(Original 2010 xanga post here)
Oh,wait. It’s a 12 year old girl.
At the beginning of the summer, I decided to start throwing in some nonfiction reading so that I can know some things. (I started out with The Wal-Mart Effect, which was an excellent read and ended my love/hate relationship with Wal-Mart (now, there’s no relationship at all!)) Then I read some disheartening literature about the food industry (dumb McDonalds). After that, I moved onto sex trafficking.
Now, I knew next to nothing about sex trafficking- only that I didn’t like it. Most people agree that it’s a bad thing but they don’t know enough to know what to do about it. I have read two excellent books about it, which I will give you at the end of this post, that have opened my little eyes to the dangerous and ugly world of sex trafficking.
Sex trafficking is defined as “a modern-day form of slavery in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act is under the age of 18 years.” It happens everywhere. I think most people associate it with Southeast Asia, but one of the most surprising things I read is that Western Europe’s sex trade is booming. It happens less in the US but it does happen. (2013 edit: This ABSOLUTELY happens in the US. The average age of entry into prostitution is 13 in the United States. ‘Pimp’ is really just a Hollywood way of saying ‘trafficker’ in most cases). Some women are more like indentured servants- they have to work off enormous amounts of debt with incredible interest but they do eventually pay their debt off. Many women are just straight up slaves- locked away and tortured and beaten and killed.
To be honest, it’s kind of depressing. (Big shocker, right?) But it’s depressing because it’s such a huge problem and there are so many things stacked against those who are fighting it- like:
– Poverty- Many of these girls are sold by their families into slavery because the girls can earn miniscule salaries that get sent home to their families. Siddharth Kara wrote about a girl who had been sold by her family for less than $50. Sometimes, as in some poverty stricken Eastern European countries, women and families answer job postings for jobs in Western Europe (maids, factory jobs, nannys) and then essentially get kidnapped and sold into slavery. In fact, many families are duped by traffickers into thinking that they are giving their daughters a better life.
-Culture- It’s no surprise that in many countries, women have less rights, less worth in their societies. Families who can only afford to send one child to school pick the son. For many families, sending their daughters into this horrendous line of work is just something that has to be done. The daughters must work to help support their families and without education, their options are few. Also, if or when these women escape, many times they have brought “shame” to their families and they have no where to go, so they end up back on the street. There were many stories of trafficked women who escaped and fell right back into it due to lack of education. If you are essentially an untouchable in your culture and you’ve been raped 20 times a day since you were 13, you would feel like your options are pretty limited.
Also, in Siddharth Kara’s book, he talks about a special people group in Nigeria that are sold into sex trafficking and they see their sexual duties as fulfilling a spiritual obligation. Before they go (to Western Europe, where they are in high demand), they perform some sort of ceremony, which includes an oath to not run away and to be agreeable until their debt is paid off. As a result, these women are often the most docile of the sex trafficked women and they feel that they can’t run away.
– Danger- Traffickers are well connected and they are dangerous people. Some women were afraid to escape because they knew that their brothel owners could find them again.
– Corruption- If you think the police in these countries are going to crack down, you’re wrong because many times they are either customers or co-owners in these brothels. Anti-trafficking NGOs have horrible times trying to prosecute and shut down these brothels. Somaly Mam talks about their efforts in Cambodia to get the justice system to properly prosecute traffickers without having to bribe judges and police officers. It’s very difficult and very frustrating.
-Laws- Many countries’ sex trafficking laws are sorely lacking the punch needed to end sex trafficking. In fact, many countries’ laws are little more than a slap on a wrist and a fine. For people who are taking money for children and women to be raped, a slap on the wrist is almost a laughable punishment.
-Lack of money- Somaly Mam talks about how her organization had to close down a safe shelter due to lack of funds. When these women escape, they have no one to help them. They need counseling, medical assistance, and most importanly, education so that they can support themselves. All of that costs money, on top of bribes paid to police and the legal system, staff salaries, housing and food for the women, and other probihitive measures.
– Lack of awareness from the public- People don’t know about sex trafficking. It is an uncomfortable, awful subject and it’s hard to hear. It’s an ugly side of society. But their needs to be awareness so that our lawmakers and government leaders know that it needs to end. If we make it an issue, they’ll make it an issue.
So yes, all of those things are stacked against the anti-sex trafficking crowd BUT I believe that the issue is gaining prominence which means more international discussions about changing the laws and intranational coalitions to stop it and more money! If you’re interested in helping, here are a few sites I have found:
The Somaly Mam Foundation: This woman, whose book is listed below, was trafficked as a young girl and has started a foundation. She is doing some amazing things in Cambodia and raising awareness worldwide about this issue. There is a place for you to donate on the website.
Eternal Threads: An organization that is fighting sex trafficking world wide. They have fair trade goods that are produced by women in their shelters. If you would like to buy a red bracelet, you can check out the website for the band Don’t Wake Aislin, who are raising awareness about this issue.
International Justice Mission: This organization helps all victims of violence and slavery- men, women, and children. I’ve heard good things about them!
Traffick911: The mission of Traffick911 is to end the buying and selling of American children. My pastor and church support this organization and I’ve been to a fundraising 5k that they did. This organization is LOCAL, baby, because these sorts of things are happening all over!
I’m still looking for more resources, especially ones here in the US. I’ll keep you posted!
The books that I read were:
Sex Trafficking by Siddharth Kara. This book is a wealth of information. It has anecdotes and stories, along with statistical information and policy changes that Kara thinks should be enacted. It’s a good overview of the entire sex trade- from Cambodia to Italy to Mexico.
The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam. This book is a memoir about Mam’s life in the sex trade and what she is doing now to fight it. It gives good insight into the road blocks that anti-trafficking organizations encounter.
(2013 edit: There are so many wonderful organizations that are gaining traction in mainstream media outlets. Since 2010, this issue has really become an important one- one that politicians and movie stars and filmmakers are paying attention to. I urge you to get educated, because this is a pervasive issue that happens in the US, sometimes right under our noses. If you want to learn more about this issue in the states, I highly redommend watching The Playground or Very Young Girls. Both these documentaries are about trafficking within the United States. It gives you a whole new perspective on prostitution.)