Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Selling Sex- The Renewable Resource

Human Trafficking, the modern day slave trade, is the fastest growing form of international crime with 600,000 – 800,000 people trafficked across international borders each year. That’s not a headline we’ve seen! Slavery is supposed to have ended more than a century ago, but still it thrives today. The trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation is a high-profit, low-risk trade for those who organize it, but it is detrimental to the millions of women and children exploited in slavery-like conditions in the global sex industry.

Trafficking persons is a heinous crime and human rights abuse. The most vulnerable members of the global community, those who have limited access to social services and protections, are targeted by traffickers for exploitation. Human trafficking is strongly connected to the complex economic processes of globalization. In many developing countries globalization has brought masses of wealth to the elite at the expense of the poor. Consequently, many women of the poorer classes leave their homelands to find opportunities for employment. These women are disproportionately affected by poverty, lack of access to education, discrimination, racism, and lack of economic opportunities.

International migration is an important aspect of sex trafficking. Economies throughout the world have become globally interdependent. While migration has always been a part of human existence, it now exists as a more profitable network. We are living in a networked society in which globalization encourages the free movement of capital, the opening of borders for trade, and deregulation to facilitate increased trade. This makes it easier to transport goods, including human beings.

Technological transformations have decreased the cost of travel and communication, increasing the number of networks and the ease of information flows. Trafficking humans is so profitable because unlike drugs, one person can be sold over and over. This is why human trafficking is the fastest growing and third largest criminal industry in the world following only drug and arms trafficking.

An estimated 10 billion is generated in annual revenue from all trafficking activities, with at least $4 billion attributed to the worldwide brothel industry. Globalization impacts trafficking with both “push” and “pull” factors. Impoverishment in the supply countries is a push factor that forces people to seek ways to improve their economic situation.The spread of “global culture” serves as a pull factor, raising expectations of a better life elsewhere.

When demand is not analyzed, or is mentioned rarely, it becomes easy to forget that people are trafficked into the sex industry to satisfy not the demand of the traffickers, but that of the purchasers, who are mostly men. The insatiable demand for women and children in massage parlors, strip shows, escort services, brothels, pornography and street prostitution is what makes the trafficking trade so lucrative. Agencies involved in sex tourism advertise these women and children as dependent, erotic and sex-crazed—an alternative to the stereotype of the cold, Western, independent woman.

While for some men involvement in prostitution may be motivated by sexual desire, for others it is an expression of misogyny and/or racism. To see women and girls lined up in a brothel, numbered and available to any man who picks them is to see them dominated and humiliated, stripped of their power to ‘withhold’ the sexual access that such men imagine is so central to their own well-being.

What can we do to address issues of global trafficking in the twenty-first century? The first task is to become better informed ourselves and to inform others. Trafficking should be a more visible topic of discussion in our media and in our professional preparation of administrators. Globalization has become an issue of considerable prominence, but the illegal human rights atrocities associated with it have not.

Human trafficking undermines any pretension that a country is democratic. If people are treated as if they are subhuman and can be enslaved, the government is not fully living up to its democratic principles. As it is, too often trafficking simply does not make it to C-SPAN or the talk shows. Some of the ethical issues involved in human trafficking are obvious. Slavery is as odious today as at any time, though perhaps the term “trafficking” obscures what is really happening, the lives at the center of the issue—the millions of women and children preyed upon, abused, and prostituted for selfish lust and desire.