Posts Tagged ‘Sex worker’

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.


“…[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’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.