Summary: Macho conservatives often advocate hanging pirates (although most are in the ransom business, unlike rape/pillage business model of their 18th century predecessors). Too bad they show little interest in that other back-from-the-past scourge: slaving. Perhaps because it involves property, not people. Profits, not suffering of women and children. This is the last in a series about crusading to help women.
Slaver has become a global growth industry, again. From pimps using drugs to control prostitutes to the global acquisition and movement of women, to various forms of forced debt servitude on farms and industry. This posts examines only sex trafficking. But if the FM website had official positions (it doesn’t), it would be that all forms of slaving (broadly defined) warrant summary execution (however difficult that may prove in practice).
From “Sex Trafficking: A Global Overview“, Siddharth Kara, World Politics Review, 10 August 2010 — Subscription only (and worth the price).
The up-front costs of acquisition and movement are minimal compared to the immense profits that can be enjoyed in step three — exploitation. Exploitation of trafficked sex slaves primarily refers to the violent coercion of uncompensated sex services, though in essence, exploitation begins the moment the slave is acquired. Slaves are raped, tortured, starved, humiliated, and drugged during transportation, and the concerted effort to break their spirits continues once they are sold. In Falkland Road in Mumbai, a former sex slave named Mallaika told me that minors were mercilessly abused when they first arrived and were given opium so they would have sex with grown men. If they misbehaved, arms were broken. If they tried to escape, throats were cut, providing a visceral lesson to other slaves of the fate that awaited them should they, too, try to free themselves.
Sex slaves are exploited in six primary types of location. The first is brothels. Bungalow brothels in Mumbai can posses up to 200 or 300 prostitutes, up to one-half of whom might be minors and slaves. Brothels in Thailand typically hold between 20 and 50 slaves, sometimes awaiting selection behind a pane of glass in a room called an “aquarium.” Club brothels, or sex clubs, are another common location, and massage parlors are also often used as front organizations for prostitution. Finally, sex trafficking victims are often exploited in private apartments, in hotels and on street corners.
Obviously, the fates of most sex-trafficking victims are quite grim. Even the bare few who manage to escape face lives that offer little hope. Of those I met in survivor shelters, most were infected with HIV, suffered acute drug and alcohol addictions, had been shunned by families, and had little prospects for employment or any form of self-sufficiency upon departure from the shelters. Many others faced detention in prison and deportation due to violations of immigration and prostitution laws. As previously mentioned, the fates of an increasing number of sex slaves involve re-trafficking — sometimes two, three, or more times. Because most individuals who escape are forced to return to the same conditions of poverty, domestic violence, or lack of economic opportunity that precipitated their initial trafficking, many are recruited, deceived, seduced, or abducted into a second or third round of slavery.
Understanding the business model of sex trafficking can help us devise ways to stop it. Here is the key point to keep in mind: The enormity and pervasiveness of the global sex trafficking industry is driven by the ability to generate immense profits at almost no real risk.
To start with the first part of the equation, immense profit, modern-day slavery is immensely more profitable than old-world slavery, which is the key factor driving the tremendous demand to acquire new slaves through the practice of human trafficking. Whereas old-world slaves could be purchased for an average of $30,000 or more in today’s dollars and generate roughly 15% to 20% in annual return on investment, today’s slaves sell for a global weighted average of $350 and can generate anywhere from 300 percent to 500 percent or more in annual return on investment.
… Let me now turn to the second half of the sex-slave equation — no real risk. In most countries around the world, the criminal penalties against sex trafficking are light on both prison terms and economic damages. For example, the most relevant criminal provision for sex slavery in India is a $44 fine for owning a brothel. In countries like Italy, Denmark, and Thailand, there are no economic penalties for the crime of sex trafficking. There are always provisions for incarceration, but sentences are relatively short and can often be further reduced by small fines. Even where there are stiff financial penalties in the law, as with the U.S. TVPA, prosecution and conviction of sex-slave exploiters remains uncommon due in large part to confusion over the definition of trafficking, corruption in law enforcement and judicial systems, lack of international cooperation in investigating and prosecuting trafficking crimes, lack of specific and sustained law-enforcement focus on trafficking crimes, and insufficient human rights protections for trafficking survivors and their families, whose testimony is required to convict the offenders.
Like piracy, there’s only so much America can do about this. Unlike Britain in 1820, the US Navy cannot interdict traffickers. Many parts of the world remain outside the light of civilization. Invasion, colonization, and forced cultural change no longer work since the invention of nukes, and Mao bringing 4GW to maturity. But we can exert pressure for enforcement of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. A tiny fraction of the money we burned in Iraq and Afghanistan would have made a big difference in this area — boosting enforcement and encouraging some affected nations to crack down on this practice.
What about inside the US?
Experts debate if there is substantial sex trafficking (slavery sounds so 19th century) in the US. Despite the lurid stories, evidence suggests only low levels of pure slavery like described above (see the articles listed at the end for details).
On the other hand, we do some defining down of the problem. In the US it’s commerce, perhaps even girl-power! As Jack Shafer explains in Slate. Note how he puts quotes around debt slaves.
Some captive prostitutes in the United States are “debt slaves,” working off the $35,000-plus fee they owe to the “snakehead” who smuggled them into the country, usually from Asia, according to press accounts. That they’re sold to agents and flown from city to city is sordid and illegal, but it’s not the body-abduction abomination that Landesman describes. According to press reports, it can take a woman between 500 and 1,000 sex acts to pay off her snakehead. This thriving pay-for-smuggling market earns no direct mention in Landesman’s article, although I suspect that in his heart of hearts, these women and girls are included in his sex-slave calculus. Erroneously, I might add.
Erroneously, since Shafer’s daughter isn’t involved. So what if the conditions are illegal, they’re not the extremes that Landesman describes (see below). The girls can ring up the Department of Labor. Or file bankruptcy to discharge their debts. As Calvin Coolidge said, “They hired the money, didn’t they?” Scum at all levels allows this trade to continue.
For a better analysis see “The Social Construction of Sex Trafficking: Ideology and Institutionalization of a Moral Crusade“, Ronald Weitzer (Prof Sociologogy, George Washington U), Politics & Society, September 2007 — Abstract:
The issue of sex trafficking has become increasingly politicized in recent years due to the efforts of an influential moral crusade. This article examines the social construction of sex trafficking (and prostitution more generally) in the discourse of leading activists and organizations within the crusade, and concludes that the central claims are problematic, unsubstantiated, or demonstrably false. The analysis documents the increasing endorsement and institutionalization of crusade ideology in U.S. government policy and practice.
Like piracy, there’s only so much America can do about this. Far stricter law enforcement in our inner cities would help, but might require military occupation. The police are doing what they can. But prostitution is a complex phenomenon, especially when operating in what are essentially “failed states” within the US.
Other articles about sex trafficking in the US
- “The Girls Next Door“, Peter Landesman, New York Times Magazine, 25 January 2004
- Assessing Landesman, Jack Shafer, Slate — “How well does Peter Landesman’s sex-slavery investigation in New York Times Magazine stand up?” A devastating rebuttal.
- “The New Abolitionists“, Nina Shapiro, Seattle Weekly, 30 August 2004 — “Freeing ‘sex slaves’ is now at the top of the human rights agenda, thanks largely to Christian evangelicals. How did the anti-trafficking crusade evolve, and is it being overhyped?”
- “Human Trafficking Evokes Outrage, Little Evidence“, Washington Post, 23 September 2007 — “U.S. Estimates Thousands of Victims, But Efforts to Find Them Fall Short”
- “Prostitution: facts and fictions“, Ronald Weitzer, Contexts, Fall 2007 — “Although sometimes romanticized in popular culture, prostitution is more often portrayed as intrinsically oppressive and harmful. How accurate is this image?”
Other posts in this series about the proposed crusade to help women
- Today’s propaganda: we must fight in Afghanistan to help its women
- About our sudden concern for Afghanistan’s women (& the desperate search for a reason to fight)
- A non-violent crusade giving rights to the world’s women!
- Subjugation of women anywhere threatens US national security!
Other posts about women
- The Real Revolution in Military Affairs (it’s not what you think), 14 November 2005
- Women dominating the ranks of college graduates – What’s the effect on America?, 7 July 2009
- A better answer to “why women outperform men in college?”, 8 July 2009
- Women as soldiers – an update, 25 August 2009
- Yes, it is a “mancession”, with men losing more jobs than women. Just like all recessions., 5 October 2009
- Update: women on top of men, 27 October 2009
- Bernard Finel shows how to end the Af-Pak in days. Now. Guaranteed., 6 November 2009
- About honor killings, crimes of the community, 11 November 2009
- We destroy a secular regime in Afghanistan (& its women’s rights), then we wage war on the new regime to restore women’s rights. Welcome to the American Empire., 12 November 2009
- Today’s propaganda: we must fight in Afghanistan to help its women, 10 August 2010
- About our sudden concern for Afghanistan’s women (& the desperate search for a reason to fight), 12 August 2010
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