Posts Tagged ‘forced prostitution’

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 or for a .pdf copy of my research paper.

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.


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.

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.


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.

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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 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.

I came across an interesting article about a program called Free2Work run by the anti-slavery organization Not4Sale. Actually I think Carolina may have posted about this before, but I just rediscovered it. Free2Work grades products on a A-F scale “based on the tangible steps that a company has taken to demonstrate that it has zero tolerance for forced labour in its supply chain…The Free2Work tool can be downloaded as an app on the Android and iPhone. Walk into a store and scan the price tag and you can learn the story behind its bar code.” I downloaded the Android version and couldn’t find the scanner feature, but it still has a cool feature that lets you browse companies and view their slave labor grade, and the methodology behind the calculation. Check it out for yourself.

I also took a survey that uses your responses to various lifestyle questions to “find out how many slaves work for you.”  If you complete the survey, you can make some inferences about the ways in which common items of our consumption may have been produced using slave labor, just from the questions they ask about your habits. According to my results, 45 slaves work for me; find out how many slaves work for you: