Posts Tagged ‘Sexual slavery’

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.


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.


Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. 2010. “Analysing The Business Model Of Trafficking In Human Beings To Better Prevent The Crime.”

Louise Shelly. 2010. Trafficking in Women: the Business Model Approach.

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.


Agustin, Laura.  Feb. 27 2012. “Sex trafficking: not inside the business of modern slavery.” Counterpunch. (accessed 02/29/2012).

Kara, Siddharth. 2009. Sex trafficking: inside the business of modern slavery. Columbia: Columbia University Press.

“…[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?

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.

Not too long ago I wrote a post about Rances Amaya, a member of MS-13 who was arrested in Springfield, VA on accusations of running a prostitution ring composed of minor females. Between then and now, I have been able to obtain some of the court documents filed in the case, including an affidavit filed by a the FBI in support of the criminal complaint. The supporting affidavit documents some of the observations made by Federal law enforcement agents that led to the charges against Mr. Amaya. Without walking you trough the specifics, I would like to highlight some details that I learned about the case which touch on concepts that we’ve discussed in GLOA 491. Keep in mind that these are only accusations, and not necessarily facts (though most are supported by witnesses):

  1. Beginning in the Spring of 2010 Amaya employed 4 underage runaways as prostitutes. He recruited approximately 15 clients around this period for the girls to service. We’ve all heard horror stories about victims forced to service 20 clients a day, so Mr. Amaya’s business seems relatively moderate in comparison, though this would probably be of little comfort to Mr. Amaya’s victims.
  2. Mr. Amaya provided the underage girls with condoms and the morning-after pill. Forced use of contraceptives and abortions seems to be a widely used, but not universal, practice in the forced sex trade. Frequency of use in the Amaya case is unclear.
  3. Mr. Amaya is accused of verbally abusing, threatening, and physically abusing the girls, yelling at a girl on at least one occasion, “bitch, you better fuck!” On another occasion, he assaulted one of the runaways for trying to leave a hotel room. Threat/use of force and restrictions on freedom of movement are key differences between the voluntary and forced sex trades.
  4. At least one girl was said to have a hand in some of the administrative functions of the business by obtaining and distributing condoms and accompanying the other girls during transportation to clients. This reminded me of the former sex slaves in Thailand and Moldova who moved on to become recruiters for their former abusers.
In researching the Amaya case, I learned that it actually had its roots an another case, USA v. Ormeno, in which another man, Alonso Ormeno, also associated with MS-13, was charged with sex trafficking of a minor and recently sentenced to nearly 25 years in Federal prison. I have also obtained the court filings for the Ormeno case and will be skimming through them over the next few days/weeks. The Ormeno case filings contain a lot of detailed information because the case is completed so all of the details have been documented, as opposed to the Amaya case which only recently started.
Let me know if you want info on how to obtain documents filed in Federal courts for your research; it is really easy but can take up to a week or two to get your info processed initially. Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) charges $0.10 per page to view docs, but won’t send you a bill until you have $10.00 in charges. So if I understand correctly, you won’t get billed at all as long as you view less than 100 pages.