Posts Tagged ‘sex trafficking’

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

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)

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.