Posts Tagged ‘sexual exploitation’

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.

References

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.

 

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’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.