To start from the foundations, the United Nations defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by threat or use of force” and recognizes that individuals are generally trafficked either for labor or sex (McCabe, K.A. & Manian, S., 2010, 2). Trafficking happens all across the globe but may look different depending upon the context. The six primary venues for trafficking: hotels, clubs, brothels, apartments, massage parlors, and the streets (Kara, S., 2009, 12). Club brothels are primarily found in Europe and East Asia (Kara, S., 2009, 13) whereas hotel brothels are more common in places like Thailand (14). Apartment brothels are common in America and Europe and can often be found through relationship advertisements (Kara, S., 2009, 13). Massage parlor operations are generally difficult to detect because they generally happen where prostitution is illegal (Kara, S., 2009, 13). Street prostitution often occurs when women do not have nearby resources and in places where police corruption is high (Kara, S., 2009, 14). Americans may feel as though trafficking is a far-off tragedy but the reality is the U.S. is among the top three “destination” countries for traffickers to send victims (McCabe, K.A. & Manian, S., 2010, 153). Across the board, globalization and technology have changed the face of trafficking and made the movement of people across borders much easier (McCabe, K.A. & Manian, S., 2010, 148).
There are many ways women enter trafficking. It may be through deceit such as promises of marriage or a job, being sold by family, abduction, seduction or “romance”, or recruitment by former slaves (Kara, S., 2009, 6-7). Particularly relevant today is the fact that displacement leads to vulnerability making the victims of the refugee crisis targets for traffickers (McCabe, K.A. & Manian, S., 2010, 10). However, it is not just in places where great displacement is that traffickers are active. Trafficking thrives in any place where there is acceptance of human servitude, especially among women, children, and the poor (McCabe, K.A. & Manian, S., 2010, 42). Something else which aids traffickers is the fact that in many countries women are largely dependent upon others for work arrangements (McCabe, K.A. & Manian, S., 2010, 46). Another big issue that benefits traffickers is law enforcement corruption. One brothel owner said police payoffs was his biggest expense (Kara, S., 2009, 53) and one prostitute in Italy actually said police were the main clients (85). In some places like Thailand, governments actually support sex trafficking because of the way it impacts the economy through tourist revenue. One government advertisement in Thailand reads “the one fruit of Thailand more delicious than durian is its young women” (Nolot, 2010, 34:00). In some cases directors of orphanages actually tell traffickers about girls aging out of the system and because no one misses an orphan these girls are prime targets for traffickers (Nolot, B., 2010, 7:30-8:30).
One of the most common questions people ask is “why don’t women speak up or just leave?” There are many reasons but what people need to remember is that exploited women are a part of systems that are meant to break and dehumanize them (Nolot, B., 2010, 19:30-20:00). Often times traffickers take women away from everything they know and oftentimes to a place where they don’t even speak the language. A 2003 survey of sex work establishments in London found that 80% of women were non-UK nationals (McCabe, K.A. & Manian, S., 2010, 61). Filmmaker Benjamin Nolot said the only words the foreign girls in Amsterdam knew were how to give a price for sex (2010, 25:00). The language barrier would make it impossible for them to ever reach out to someone if the opportunity were presented to them. Sometimes women are hesitant to speak up because they have been tricked by traffickers who test their loyalty by putting someone in their path who pretends to want to free them (Kara, S., 2009, xiii). Other times, women do not speak up because they do not want to re-live their experiences or they even want to think of themselves as choosing this life because feigned control feels better than feeling trapped (xiv). When women try to escape the results are often devastating. One woman shared a story of another girl who attempted to escape. She was brought out to the woods, chained up, undressed, beaten, escaped, picked up, and returned (Nolot, B., 2010, 18:15-19:00).
How do individuals, churches, non-profits, and governments prevent and fight sex trafficking? First, any cultural norms of oppression or male dominance must be snuffed out. The situation in South Africa serves as a reminder that even decrease in political violence, diversified economies, and improved educational systems are not enough to combat trafficking if the cultural norms of oppression and dominance continue (McCabe, K.A. & Manian, S., 2010, 26). Second, the connection between trafficking and prostitution must be made clear. The Italian and Spanish governments have started advertising campaigns to make sure citizens understand the link between them (McCabe, K.A. & Manian, S., 2010, 88). Third, governments need to stop criminalizing victims. In places like Kuwait and Oman, victims are often punished more than traffickers because they are punished for having often crossed a border (McCabe, K.A. & Manian, S., 2010, 94). Fourth, governments need to get serious about prosecuting traffickers. Even in the U.S., only 140 traffickers were convicted in the U.S. from 2001 to 2005. It was estimated that roughly 75,000-100,000 new victims entered the States during that same period of time and if 20 victims are linked to each trafficker then this means 3,750 to 5,000 traffickers were active. With only 140 prosecutions, this means only 3-4% of traffickers were punished (Kara, S., 2009, 40). Fifth, the consequences for trafficking need to be more severe and more anti-trafficking laws need to be passed. Even in the United States the maximum sentence for human trafficking is about 10 years but the maximum sentence for distributing a kilo of heroin is life (McCabe, K.A. & Manian, S., 2010, 152). Brothels can make $12,000+ each year yet the fine for owning one some places is only $44 so the fine is only 1/291th of the potential profits (Kara, S., 2009, 40). In Italy and Thailand there are actually no fines for trafficking (40). Sixth, provisions like shelter, job opportunities, counseling, and community need to be available for victims coming out of trafficking. The U.S. has medical services, shelter, and counseling available to victims through the Department of Health and Human Services (McCabe, K.A. & Manian, S., 2010, 154). Seventh, job opportunities and education need to be made available to women where they are not currently so women are less vulnerable to trafficking. This imbalance in opportunity affects some more than others but the reality is gender inequality negatively affects many across the globe.
Kara, S. (2009). Sex Trafficking Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. New York: Columbia University Press.
McCabe, K.A. & Manian, S. (2010). Sex Trafficking : A Global Perspective. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.