find primary sources on pimps and brothels in the legal and illegal (but voluntary) prostitution industries.

I asked the GMU Global Affairs reference librarian for help with this and she pointed me to a couple of helpful sources, but also said that much of the information I’m looking for probably “isn’t out there.” Contrarily, I recently found a report published by the Indian government in 2003, in which researchers interviewed 412 Indian brothelowners about their business operations. This contained much of the data I was seeking, but only within the context of the Indian trafficking problem. I need similar data on several other countries to paint a full picture of the problem. Still, finding this report was an encouraging confirmation that the information I need is, indeed, “out there.”

I think I will try asking a reference librarian for another department for data sources. I am thinking about also taking a page from Paola’s book and setting up a research consultation at the Library of Congress. I still don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, but hopefully this will become clearer as I conduct more research.

The UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UNGIFT) recently posted this article about criminal groups organizing human trafficking conferences “in order to gain sensitive information and money from participants.” UNGIFT specifically cites the World Congress on human trafficking and forced labour 2011 as one of the specious events.

After just doing a cursory Google search it seems obvious that this particular event is a scam. Searching for the World Congress on human trafficking and forced labour 2011 brings up several websites such as http://www.keepsafeofthenet.co.uk which is a forum for people to discuss current internet scams, in the first couple of results. To me this is no big deal; we all know that there are internet scams in action every minute of every day.

This particular kind of scam is more disturbing than the run-of-the mill internet scams. UNGIFTs claims that this conference was organized in order to gain sensitive information from anti-trafficking activists and that it is composed of 2 phases, 1 each in New York and Senegal, to “maximize its pool of victims.” If these claims are accurate then this is evidence of a new level of sophistication and gall among human trafficking organizations, targeting the intellectual community which is constructing their demise.  However, I have many, many questions about exactly who is organizing these bogus conferences and what their motivations are. UNGIFT says that the original scam was uncovered by UNODC’s Trafficking in Persons Unit, but I could not discover any more information about it from the UN, or any other source for that matter. I would be very interested in learning more about this, if for no other reason than to avoid falling into one of these traps myself…

At this point I am just about done with my research precis and have done a good bit of research on the business and economics of sex trafficking. One observation at this point is that some of the most helpful and informative resources have done a good job of categorizing the different players in the sex trafficking industry. Victims are known in some business analyses as labor, and in others as products. Traffickers are the distribution arm, and those who exploit victims regularly (such as brothel owners) are the retailers. Of course end users are the sex slave consumer, but it is interesting to look at the factors that inhibit demand, such as a spike in prices. Several sources have helped me with the classification of these supply chain nodes:

  1. Kara, Siddharth. “Supply & Demand: Human Trafficking in the Global Economy.” Harvard International Review 33, no. 2 (2011): 66-71.
  2. Kara, Siddharth. 2009. Sex trafficking: inside the business of modern slavery. Columbia: Columbia University Press. Kindle Edition
  3. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. 2010. “Analysing The Business Model Of Trafficking In Human Beings To Better Prevent The Crime.” Aronowitz, Alexis, Theuermann, Gerda and Elena Tyurykanova. Vienna: OSCE Office of the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings. Print.
  4. Wheaton, Elizabeth, Edward Schauer, and Thomas Galli. “Economics of Human Trafficking.” International Migration 48, no. 4 (2010): 114-141.

In our discussion with the Polaris Project representatives about the public placement of human trafficking warnings in bars, restaurants and hotels, I thought back to the sign that I saw in the Dallas sports bar (remember this post?). Looking back at the picture of the sign that I snapped back in April, I can see that the number listed as the “National Human Trafficking Hotline” is actually the number to the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Resource Center run by Polaris, which we discussed in our session with them: 1-888-373-7888. Funny how some things come full circle like that.