Tag Archives: human trafficking

Why Linking Human Trafficking And Prostitution Hurts Efforts To Deal With Both

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As a quick thought experiment, take a moment to picture the appearance and circumstances of a typical plumber. Chances are you’re imagining a big-bellied, greasy-haired, middle-aged man who prides himself on wearing old jeans that expose his butt crack. As stereotypes come, it’s fairly crude, but harmless for the most part.

Now, take a moment to picture a typical victim of human trafficking. Chances are the images you conjure are a lot more distressing. Depending on how much you’ve read into the issue, you can picture a scared young woman from a foreign country huddled in a corner, traumatized and broken after being exploited by her ruthless captors.

Chances are, those ruthless captors conjure some nasty images as well. You imagine they’re sadistic, deviant men who smile at the sight of a scared young woman, having to sell herself sexually in order to pay off a debt that she didn’t even ask for. Such men are the closest thing we have to real-world super-villains.

In terms of terrible crimes, human trafficking ranks near the top in terms of things that offend every sense of decency, humanity, and justice. It’s one of those crimes that’s so horrific that it’s almost impossible to scrutinize without a sense of outrage clouding our judgment. Any effort to do so is usually overshadowed by the horrors of the crime itself.

Despite those obstacles, it’s still an issue worth discussing. If anything, the fact that human trafficking is such an egregious crime makes it that much more relevant. When there’s something that’s so objectively evil, people tend to line up in droves to play the role of a hero. It’s not quite like virtue signaling because this is an actual crime with actual victims.

However, and this is where I’m sure I’ll lose some people, the assumptions surrounding human trafficking and the efforts to combat it aren’t as clear cut. That image of a typical human trafficking victim that I described earlier is, like the plumber, a popular perception that doesn’t quite reflect reality.

Now, none of that is to say that human trafficking isn’t a terrible crime and a serious problem. I want to make that abundantly clear before moving forward. The point I want to make here has more to do with our attitudes towards this crime, its association with prostitution, and how it reflects certain gender dynamics.

For better or for worse, human trafficking is linked to prostitution. It’s major component of the popular perceptions surrounding the crime. As such, a great deal of opposition to the legalization of prostitution comes from the idea that it will increase human trafficking. The veracity of that claim does have some data behind it, but even the most comprehensive studies concede that the link is inconclusive at best.

It’s that link though, however true it might be, that gives human trafficking its insidious reputation. It’s why it is often cited by feminists, human rights advocates, and moral crusaders as an issue worthy of outrage. Battling human trafficking means battling exploitation, sexual promiscuity, and exploited women all at once. That appeals to a lot of people, but it also obscures the true nature of the crime.

That nature is not entirely dependent on sex or prostitution. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), approximately 22 percent of estimated 20.9 million human trafficking victims are exploited for forced sexual labor. That’s still way too many people being exploited, but what about that other 78 percent?

That portion of human trafficking victims are primarily forced into labor of a non-sexual nature. That labor includes work in sectors such as agriculture, construction, domestic work, and manufacturing. That kind of exploitation affects victims of any gender, as well. While women make up about 55 percent of the victims, that still leaves 45 men and young boys, who can also be sexually exploited as well.

The hard data alone undermines the popular perceptions surrounding human trafficking, but it gets even more complicated than that. Since human trafficking is a criminal enterprise that’s exceedingly difficult to prosecute, it’s hard to get accurate data on the scope and scale of the issue.

Back in 2001, a terrifying report from the University of Pennsylvania made headlines by claiming that approximately 300,000 children, mostly young girls, were being sexually exploited. Understandably, this caused a lot of outrage and horror among politicians and activists.

That claim was not accurate, by the way. The report, which was based on outdated data from the 1990s, only covered children “at risk” of being sexually exploited. It didn’t refer to actual victims. That data is harder to come by, but most figures are nowhere near that egregious number. In addition, the methodology for gathering such data is both incomplete in some areas and flawed in others.

Even with those flaws, though, the perceptions surrounding human trafficking and the mental images it conjures are more than sufficient for people with agendas to garner support. Unfortunately, it’s not the forced labor or the 45 percent of victims who are male that get the attention. It’s the women and the sex that gets the emphasis.

As a result, policies and legislation intended to combat this issue tend to focus primarily on that component. Earlier this year, a couple of major laws were passed with the stated intent of combating human trafficking. However, the primary impact is being felt by sex workers, as a whole.

These laws explicitly mentioned sex trafficking. It said nothing about forced labor, which makes up the bulk of human trafficking victims if the data from the ILO is accurate. That’s akin to passing a bill that punishes the maker of ski masks rather than focusing on those who actually use them to commit crimes.

That’s not to say efforts to combat the sexual exploitation of young women aren’t justified. However, why does that particular variation of a crime warrant more laws and resources than another? Why is sexual exploitation the main focus and not the forced labor that is more likely to impact men and boys?

It says something about both our priorities and our attitudes when the exploited sexuality of women is given a greater priority than the enslavement of men. It sends the message that the pain of a sexually exploited woman is somehow greater than that of an exploited man. Pain is still pain, last I checked. When you prioritize one, you undermine the other, by default.

Moreover, those noble efforts to combat human trafficking may end up making the situation worse by coupling it with anti-prostitution efforts. Like the war on drugs, making prostitution illegal does nothing to mitigate the demand for prostitution, nor does it make things easier for those who are prostitutes. It just puts the industry in the hands of criminals.

In recent years, it has become popular in some countries to pass laws that prohibit the buying of sex, but not the selling of sex. It’s an approach that still criminalizes part of an act and, according to a 2012 report by the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, it has not achieved the desired effect of reducing prostitution or human trafficking.

It’s because of these shortcomings in combating both prostitution and human trafficking that organizations like Amnesty International now favor the full decriminalization of prostitution and stricter laws against forced labor. To date, no country has attempted to enact such a policy.

That’s not to say that Amnesty International’s measure will eliminate all instances of human trafficking or forced prostitution. Like any imperfect society, there will be cases of injustice and exploitation. However, that’s exactly why it’s so important to have reasonable policies that emphasize the full spectrum of an issue.

Human trafficking is a terrible crime. Forced labor, be it sexual or otherwise, is just as terrible. There’s no denying that, regardless of how uncertain we may be of its prevalence. By focusing only on its links to prostitution, though, we don’t just undermine the full scope of the crime. We do a disservice to all victims, regardless of gender.

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Filed under gender issues, political correctness, prostitution, sex in society, sexuality

Why Prostitution Is Illegal And Why It Shouldn’t Remain Illegal

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When it comes to matters of sex, there are usually two components. One involves passion, emotion, and intimate connection. That’s the romantic side of the equation, the one often glorified in my novels and in centuries worth of romantic media. That side is rarely controversial. In a perfect world, the primary purpose of sex would be to celebrate that connection and propagate the human species. That’s it.

Sadly, and unsurprisingly, we don’t live in a perfect world. That’s why the second component exists. That’s the economic side of sex, the one that involves utilizing sex as a means of exchanging value. That value doesn’t always involve money, resources, or vengeance for a bitter ex-lover. However, the nature of that value is what gives this form of sex greater taboo.

It’s because we glorify the romantic aspects of sex that the idea of treating it like any other exchange makes some people feel uncomfortable. The idea that the intimate act we do with the love of our life in a candle-lit bedroom in Paris is no different from a couple of strangers having a quickie in a gas station bathroom on the Jersey Turnpike just doesn’t sit well.

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It’s that sentiment that has kept prostitution and sex work of all kinds illegal in most of the developed world. It’s also why efforts to change the legal status of sex work often encounters strong opposition. It’s not just from the uptight Puritanical crowd who are against anything that feels to good. Even those within secular organizations oppose it.

Prostitution, sex work, or whatever you want to call it has a long, colorful history. It has always had a place in every society in some form or another. It’s in the bible, it’s in the ancient world, and it has found a way to thrive even in the most repressive of eras. Wherever there are resources to be exchanged or just a large collection of horny individuals, prostitution finds a way. It’s kind of like life itself.

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It’s for that reason that making prostitution illegal and keeping it illegal seems both asinine and futile. It’s one of those issues that has too many forces from both sides of the political spectrum working against it to ever change. Considering the growing concerns over our current approach to sex, it’s an issue that deserves greater scrutiny.

While efforts to regulate or prohibit prostitution are nothing new, the reasons for doing have changed. For most of human history, the reasons were entirely pragmatic. In the days before modern medicine, unregulated prostitution could lead to outbreaks of deadly diseases. Some of those diseases were so debilitating that it’s entirely understandable that many would adopt a very prohibition-centered approach.

As with other prohibitions though, the effects only went so far. Despite all the health risks and moral considerations, there seemed to be this unspoken understanding that prostitution is inevitable. Even St. Thomas Aquinas, a man who had a very narrow view of sin, is said to have said this about prostitution.

“Prostitution is like a sewer in a palace. Take away the sewer and you will fill the palace with pollution.”

Older societies might not have had access nearly as much knowledge as we do today, but they did notice one thing. A society full of horny people with no outlet for all that sexual energy is not a stable one. We even see evidence of that today. Even with the risk of disease in an era before modern medicine, those societies understood that.

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It wasn’t really until the early 20th century that the western world really made a push for prohibition. It coincided with other social purity movements that fought for the prohibition of alcohol, gambling, and anything else you can do in Las Vegas on a weekend. It had less to do with pragmatics and more to do with a moral resurgence fueled by religion and political zeal.

While that movement eventually conceded that prohibition of alcohol was fruitless, the anti-prostitution laws they inspired still lingers. As it stands, prostitution is illegal in most of the United States, except for a few places in Nevada. In Europe, there’s a messy patchwork of legality that ranges from fully legal, to quasi-legal, to outright illegal.

Regardless of what the laws say, prostitution exists and will continue to exist. The only thing that changes are the reasons for combating it. Most people these days won’t get into a moral debate about whether two consenting adults having sex is immoral, even if they’re not married. They will, however, show great concern about exploration and subjugation.

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Today, anti-prostitution attitudes are shaped largely by concerns over human trafficking, a crime that is horrible on too many levels to list. Whether by coincidence or agenda, prostitution is so closely tied to human trafficking that the two are sometimes used interchangeably. Considering how human trafficking often involves more than just sex, that’s not a fair comparison.

Fair or not, it’s that underlying concern that ensures attitudes about prostitution remain predominantly negative. It certainly doesn’t help that many of the victims of human trafficking are mostly disadvantaged women, whose suffering has become a much larger issue in recent years.

While nobody doubts the awful nature of human trafficking and the exploitation of innocent women, it still undercuts the very understanding that many societies in the past either accepted or learned the hard way. A society without a sexual outlet is not a stable one.

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Whether you’re concerned about the effects of “toxic masculinity” or people developing unhealthy attitudes about sex in general, the attitudes the fuel the prohibition are the same sentiments that keep people from exploring their sexuality. If their desire to just have sex for the sake of sex is seen as a flaw, then that’s going to cause problems. As I’ve noted before, treating sexual desires as a disease rarely works out.

There’s no doubt that there are those who become prostitutes out of desperation, just as there are people who work in fast food restaurants out of desperation. There are also those who freely choose to become prostitutes and even enjoy their work. Ironically, laws prohibiting prostitution hurts both by relegating it to the criminal underworld.

Treating prostitution as a crime seriously undermines the impact of real crimes. It’s not like murder, theft, or violence. These are activities that actively harm other individuals and involve someone going out of their way to subvert someone else’s will or property. Prostitution, namely the kind that involves two consenting adults, involves no such subversion.

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However, by making it illegal, it ensures that there will be criminal elements involves. Criminal elements, by default, involve the kind of violence, theft, and deviance that supporters of prohibition cite. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of the worst kind. It’s like shooting yourself in the foot to protest gun violence.

That’s not to say there’s no hope for reforming our attitudes surrounding prostitution. There are branches of sex-positive feminism out there that support recognizing sex work as actual work. Back in 2016, Amnesty International even adopted an official position stating that the decriminalization of prostitution is critical to the pursuit of human rights.

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While society is probably a long way from full legalization, at least until sex robots are perfected, the attitudes that keep it illegal may end up being more harmful in the long run. The late, great George Carlin said it best with a simple, succinct, and naturally hilarious question.

“I don’t understand why prostitution is illegal. Selling is legal, fucking is legal. So why isn’t it legal to sell fucking?”

The fact that such insightful logic is so funny also makes it kind of frustrating. It’s almost tragic, to some extent, that we insist on complicating what should be a very simple concept. Not every sex act can be an act of passion, just as not every act of passion need be a sex act.

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If society is going to develop healthier attitudes towards sex, then we’re need to give people the ability and opportunities to explore. Prostitution, whatever our attitudes may be, will likely be part of that effort. Any effort to eliminate it completely is doomed to fail. That’s why it’s called the world’s oldest profession.

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Filed under gender issues, sex in society, sexuality