Friday, January 09, 2009

What? The 21st Century and Slavery is Still Here!

Beyond Politics: People for Sale in Hungry World
By Ramzy Baroud
Global Research, June 26, 2009
One might be tempted to dismiss the recent findings of the US State Department on human trafficking as largely political. But do not be too hasty.
Criticism of the State Department's report on trafficked persons, issued on 16 June, should be rife. The language describing US allies' efforts to combat the problem seems undeserved, especially when one examines the nearly 320- page report and observes the minuscule efforts of these governments. Also, it was hardly surprising to find that Cuba , North Korea , Iran and Syria -- Washington 's foremost foes -- languish in the report's Tier 3 category, i.e. countries where the problem is most grave and least combated. Offenders in Tier 3 are subject to US sanctions, while governments of countries in Tier 1 are perceived as vigilant in fighting human trafficking.
One could also question the US government's own moral legitimacy; classifying the world into watch lists, congratulating some and reprimanding and sanctioning others, while the US itself has thus far (and for nine consecutive reports starting 2000) been immune to self-criticism.
Undoubtedly, the political hubris and self- righteous underpinnings of the report are disturbing, but that hardly represents an end to the argument. The fact remains that the report's rating of over 170 countries is thorough and largely consistent with facts as observed, reported by the media and examined in other comprehensive reports on the same issue. Indeed, the UN's own Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, launched by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in February 2009, affirms much of the State Departments' findings regarding patterns of abuse reported around the world, most notably in Africa, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region.
The report examined governmental responses to the exploitation of people, including children, for the purposes of forced labour, sex and stolen organs. At least 12.3 million adults and children are used to sustain the thriving business of modern-day slavery, though the real number is probably much higher given that human traffickers have little interest in divulging exact data.
The global financial crisis has fuelled the demand for cheap labour, making the exploitation of the most vulnerable people part and parcel of the economic recovery plans of many companies, and even countries. Under these circumstances, there should be little doubt that the UN's once promising campaign to eradicate much of the world's hunger by 2015 is already a pipedream.
One of the testimonies cited in the State Department's report was that of Mohamed Selim Khan, who "woke up in a strange house and felt an excruciating pain in his abdomen. Unsure of where he was, Khan asked a man wearing a surgical mask what had happened. 'We have taken your kidney,' the stranger said. 'If you tell anyone, we'll kill you.'"
Khan's experience epitomizes the nightmare of millions of people around the world, as they struggle to provide for hungry families. Their plight is no secret. It can be seen on the streets of many cities around the world, from Europe to Asia and Central America to the Gulf, where worn out, haggard looking men in dirty uniforms are working long hours for little pay, trapped between pressing needs at home and the merciless demands of their "recruitment agencies".
But cheap or forced labor is not the only form of human trafficking. According to the UN's Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, based on data collected in 155 countries, "the most common form of human trafficking [79 per cent] is sexual exploitation".
IRIN News, affiliated with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reported on 18 June that "women from the former Soviet Union and China are still being trafficked across the border with Egypt into Israel for forced prostitution by organized criminal groups". Israel has been identified as a "prime destination for trafficking by both the State Department and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime". One Israeli gang alone, according to the report, has trafficked over 2,000 women into Israel and Cyprus in the last six years.
One has to wonder the wisdom of international conferences and global efforts aimed at cracking down on Gazans smuggling food and medicine across the same Egyptian border to survive the Israeli siege when almost no efforts have been dedicated to ending the stark exploitation and abuse of thousands of women enriching Israel's sex industry.
Dare I say that while human trafficking is itself an apolitical issue, recognizing and combating, or failing to combat, the problem is very much political. Think of the banking crisis, which fuelled a global recession, and the way astronomical amounts of money have been dedicated to solving it, trillions of dollars in global bailouts ultimately rewarding those who caused the crisis in the first place. Compare these efforts to the pathetic attempts at halting the disgraceful commercialization of humans, their organs, their sexuality, their very humanity.
The problem is now compounded. UN food officials declared on 19 June that hunger around the world has passed the unprecedented threshold of one billion, that is one in six people. The alarming increase of 100 million hungry children, women and men from last year's estimates is blamed on the economic recession. While international institutions are efficient at recognizing such problems, proposed solutions often lack sincerity, or any sense of urgency.
"A hungry world is a dangerous world," said Josette Sheeran of the World Food Programme. "Without food, people have only three options: they riot, they emigrate or they die." They also become products in markets ready to exploit those whose very survival is at stake.
When Julia, from the Balkans, was eight years old, she was taken along with her sisters to a neighboring country, where she was sold to beg. She was beaten every time she failed to return with her fixed quota of money. Once she became a teenager she was forced into prostitution. After escaping she was placed in a government orphanage from which she also escaped, returning to the streets. According to the State Department report, eventually "Julia was arrested on narcotics charges".
Can this injustice be any more obvious?
Slavery: Still a painful reality in Mauritania
Slaves are tied to their owners by intellectual, religious and financial bondsBy Judi McLeod Thursday, February 12, 2009
ANSAmed - TUNIS, “Slavery is a painful reality in Mauritania” said President of the Mauritanian organisation SOS Slaves Bairam Ould Messaoud, at a debate in Tunis.
"There are families who still have slaves and use them in their homes and farms, without any intervention by the authorities”, especially in the far east and south of the country.
Ould Messaoud pointed out that slavery has been against the law since 1984, and said that the ban has never fully worked because “slaves are tied to their owners by intellectual, religious and financial bonds”. He also pointed out that the government made reforms to the law in 2006, tightening financial sanctions against law breakers. However, added President of the Association of Women Support of the Family, Aminatou Bent, this law has never been observed in practice. And she maintains that the authorities are doing little “to end the suffering of many young women who are victims of varying types of abuse, including sexual abuse”.
Worldwide SlaverySources:
Sojourners, March 15, 2007 Title: “From Sex Workers to Restaurant Workers, the Global Slave Trade Is Growing” Author: David Batstone
Foreign Policy, March/April 2008 Title: “A World Enslaved” Author: E. Benjamin Skinner
Student Researcher: Brandon Leahy
Faculty Evaluator: David McCuan, PhD

Twenty-seven million slaves exist in the world today, more than at any time in human history.
Globalization, poverty, violence, and greed facilitate the growth of slavery, not only in the Third World, but in the most developed countries as well. Behind the façade in any major town or city in the world today, one is likely to find a thriving commerce in human beings.
As many as 800,000 are trafficked across international borders annually, and up to 17,500 new victims are trafficked across US borders each year, according to the US Department of Justice (DOJ). More than 30,000 additional slaves are transported through the US on their ways to other international destinations. Attorneys from the DOJ have prosecuted ninety-one slave trade cases in cities across the United States and in nearly every state of the nation.
Commerce in human beings today rivals drug trafficking and the illegal arms trade for top criminal activity on the planet. The slave trade sits at number three on the list, but the gap is closing. According to the US State Department’s 2004 Trafficking in Persons Report, the FBI projects that the slave trade generates $9.5 billion in revenue each year. A report put out by the International Labor Office in 2005, titled “Global Alliance Against Forced Labor,” estimates that figure to be closer to $32 billion annually.
Like the slaves who came to America’s shores over 200 years ago, today’s slaves are not free to pursue their own destinies. They are coerced to perform work for the personal gain of those who subjugate them. If they try to escape the clutches of their masters, modern slaves risk personal violence or reprisals to their families.
Increasingly severe and widespread poverty and social inequality ensure a growing pool of recruits. Parents in desperate straits may sell their children or at least be susceptible to scams that will allow the slave trader to take control over the lives of their sons and daughters. Young women in poverty-ridden communities are more likely to take risks on job offers in faraway locations. The poor are apt to accept loans that slave traders can later manipulate to steal their freedom. Thousands of traffickers lure children from impoverished rural parents with promises of scholarships, free schooling, and a better life. All of these paths carry unsuspecting recruits into the supply chains of slavery.
Though modern day forms of slavery are emerging to suit global markets, bonded labor continues to be the most common form of slavery in the world. In a typical scenario, an individual falls under the control of a wealthy patron after taking a small loan. The patron adds egregious rates of interest and inflated expenses to the original principal so that the laborer finds it impossible to repay.

Debt slaves may spend their entire lives in service to a single slaveholder, and their “obligation” may be passed on to their children.
Bondage, with no legal standing, is typically established through fraud and maintained through violence.
The United Nations, whose founding principles call for it to fight bondage in all its forms, has done little to combat modern slavery. And though since 1817 nations have signed more than a dozen international antislavery resolutions, very little effect has been realized.
Authors David Batstone and E. Benjamin Skinner are, however, impressed and heartened by the effectiveness of nongovernmental abolitionists around the world involved not only in brave acts of liberating slaves, but in launching transitional schools and training facilities for those recently freed.
Update by Benjamin SkinnerWhen Foreign Policy published “A World Enslaved” in March 2008, they dropped a rock in a pool. There were few ripples. The mainstream media seems to have trouble grasping and presenting the concept that there are more slaves today than at any point in human history. And for understandable reasons: legal slavery was buried in most countries a long time ago. On a positive note, in its June 4 Trafficking in Persons Report the US State Department began to seriously address forms of slavery other than sex slavery. But the media seems to find little of interest in the bondage of millions who are enslaved in industries other than commercial sex. And such a narrow presentation means that the struggle against slavery in all its forms remains hidden and underfunded.
Despite the media abandonment, a handful of American citizens who had never been exposed to the issue before got involved after reading A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern Day Slavery, the book that the Foreign Policy piece excerpted. A plastic surgeon in Missouri offered his services pro bono to those survivors who had scars as a result of their slavery; a woman from North Carolina lobbied her elected officials to stop slavery in Romania; a famous visual artist is working on a series of pieces about modern-day slavery, and has offered to give the proceeds from the sales to Free The Slaves, the most effective organization working to combat slavery worldwide; other readers made their own contributions to Free The Slaves or to domestically-focused antislavery organizations like the DC-based Polaris Project. Those few Americans have made commitments that will help turn the tide against modern-day slavery—and carry on the struggle of our ancestors who were slaves and abolitionists.
From Sex Workers to Restaurant Workers, the Global Slave Trade Is GrowingBy David Batsone, Sojourners
Posted on March 15, 2007, Printed on January 9, 2009
This article is an excerpt from David Batstone’s new book, Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade -- and How We Can Fight It. Learn more about the book and the campaign it has launched.Twenty-seven million slaves exist in our world today. Girls and boys, women and men of all ages are forced to toil in the rug loom sheds of Nepal, sell their bodies in the brothels of Rome, break rocks in the quarries of Pakistan, and fight wars in the jungles of Africa.
Go behind the façade in any major town or city in the world today and you are likely to find a thriving commerce in human beings. You may even find slavery in your own backyard. For several years my wife and I dined regularly at an Indian restaurant located near our home in the San Francisco Bay area. Unbeknownst to us, the staff at Pasand Madras Indian Cuisine who cooked our curries, delivered them to our table, and washed our dishes were slaves. Restaurant owner Lakireddy Reddy and several members of his family had used fake visas and false identities to traffic perhaps hundreds of adults and children into the United States from India. He forced the laborers to work long hours for minimal wages, money that they returned to him as rent to live in one of his apartments. Reddy threatened to turn them into the authorities as illegal aliens if they tried to escape.
The Reddy case is not an anomaly. As many as 800,000 are trafficked across international borders annually, and up to 17,500 new victims are trafficked across our borders each year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. More than 30,000 additional slaves are trans-ported through the U.S. on their way to other international destinations. Attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice have prosecuted 91 slave-trade cases in cities across the United States and in nearly every state of the nation.
Like the slaves who came to America's shores 200 years ago, today's slaves are not free to pursue their own destinies. They are coerced to perform work for the personal gain of those who subjugate them. If they try to escape the clutches of their masters, modern slaves risk personal violence or reprisals to their families.
President George W. Bush spoke of the global crisis of the slave trade before the United Nations General Assembly in September 2003. "Each year 800,000 to 900,000 human beings are bought, sold, or forced across the world's borders," he said. "The trade in human beings for any purpose must not be allowed to thrive in our time." Of those individuals extracted out of impoverished countries and trafficked across international borders, 80 percent are female and 50 percent are children, according to the U.S. Department of State's "2005 Trafficking in Persons Report."
The commerce in human beings today rivals drug trafficking and the illegal arms trade for the top criminal activity on the planet. The slave trade sits at number three on the list but is closing the gap. The FBI projects that the slave trade generates $9.5 billion in revenue each year, according to the U.S. Department of State's "2004 Trafficking in Persons Report." The International Labour Office, in the 2005 report "A Global Alliance Against Forced Labor," estimates that figure to be closer to a whopping $32 billion annually.
"Ten Million Children Exploited for Domestic Labor" -- this title for a 2004 U.N. study hardly needs explaining. The U.N.'s surveys found 700,000 children forced into domestic labor in Indonesia alone, with staggering numbers as well in Brazil (559,000), Pakistan (264,000), Haiti (250,000), and Kenya (200,000). The U.N. report indicates that children remain in servitude for long stretches of time because no one identifies their enslavement: "These youngsters are usually 'invisible' to their communities, toiling for long hours with little or no pay and regularly deprived of the chance to play or go to school." UNICEF estimates that 1 million children are forced today to sell their bodies to sexual exploiters. In a single country, Uganda, nearly 40,000 children have been kidnapped and violently turned into child soldiers or sex slaves.
We may not even realize how each one of us drives the demand during the course of a normal day. Kevin Bales, a pioneer in the fight against modern slavery, expresses well those commercial connections: "Slaves in Pakistan may have made the shoes you are wearing and the carpet you stand on. Slaves in the Caribbean may have put sugar in your kitchen and toys in the hands of your children. In India they may have sewn the shirt on your back and polished the ring on your finger."
Widespread poverty and social inequality ensure a pool of recruits as deep as the ocean. Parents in desperate straits may sell their children or at least be susceptible to scams that will allow the slave trader to take control over the lives of their sons and daughters. Young women in vulnerable communities are more likely to take a risk on a job offer in a faraway location. The poor are apt to accept a loan that the slave trader can later manipulate to steal their freedom. All of these paths carry unsuspecting recruits into the supply chains of slavery.
"The supply side of the equation is particularly bleak," says Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas. "While there are 100,000 places in the developed world for refugee resettlement per year, 50 million refugees and displaced persons exist worldwide today. This ready reservoir of the stateless presents an opportunity rife for exploitation by human traffickers."
During the era of the American plantation economy, the slaveholder considered slave ownership an investment. The supply of new recruits was limited. The cost of extracting and transporting the slave, and ensuring that they would be serviceable by the time they reached their destination, was considerable. In the modern slave trade, the glut of slaves and the capacity to move them great distances in a relatively short period of time drastically alters the economics of slave ownership. Kevin Bales' description of modern slaves as "disposable people" profoundly fits: Just like used batteries, once the slave exhausts his or her usefulness, another can be procured at no great expense.
Notwithstanding these emerging trends in global markets, traditional modes of slavery also persist. Bonded labor has existed for centuries and continues to be the most common form of slavery in the world today. In a typical scenario, an individual falls under the control of a wealthy patron after taking a small loan. The patron adds egregious rates of interest and inflated expenses to the original principal so that the laborer finds it impossible to repay. Debt slaves may spend their entire lives in service to a single slaveholder, and their "obligation" may be passed on to their children. Of the 27 million people worldwide held captive and exploited for profit today, the Free the Slaves organization estimates that at least 15 million are bonded slaves in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
In my journey to monitor the rise of modern global slavery, I had prepared myself to end up in the depths of depression. To be honest, I made some unpleasant stops there. But my journey did not end at despair. The prime reason: I met a heroic ensemble of abolitionists who simply refuse to relent. I felt like I had gone back in time and had the great privilege of sharing a meal with a Harriet Tubman or a William Wilberforce or a Frederick Douglass. Like the abolitionists of old, these modern heroes do not expend their energy handicapping the odds stacked against the antislavery movement. They simply refuse to accept a world where one individual can be held as the property of another.
Kru Nam is one of those abolitionists who operate on the front lines in the fight against sex slavery. She is a painter with a university degree in art who launched a project to reach street kids in Chiang Mai, the second largest town in northern Thailand. Once she turned the kids loose with paintbrushes, they created a series of disturbing images that added up to a horror story.
Kru Nam soon realized that most of the kids did not come from Thailand. Most came from Burma, with a sprinkling of Laotians, Vietnamese, and Cambodians tossed in the mix. The Burmese boys spoke of a well-dressed Thai gentleman who had visited their village in the south of Burma. Accompanying him was a 14-year-old Burmese boy who wore fine-tailored clothes and spoke Thai fluently. The man told parents that he was offering scholarships for young boys to attend school back in Thailand. "Look how well this child from your region is doing," he said, pointing to his young companion. "If you let me take your son back to Chiang Mai, I will do the same for him." Many families agreed to let their sons go with the Thai man. Once they reached Chiang Mai, the Thai man immediately sold them to owners of sex bars and brothels.
The boys living on the streets were the lucky ones; they had escaped. They told Kru Nam that many more boys remained captive. Her blood boiled. She could not stand by and do nothing.
Kru Nam did not exactly have a plan when she marched into the sex bar for her first raid. Only her mission was clear: rescue as many of the young boys as she could find. One by one she approached a table where a boy sat and calmly said, "Let's go, I'm taking you out of here." Several moments later, she was leading six little boys out the door and to her safe house in Chiang Mai.
Kru Nam made several more impromptu raids. Eventually, owners put the word out that they would kill her if she walked into their bars. Deploying a fresh strategy, she organized street teams to scour the night market of Chiang Mai and connect with young children recently off the bus from the northern Thai-Burmese border. Recruiters for the sex bars also trolled the streets on the hunt for vulnerable kids. It became a life-and-death contest to find them first.
One day it struck Kru Nam that if she moved upstream before the kids hit Chiang Mai she would have an edge over the recruiters. So she moved about 40 miles north to the border town of Mae Sai, a major thoroughfare for foot traffic between Burma and Thailand.
In Mae Sai she set up a shelter to take in kids on the run. Nearly 60 boys and girls today find safe refuge each night at Kru Nam's shelter. She has had to move her safe house several times. Neighbors on each occasion have forced her out; they do not want "these dirty kids" living on their block. So Kru Nam purchased a block of land some 15 miles outside of Mae Sai. She does not have the money she needs to buy a proper residence, so for the time being Kru Nam and the children will live on the land in temporary shelters.
Kru Nam is irrepressible. She does not have a large organization standing behind her -- a skeletal staff of three assists her and she receives modest funding from a tiny nongovernmental agency based in Thailand. What she does have is a burning passion to rescue young boys and girls so that they do not fall into the treacherous control of slaveholders. Her passage from a single act of kindness to fighting for justice on a grander scale is the quintessential story of the abolitionist.
The abolitionists working today are truly extraordinary, but they cannot win the fight alone. They are overwhelmed and beleaguered. The size and scope of Kru Nam's project is about the norm for abolitionist organizations. They sorely need reinforcements, a new wave of abolitionists, to join them in the struggle.
All of us wonder how we would have acted in the epic struggles of human history. Imagine we lived in rural Tennessee in 1855 and Harriet Tubman came to our door, asking us to join the Underground Railroad. Would we have stood up and been counted among the just?
There are times to read history, and there are times to make history. We live right now at one of those epic moments in the fight for human freedom. We no longer have to wonder how we might respond to our moment of truth. Future generations will look back and judge our choices, and be inspired or disappointed.
Malevolent BargainsSlavery continues in the form of forced prostitution
by Ed Vitagliano
April, 2004
“I realized that slavery was still alive,” said John Miller, Director of the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. He was telling World magazine about the arrest of men who trafficked in sex slaves.“I’m reading about how they lured these girls from Asian nations, promised them restaurant jobs, modeling jobs, … seized their passports, beat them, raped them, moved them from brothel to brothel,” he said. This was not happening in some distant Third World nation, however. “There it was in civil Seattle,” Miller said.
It is a crime – and a sin – that is almost too horrible to think about, but for the thousands of children and women trapped in the international sex slave trade, it is a nightmare with which they must live every day. Most people, however, would be stunned to know that the United States may be becoming a major importer of unwilling participants in this ghastly enterprise.
By the thousands
This industry is technically called trafficking: “knowingly obtaining by any means – often by force, fraud, or coercion – any person for involuntary servitude or forced labor,” according to Thomas M. Steinfatt, professor of communication at the University of Miami, who studies the subject. It operates just like any other export-import business. According to Donna M. Hughes, professor of women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island and an expert on the sexual exploitation of women, girls and women are procured in one nation, conveyed through transit countries, and finally arrive in the nation of destination.
There, “men use them in legalized or widely tolerated sex businesses, and men physically travel around the world to buy women and children in prostitution, as a form of tourism,” said Hughes. “Through recently developed global communications technology, these forms of sexual exploitation are now carried out through phone lines and satellite transmission,” namely the Internet.
To call what happens to these women slavery is not hyperbole. Hughes said, “The methods used in trafficking for sexual exploitation comprise a modern slave trade. The perpetrators range from loosely connected procurers and pimps to transnational organized crime networks.” It’s big business.

Hughes said estimates of the money that pours in through the sex industry – prostitution, the sale of women and children through sex trafficking, the sale of child pornography, etc. – are between $7 billion and $57 billion a year.
That indicates that a lot of flesh is being peddled, although exact figures are difficult to come by. Hughes said a United Nations estimate puts the number of women and children who are sexually exploited by the sex trade industry each year at one million, while child-advocacy groups, according to a story in USA Today, estimate that there are currently two million children worldwide that are working as sex slaves.
Locked in cages
While the exact numbers may be difficult to ascertain, there are admittedly thousands of women and girls who are deceived or simply sold into forcible sexual slavery.
In his heart-breaking account of the international sex trade, journalist Peter Landesman wrote in The New York Times Magazine, “Some of them have been baited by promises of legitimate jobs and a better life in America; many have been abducted; others have been bought from or abandoned by their impoverished families.”
Hughes told Voice of America, “Usually what happens is the woman is searching for a job and she is told that she can go abroad and make a lot of money … but the problem is that when she arrives in that particular country … she is told no, in fact you’re not going to be a waitress, a nanny, you know, whatever job, a dancer maybe, that we told you. You’re going to be in prostitution and you don’t have a choice.”
Those holding the women in slavery tell the victims they must remain and work as prostitutes until they pay off the transportation cost to the new country. Hughes said they’re often told, “We’ll beat you up if you don’t do what we want and you owe us $30,000.”Sometimes, Hughes said, the men do release the women after the “debt” has been paid. “Other times, if the women can’t earn as much for the pimp as he likes, he sells her again. I’ve interviewed women who have been sold four or five times. Of course, the problem with this is that their debt starts all over again.”The coercion process is often a brutal one. Bharti Tapas, a girl interviewed by ABC News Downtown in 2001 for a special on the sex trade in India, was 14 when she was sold into slavery by her own parents, and then forced into prostitution.
“When I arrived at the brothel, I refused to do what they told me to and they beat me and starved me for 10 days,” Tapas said. “I thought I would rather kill myself than be forced to work as a prostitute.”
She relented, according to the story, and joined “thousands of other girls who are beaten, locked in tiny cages or hidden in attics. Some are forced to have sex with as many as 20 men a day under the watchful eyes of madams and pimps.”
Psychiatrist Wendy Freed authored a report for Physicians for Human Rights. Her report on the psychological aspects of women trapped in sexual slavery in Cambodia presented this frightening pattern faced by thousands of girls and women:
“The young women have been in captivity for a period of weeks to months or years. Initially there is shock and disbelief. Many young women describe not being able to believe that they had been sold. … Once they realize that in fact they are sold, they fight the brothel owner’s demand that they accept customers. Refusal leads to beatings, being locked in a room, and going without food. This persists until the young woman gives up and realizes that indeed they are trapped and have no options.… At some point in this process, the young woman becomes submissive in order to avoid further beatings and torment; her ‘spirit is broken.’ She surrenders, becomes resigned and accomodates to the circumstances of captivity.”
Hughes calls these brothels “sexual gulags,” and cites the reports of international aid workers that describe men buying oral sex from girls as young as five years old, and intercourse with girls as young as 10 or 11.
Porn – part of the problem
Certainly poverty plays a critical role in motivating poor girls and women to seek employment in far away places, as well as generating a market for the sale of women to brothels. But what is driving the increase in demand for illicit sex?
In an article in the Journal of Sexual Aggression, Hughes said, “In the last three decades, prostitution and pornography have become increasingly tolerated, normalized and legitimized, resulting in expansion of sex industries all over the world.”
This tolerance, she said, has “increased men’s demand for women and girls to be used as sexual entertainment or acts of violence. The demand is met by increased recruitment of women and girls into the sex industry, usually by violence, deception or exploitation of those made vulnerable by poverty, unemployment and prior victimization.”
The Internet has made pornography ubiquitous, and Hughes said this new forum has “provided pornographers access to a global audience with almost no restrictions or regulations. It provided men, who are usually secretive about their exploitation of women and children, with easy, private access to unlimited amounts of pornography.”
The country that comes in for the lion’s share of the blame is the United States. Hughes said, “The U.S. is the country mainly responsible for the industrialization of pornography and prostitution, either in the U.S. or in prostitution centers created by the demand from U.S. military personnel. The U.S. is also the home of the Internet pornography industry.”
For example, Hughes said that, according to one study, 70% of the customers for live sex shows on the Internet are in the U.S.
American taste for trafficked girls
Virtual sex is not the only decadent delicacy for some Americans; the simple fact is that thousands of trafficked women and girls are ferried into the U.S. for the purpose of illicit sexual encounters.
In an article for The Weekly Standard, Hughes wrote about the extent of the sex trafficking industry that shuttles girls through Mexico to brothels outside San Diego, California. “Over a 10-year period, hundreds of girls, 12 to 18 years old,” were brought into the U.S. by Mexican nationals.
“The girls were sold to farm workers – between 100 and 300 at a time – in small ‘caves’ made of reeds in the fields. Many of the girls had babies, who were used as hostages with death threats against them, so their mothers would not try to escape,” Hughes said.
An American doctor who was volunteering to provide health care to migrant workers in the area told Hughes that younger and younger girls were brought over the border – some nine and 10 years old – who might be used by as many as 35 men in one hour. “The first time I went to the camps I didn’t vomit only because I had nothing in my stomach,” the doctor told her. “It was truly grotesque and unimaginable.”
When she wanted to complain to government authorities about the abuse, the doctor was instructed by her supervisor to concern herself only with trying to prevent the girls from contracting sexually transmitted diseases by providing condoms.
“I fought a lot with the U.S. government and they told me that I shouldn’t do anything, that I had signed a federal agreement of confidentiality,” the doctor said.
From San Diego to New York City, girls and women are being abused in the middle of normal neighborhoods, “hiding in plain sight,” according to Hughes.
It is a staggering vice, and Landesman said the U.S. has become “a major importer of sex slaves. Last year the C.I.A. estimated that between 18,000 and 20,000 people are trafficked annually into the United States.” Of these, an estimated 10,000 are victims of the sex slave industry.
Those numbers add up. According to Kevin Bales, author of the book, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, and president of Free the Slaves, America’s largest anti-slavery organization, there are 30,000 to 50,000 sex slaves residing – against their will – in the U.S. at any given time.
Cracking down
Some have suggested that legalizing prostitution would put an end to such a depraved industry, but the opposite may very well be true.
Hughes said, “What happens when you have a large demand for women in prostitution is that you don’t have enough local women who are able to fill up all these slots that are needed, so the pimps have to start looking abroad.”
She added that evidence from the Netherlands, Germany and Australia – where prostitution is legal – indicates that such a policy has “resulted in increased trafficking of women to meet the increased demand for women in prostitution and an accompanying increase in organized crime.”
While prostitution is still illegal in the U.S., many municipalities have minimal penalties for prostitution, reflecting the belief that it really isn’t that big a deal. “Pimping must be made a felony,” Hughes told the AFA Journal in an interview, “and the government needs to enforce the laws against trafficking that are already on the books in this country. There are lots of local and state laws against it, but often prostitution is considered a victimless crime or nuisance crime.”
Under the Bush administration, the federal government has begun to make the prosecution of trafficking a priority. Last September, in an address to the United Nations, President George Bush called the sex slave trade “a humanitarian crisis.”
“There’s a special evil in the abuse and exploitation of the most innocent and vulnerable,” said President Bush. “Those who create these victims and profit from their suffering must be severely punished …. [G]overnments that tolerate this trade are tolerating a form of slavery.”
Since it began targeting sex traffickers three years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice has convicted 111 traffickers – 79 of whom were involved in trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
That may only be a drop in the bucket considering the ocean of victims who are suffering, but for the women who are rescued from prostitution, it is an escape from a darkness few of us could ever imagine.
Girl, 6, embodies Cambodia's sex industry
January 26, 2007
• More than 1 million children in global sex trade each year, U.S. State Dept. says
• 50,000 to 100,000 women and children involved in Cambodia's sex industry
• Gang rape, AIDS, torture afflict the women and children in this field
By Dan Rivers, CNN
Phnom Penh, Cambodia (CNN) -- At an age when most children might be preparing for their first day of school, Srey, 6, already has undergone trauma that is almost unspeakable.
She was sold to a brothel by her parents when she was 5. It is not known how much her family got for Srey, but other girls talk of being sold for $100; one was sold for $10.
Before she was rescued, Srey endured months of abuse at the hands of pimps and sex tourists. Passed from man to man, often drugged to make her compliant, Srey was a commodity at the heart of a massive, multimillion-dollar sex industry in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
"It is huge," said Mu Sochua, a former minister of women's and veteran's affairs who is an anti-sex trade activist.
The precise scale of Cambodia's sex trade is difficult to quantify. International organizations -- such as UNICEF, ECPAT and Save the Children -- say that anywhere from from 50,000 to 100,000 women and children are involved. An estimated 30 percent of the sex workers in Phnom Penh are under the age of 18, according to the United Nations. The actual figure may be much higher, activists say.
Global sex industryAround the world, more than 1 million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade each year, according to the U.S. State Department. The State Department believes Cambodia is a key transit and destination point in this trade.
"Trafficking for sexual exploitation also occurs within Cambodia's borders, from rural areas to the country's capital, Phnom Penh, and other secondary cities in the country," the State Department wrote in a 2006 report. "The Government of Cambodia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so."
Sochua said that with millions of Cambodians struggling to live on less than 50 cents a day, many women turn to the sex industry. Poverty is also often what drives parents to sell their child or themselves on the streets.
"Always a child is left behind, often a girl, who is preyed on by traffickers," Sochua added.
An unlikely saviorSrey was rescued from the life of a sex slave by Somaly Mam, a former prostitute who runs shelters for the victims of Cambodia's sex trade. Somaly has rescued 53 children, so far. Many of them have profound psychological trauma. Some clearly are mentally ill. (Watch how one woman has saved dozens of children from brothels )
"A lot of them, when they arrive, have psychological problems ... very big problems. ... And they never have love by the people, by their parents," Somaly said.
One girl at Somaly's shelter appears especially disturbed. She was rescued after being imprisoned for two years in a cage, where she was repeatedly raped.
She needs psychiatric care, but there is none available. Somaly says she does her best to give this girl love and support, but that it's not easy with so many other needy children around.
Somaly herself suffered terrible ordeals when she worked the streets, including seeing her best friend murdered. She is determined to build something positive out of so much despair.
Her work has caught the attention of world leaders, celebrities and religious figures. Her office in Phnom Penh is adorned with photos of her meeting Pope John Paul II and messages of support from governments and charities.
Despite the attention, Somaly said the situation on the street is not getting better. Gang rapes of prostitutes are becoming more common, she said, and many of the attackers don't use condoms. Instead, they share a plastic bag.
"Poor women, they have been raped by eight, 10, 20, 25 men ... they hit them. They receive a lot of violence," she said.
HIV-AIDS also remains a persistent, though declining, problem among Cambodia's female sex workers.
About 20 percent of Cambodia's female sex workers are HIV-positive, according to Cambodia's Ministry of Health. This compares with the 39 percent of sex workers who tested positive in 1996, according to the Health Ministry.
To help sex workers transition to a more normal life, Somaly is hoping to expand her refuge in the countryside outside Phnom Penh, where former sex workers attend school and learn skills like weaving and sewing.
Asked what the future holds for Srey, Somaly stroked the girl's hair and paused.
Srey is HIV-positive, she said.
In such a poor country, without decent hospitals or medical care, Srey's future is bleak. Somaly just hopes she can make this girl's life bearable for as long as it lasts.