One of the more unfortunate aspects of globalization is the ease with which human labor is acquired and moved across international boundaries. This has resulted in the devastating consequence of international human sex trafficking. The globalization process, especially the break up of the Soviet Union and the creation of dozens of small, unstable Eastern European countries has created millions of poor people who are eager to do anything for work. As this paper will demonstrate, human sex trafficking is pernicious and well-organized. Only a dedicated and coordinated international effort can combat this industry which earns billions of dollars every year.
Globalization refers to the modern state of the world as it exists today mostly through “large-scale changes and trends” (Reilly, 2007, p.506). Much like earlier eras were representative of events and circumstances of their time (i.e. Industrial Revolution, Depression, Cold War Era), our modern term encompasses a diffusion of economical, political, technological and social evolvements in today’s interchangeable and interdependently-structured global society. While the term became mainstream during the past twenty years, the phenomena itself ties into “forces driving the world economy […] towards increased economic integration” (Bentley, 2006. p.1132). The economic components of globalization expanded world market trade and foreign investments, unrestrained “movement of capital, privatization of former state enterprises,” (Bentley, p.1132) and national deregulation practices (relaxed environmental and tax laws previously imposed on business organizations). This had the effect of creating a far more relaxed and lucrative international marketplace.
One of the more unfortunate aspects of globalization is the ease with which human labor is acquired and moved across international boundaries. This has resulted in the devastating consequence of international human sex trafficking. The globalization process, especially the break up of the Soviet Union and the creation of dozens of small, unstable Eastern European countries has created millions of poor people who are eager to do anything for work. Millions of people are seeking to get out of these small, poor countries where they perceive (and perhaps rightly so) that there are no true opportunities for stable, ongoing work. In addition to the heads of families seeking work, so too are young people who have visions of living in cities like London, Paris, New York, and Los Angeles. Young girls are especially vulnerable when hear of (fake) opportunities to become models, waitresses, and actresses. Visions of being movie stars, or appearing on the covers of famous magazines dance in their heads, and it is all too easy for those criminals who run trafficking rings to entice them into their fold. “Human trafficking represents perhaps the worst form of labor exploitation and can be regarded as one of the dark sides of globalization” (Jones, Engstrom, & Hilliard, 2007, p. 107).
The business of human trafficking has literally become one of the biggest profit-making enterprises in the world, second only to drug running. Young women and girls are the primary targets (although boys are used too on occasion) for prostitution, sweatshop/cheap labor, and domestic laborers. However, prostitution or sex slavery is the biggest enterprise of human trafficking in young women and girls. The numbers of girls and women trafficked is very difficult to analyze statistically because of the heinous ways in which they are taken. Many are abducted, enticed and sometimes even sold by poor families who are desperate for money. “Due to the criminal, secretive nature of human trafficking, victims are often hidden in brothels, homes, and businesses. Moreover, law enforcement, social workers, health care professionals, and other authorities rarely encounter victims of human trafficking” (Jones, Engstrom, & Hilliard, 2007, p. 108). Even when some victims do happen to escape or come into contact with law enforcement officials, they are skeptical of dealing with the law. Most of the girls and women who are trafficked come from countries where law enforcement is corrupt. Therefore they have an innate mistrust of law enforcement officials. “This hampers officials in their attempts to rescue victims and prosecute the criminals responsible. Those who are trafficked are among the most vulnerable and exploited individuals in the new global economy that spawned this phenomenon” (Jones, Engstrom, & Hilliard, 2007, p. 108).
There are numerous issues at stake in the problem of human sex trafficking. First, there are human rights issues, there is the need to make international human migration more humane and there is definitely a need to develop humane and sensitive rehabilitation programs for those women and girls who end up in shelters, emergency rooms, and mental health facilities. “By the late 1980’s, for example, human rights emerged as a principal theme of global politics” (Bentley, 2006, p.1155. Due to the expansion of international non-government organizations (i.e. United Nations, Greenpeace, World Trade Organization, World Food Bank, Human Rights Watch) global centralized intervention and authorities replacing Nation-focused approaches to solving complex modern issues evolved. However, a negative side effect of this global political scene is that more countries than ever became interdependent on each other. Trade routes that were previously closed (i.e. between the U.S. and Russia) opened up again, or for the first time.
A primary issue over human sex trafficking has been the difficulty in creating a consensus over a definition. The United Nations has tried as have individual researchers and human rights groups intent on trying to solve this heinous problem. Part of the issue is that prostitution is already illegal (which also makes it difficult for those trafficked into prostitution to come forward to law enforcement authorities). One definition which has been suggested reads as follows:
Trafficking means all acts involved in the recruitment, transportation within or across borders, transfer, receipt, purchase, sale, or holding of a person involving the use of deception or coercion. Trafficking is manifested by the use or threat of force or the abuse of authority or debt-bondage. (Skolnik & Boontinand, 1999, p. 77).
As one author notes, human sex trafficking cannot be tackled as an issue of prostitution but one of human slavery. These women and girls do not enter into acts of sex with men (or women) of their own free will. They are enslaved and forced to do so by their captors. She argues that it is therefore imperative to view human sex trafficking as human slavery. “The victims have changed and the purposes have been expanded, but human trafficking is nothing more than a “contemporary manifestation of slavery” (McClain, 2007, 580). The McClain study points out that in fact prostitution is only one aspect of a very complicated issue. Young women and girls are not just trafficked out of Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa into Western countries such as the U.S., England and Canada, but the opposite is also true. There is a huge market economy for young, white girls in the developing countries. Criminals who do business in human sex trafficking also abduct girls from Western countries and force them into sexual slavery in countries where they have no rights.
In many countries, such as Liberia, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe, trafficking victims who are foreign to the destinations are found to be in violation of immigration laws, and the victims are not given the residency status necessary to allow them to testify against and protect themselves from their traffickers. (McClain, 2007, p. 582).
An economic context of globalization is that there is a ‘push/pull’ effect on people. Many people who live in poor countries feel compelled to get out of their home environment. Thus, they are pushed out of their homes by the economics of poverty. The primary motive here is to move into a more economically sound environment where they can make money to send back to their families and hopefully bring them out of poverty. In effect they are pulled into another environment in the hopes of making money. Those who traffick in the sex industry prey on this very need. “…recruitment tools [offer] the promise of a better life and increased opportunity. Victims of trafficking, who are usually poor and often uneducated, are not in a position to discern beforehand that the promises of economic opportunity are, in fact, lies…” (Jones, Engstrom, & Hilliard, 2007, p. 111). The economic side of things is very important in the issue of human sex trafficking. The dirty fact is plain and simple, trafficking in human lives makes money. Some would suggest lots of money. According to one source the trafficking industry brings in anywhere from seven to ten billion dollars a year (McClain, 2007). Another researcher agrees that money is largely behind this horrific business. Globalization has polarized wealth in the world and driven out the middle class. Generally there are the wealthy and the poor (this includes the working poor). “Consider the less publicized ugly side of neoliberal globalization: disease, hunger, and poverty are intensifying for those living in countries marginalized by the global marketplace. The polarization of wealth and income has widened the gap between rich and poor countries” (Weiss, 2000). In essence, one of the worst results of globalization has been turning women and girls’ bodies into commodities to be bought and sold on the international market.
One of the unfortunate aspects of globalization is that massive (although often temporary) migration has become an integral part of the new means of production and the international economy. One area in the world where this is particularly so is Asia. More women seem to be seeking out work than men and they are leaving poor countries for the wealthier ones. This need for work creates some of the seeds for human sex trafficking. Another factor is that many of these women are not only poor but uneducated. Their knowledge of migration laws is either limited or nil. The women who move from one country to another often fall into the hands of so-called ‘agents’ who claim to be able to help. The agents are either working for the traffickers, or they are the traffickers. “In short, while female labor migration has existed for a long time, globalization has changed its characteristics. Poverty, unemployment, and lax labor policies all contribute to the growth of traffic in women” (Skolnik & Boontinand, 1999, p. 77).
The techniques of human sex trafficking are as deplorable as the forced prostitution. In the McClain study, the author uncovered absolutely horrifying stories of young girls who were sold by husbands to make money, a girl sold by her aunt in order to get a better apartment, and fake boyfriends who sell girls to traffickers to make money for themselves. In each case the scenario is very similar and some of the girls are as young as thirteen. The girl/woman receives a fake passport in order to enter the country. Once she arrives, all of the documents are taken away. If the girl/woman goes to the authorities, they can be prosecuted for being in the country illegally. In many cases, the victims themselves are prosecuted and the criminals/traffickers go free.
A myth about human sex trafficking is that the industry is controlled only by thugs and criminals of some underworld conspiracy. The problem that international law enforcement faces is that in some countries the police and other officials are part of the trafficking industry. The girls and women in these countries have no officials to appeal to. Once again, the hope of making more money and more profit makes these mens’ eyes gleam and the commodification of girls and women continues. “Police provide aid in the exploitation of children in Bolivia, border officials accept bribes to allow the trafficking of Haitian children into the Dominican Republic, and trafficking victims provide sexual services for politicians and civil servants in Montenegro” (McClain, 2007, p. 586).
A distinct problem in the battle to try and stop human sex trafficking is the issue of the cultural contexts in which it takes place. The social constructs of sex, prostitution, women’s rights and even human rights are not always defined in the same way. Therefore, the way we understand these concepts in the United States is not necessarily going to translate into the same meaning in another country/culture. This presents a distinct challenge when trying to create both global definitions of human sex trafficking and global solutions. According to one researcher, the discourse on human rights can be complicated – : “…it is most powerful and effective, but also most ethically and politically problematic, when it provides a clear alternative discourse to local practices and norms that exploit and abuse women” (Hutchings, 2006, p. 390).
Some researchers suggest that in order to combat human sex trafficking, we must understand it in context of international human rights and women’s rights. With respect to girls and women who are trafficked into sexual slavery, human rights laws should apply. In other words, whether or not they have a proper passport, or they have engaged in prostitution is not the issue. The issue is that their rights as people have been abused and violated. In order to fully deal with human sex trafficking, we must focus on the violation of human rights and hold the traffickers/criminals responsible.
In 1993, the U.N. included trafficking in its Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and in 2000 the U.S. enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. These two attempts to equate human sex trafficking with human rights are efforts in the right direction but they have failed to make a dent in the 21st century’s version of modern slavery. In the global community, there must be a better and more thorough understanding of the different ways in which countries and cultures view and treat women. This is the first step in a global approach to combat human sex trafficking. All too often countries equate the women and girls with the trafficker themselves. We must separate the two and realize that one is a criminal and other is a person whose rights have been violated.
A large part of the problem in dealing with human sex trafficking is that it involves children – literally very young girls (some as young as ten or eleven). This paper acknowledges then that we must equate human sex trafficking with a form of child abuse. The fact that probably millions of young girls are being sold every year into sexual slavery is a difficult one to accept. People in general do not want to think of young girls being forced into prostitution. The thought is genuinely horrible. Yet, the more we talk and write about this issue the more we bring it into the light. This is necessary in order to deal with the problem. We must accept that on a global scale children (primarily young girls) are being bought and sold every day into sexual slavery and globalization is one of reasons it exists. “The globalization of the flow of information gave impetus to this impressive movement against the commercial child sex trade” (O’Grady, 2001, p. 124). O’Grady’s research raises an important and interesting aspect of human sex trafficking – the Internet. While one cannot blame technology as a piece of technology cannot be inherently evil, peoples’ use of the technology can be. In this case, the Internet makes it possible for those who engage in human sex trafficking to cross the global boundaries in ways never before thought possible. Chat rooms, email, message boards, and group forums make it possible for the traffickers to communicate internationally and organize their business in a way that makes it almost impossible to track them. “One could draw a partial causal relationship between the rapid expansion of globalization and the growth of child sex trade” (O’Grady, 2001, p. 130).
In O’Grady’s opinion tourism and the Internet are largely responsible for the creation of human sex trafficking as such a large money-making industry. The tourism industry pressures various governments to ease their border controls. When these become more lax it is far easier to move people from one country to the next. Once someone is abducted it becomes all too easy for the traffickers to move them around from country to country. “In the past year alone, more than 10,000 Moldovan women, some as young as 12 years of age, are believed to have been kidnapped or coaxed to the West by the promise of jobs, only to be forced into prostitution” (O’Grady, 2001, p. 132).
The Internet also makes it possible for traffickers to conduct their business in relative anonymity. They can enter various forums or websites and ply their trade in cyberspace. Videos and photographs of young girls and women abound on the Internet and there is almost no way to stop the flow. The traffickers can close down one website and open up another in a matter of hours. The movement of people both physically and virtually in the global world is making it easier to engage in human sex trafficking. One of the areas where sex trafficking is flourishing despite international declarations and attention to the problem is Asia. “…the sex industry in Southeast Asia remains a hugely profitable and deeply entrenched enterprise that thrives on the exploitation of women and children” (Kuo, 2000, p. 42). Kuo also states; “While prostitution has an ancient history, the globalization of the sex trade is an unprecedented phenomenon” (Ibid). Kuo’s research states that a high percentage of those forced into prostitution in Asia are girls. Many of them come from poor, rural areas and are coerced into urban areas by traffickers who pay money to poor families.
The country where it seems to thrive the most is Thailand. This is a country that has been broken apart by political instability and economic difficulties. Women in particular find it difficult to get any type of work and often prostitution is just the last resort. Once again officials in the country are implicated as being responsible for allowing the country’s flourishing sex industry to thrive. Even though prostitution and sex trafficking are illegal, officials take money to look the other way. “Often policemen and government officials are themselves customers wanting sexual favors; thus protecting and upholding the economic bases of prostitution and trafficking” (Kuo, 2000, p. 43).
Kuo suggests that globalization not only created the conditions for the transnationalization of sex slavery, it also promotes its continued prosperity. Although her article cites damaging evidence, the researcher herself is the first to admit that her facts are not new. The details of human sex trafficking have been appearing steadily in the international news since the late 1980’s. The point of saying this is to inform the reader that the issue of the globalization and human sex trafficking has been on the international agenda for almost twenty years with no solution in sight. This is because globalization itself is part of the problem. “…the globalization of the sex trade is legitimized by the developed world’s encouragement of Asia’s so-called tourism centers” (Kuo, 2000, p. 44).
Kuo’s study points out that one of the theoretical and political frameworks that is gaining some international notice is that of placing human sex trafficking within the context of the sexual exploitation of women. As mentioned earlier in this paper, the idea of this as a human rights issue may be one of the most effective ways of combating this problem, although the notion of human rights does not always translate transnationally. However, Kuo’s argument is that trafficking is another way of ‘putting women and girls in their place’ in a world economy in which everyone is struggling to make ends meet. Her argument further suggests that many men who engage in human sex trafficking believe that this is not a criminal activity because prostitution is an old institution and women need to be put in their place. When these men buy and sell women and girls they do so from a framework of a misogynist belief that women should stay out of the workplace unless they are somehow serving men. “This “radical feminist” framework identifies sexual objectification as the basis of patriarchy, and hence prostitution and trafficking are seen in the same light as domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, or pornography” (Kuo, 2000, p. 45).
Human sex trafficking is continually being fed by the opportunities that globalization appears to offer. Whereas twenty or thirty years ago, people in the developing world might only know of opportunities in other countries by word of mouth, or if they had access to magazines or a movie theatre. Many did not. Today however, people can go into a café and get on the Internet, many people have televisions whereas they did not before and the world has opened up to developing countries in an unprecedented way. Many are leaving their countries hoping to live in a more ‘democratic’ country (as they perceive the term), and definitely for more social and economic opportunities. The break up of the Soviet Union has unfortunately created one of the biggest opportunities for human sex trafficking. Most of these small countries are politically unstable and poor. People are migrating constantly in the hope that they can lead a better life. A recent film, ‘Eastern Promises’ depicted the Russian mafia and its role in human sex trafficking. Young Eastern European girls are fed lies and leave their homes only to find themselves in sexual bondage. Unfortunately, too many poor women and girls still do not know the reality of trafficking and they too fall into its grip.
The strategy the traffickers often use is to charge a ‘small fee’ for getting the woman or girl out of their home country. The women and girls are given a fake passport (although they don’t know it) and then taken away. The small fee is of course a misnomer. Once they are out of the country, the women and girls are told they owe the traffickers a phenomenal amount of money they can’t possibly pay off. Their work as prostitutes is the only way to pay back the money the traffickers have told them they owe. One pernicious lie leads to another and the vulnerability of the poor, uneducated girls and women is used to the trafficker’s advantage. The criminals who engage in human sex trafficking and those in the drug industry feed off each other. Drug dealers are given access to young girls who are virgins and the traffickers buy drugs off the dealers. The girls and women are forced into drug addiction to keep them servile and in debt.
Human sex trafficking and slave labor cannot be separated from each other. In face, they are one and the same. As two authors explain, they are generally beaten and raped repeatedly once they arrive at their destination. The women are so beaten down mentally and physically they agree to anything. In addition to owing money, becoming dependent on drugs, the women and girls are in such a fragile emotional state that any notion of leaving is terrifying to them. The traffickers also use violence against their families to keep them servile and dependent. The women and girls are terrified their families will be beaten or murdered if they try to escape.
Another terrifying reality of human sex trafficking is that it is aiding in the spread of Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS. Although the women and girls are given condoms, many of their clients refuse to use them. There is forced use of contraceptives, but the conditions the girls and women live in are tantamount to barbarism, and very few can afford to ever see a doctor. When clients refuse to use the condoms there is nothing the girls and women can do. Skolnik and Boontinand describe the conditions found in a brothel in a Kuala Lumpur:
Obviously, the health of these women was severely compromised. The customers were given condoms but did not necessarily use them, and six of the women and girls were found to be HIV positive. Sometimes customers gave the women drugs to make them more submissive, and the pimps hit or flogged them if they were impolite or tried to refuse a customer.
(1999, p. 79)
In 2000 the U.N. adopted the Protocol on Trafficking Human Persons. Although 105 countries signed the protocol, there is an international acknowledgement that human sex trafficking which is a multi-billion dollar business continues to expand every year. The U.N. acknowledges that globalization has changed national and international migration patterns which makes human sex trafficking possible. In the 20th
century, changes in both supply and demand factors led to the feminization of migration
flows, and a sharp increase in the numbers and proportions of women and child migrants
moving, especially on a short-term or temporary basis in search of work.
In addition to the many reasons cited in this paper, human sex trafficking keeps thriving as armed conflicts around the world multiply. Countries that engage in armed conflicts or have unstable political regimes ignore many of the human rights conventions that have been adopted on an international scale. It is also an unfortunate reality that during these conflicts the most vulnerable in society are women, children and people with disabilities or illnesses. “…armed conflict and trafficking are linked in various ways. Traffickers often use routes through countries that have been engulfed by conflict, since border controls and normal policing are reduced” (Heyzer, 2002, p. 7).
Another aspect of armed conflict is that many of the social support systems that people usually rely on are either broken down or functioning in a weakened state. The notion of soldiers plundering and raping may sound like a cliché but it is not. That image is not just a myth from movies but the reality for many women and girls who lives in countries where armed conflicts are raging. These women and girls want to get out and it is all too easy to turn themselves over to someone who promises to help.
This paper earlier stated that the market for young ‘pure girls’ is one of the driving forces of human sex trafficking. Many families in poor countries know this and sell these girls to keep their families fed. The growing divide between rich and poor fuels this problem. “Women are manipulated by consumerism and perversion of family values to fulfilfamily needs and consumption in the name of cultural tradition – duty, care, gratitude – even if it means being sold into prostitution” (Heyzer, 2002, p. 10).
The women and girls who escape from human sex trafficking certainly do not face an easy life. For many of these women and girls, the thought of returning to their families is impossible. Many of those who have escaped face disgrace and shame back home and are ultimately shunned by their families. Some women and girls have no place else to go and end up returning to prostitution or commit suicide. The memories of their brutalization and imprisonment is often too much to bear and many commit suicide immediately upon their escape.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime is another international organization that is trying desperately to combat human sex trafficking. Their report states the following as some of the key reasons this industry is flourishing. “Porous borders, corrupt government officials, involvement of international organized criminal groups or networks, limited capacity of or commitment by immigration and law enforcement officers to control the borders…” (2006, p. 20). In their efforts to combat human sex trafficking the U.N. suggests that it is easier to understand it as a series of crimes committed by many inter-connected criminals and groups rather than by one large organization doing everything. This is the after-effect of globalization. The transnationalization of economies makes it possible for the traffickers to work together across international boundaries, thus making it extremely difficult for law enforcement to deal with them. One group or a small group of individuals entice the women and girls out of the country, while another will transport them and still another will take them someplace else. The network keeps on moving from one small group to another until they arrive at their final destination – the brothel.
However, even if the law enforcement takes down one group, they are literally only one small cog in the wheel. The larger network replaces them and keeps on going. The other problem is the ability of both the sending and receiving countries to enforce similar laws so that the law enforcement agencies can also work across the boundaries. That is harder to achieve than smuggling people across the borders from one country to the next. In essence it is easier to traffick people into sex slavery and much harder to stop the traffickers from succeeding.
One route to success has been tracking the money trail. Some law enforcement agencies have found they can track who makes money when and where. Another rate of success has been found in training police in various countries to recognize the signs of trafficking both in the criminals and the victims and build support systems for the latter to encourage them to come forward. The fear of reprisals on their families and their emotional brutalization (plus language barriers) often makes it next to impossible to encourage victims to speak up.
Human sex trafficking is no doubt the most notorious crime that exists in the world today. Just as globalization made it possible, globalization ensures its survival. To combat this inhuman industry will require a multi-national effort that is both sincere and dedicated. This efforts needs to involve law enforcement, political pressure and support, controlling immigration and migration, enforcing the rights of children and women, understanding cultural norms and values around prostitution, a dedicated effort to fight organized crime, better border controls, international diplomacy, and an international support system for the victims so they can rebuild their lives when they get the chance.
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Contributed by: Ilanna Sharon Mandel