“The Countertraffickers”

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That’s the title of this article that was published in the New Yorker. Below are a couple of excerpts:

… Rotaru, who is twenty-six, works for the International Organization for Migration, a group connected to the United Nations, in Chisinau, Moldova. She is a repatriation specialist. Her main task is bringing lost Moldovans home. Nearly all her clients are victims of human trafficking, most of them women sold into prostitution abroad, and their stories pour across her desk in stark vignettes and muddled sagas of desperation, violence, betrayal, and sorrow. …

… Brothel raids in other countries yield many of Rotaru’s beneficiaries, as her clients are known. After a raid, she’ll get calls from the detainees, or from cops, consulates, families, or friends:even, sometimes, from prostitution customers.”Rescue calls”tend to be more urgent. Women phone clandestinely, from captivity, and Rotaru may have only moments to get the information she needs. The women don’t always have the information themselves; in extreme cases, they may not be sure what country they’re in. Look out the window, Rotaru will say. Any sign you can see. Exact spellings. Look for an address on matchbooks, or McDonald’s bags. What languages do the johns speak? If she can capture a number on caller I.D., it can be useful, although simply calling back without an all-clear is generally too dangerous. …

…here are roughly two hundred million migrants today:migrants being defined as people living outside their homelands. The reasons for this are globalization, and wars, and new border freedoms, and, above all, disparities in economic opportunity. Along the nether edge of the huge movement of people, human trafficking thrives. …

… Migrant smuggling is different from trafficking. Migrants pay smugglers to deliver them, illegally, to their destinations. The line into trafficking is crossed when coercion and fraud are used. (This line is not always clear, and many migrants endure varying degrees of mistreatment.) Trafficking can start with a kidnapping. More commonly, it starts with a broken agreement about a job promised, conditions of work, or one’s true destination. Most victims suffer some combination of threats, violence, forced labor, and effective imprisonment. The commercial sex industry, according to the International Labor Organization, absorbs slightly less than half of all trafficked labor worldwide. Construction, agriculture, domestic service, hazardous industries, armed conflict, and begging are some of the other frequent sites of extreme, illegal exploitation. …

… Many legitimate businesses share, unwittingly or otherwise, in the profits:travel agencies, hotels, tour-bus companies, night clubs:along with accountants, lawyers, doctors, landlords, forgers, and a large, indispensable contingent of corrupt police officers, border guards, and embassy personnel. Everybody seems to be making money except the trafficked women and girls. …

Via Prawfsblawg.

As noted previously, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would dedicate more resources to the victims of human trafficking in the United States. It is being opposed in the Senate by the Bush Justice Department, which has a particularized objection to “wasting money” on the adult victims of sex trafficking, who are seen as less worthy of help than victims forced to work in other industries, due to the sexualized nature of their servitude. As the article above describes, this is “victim blaming” and it is reprehensible. Hopefully most feminists are decent people will work to get H.R. 3387 passed this year. (Not all will, sadly.)

As I also blogged earlier, when (now SLED Chief) Reggie Lloyd took over as South Carolina’s AG, he began investigating whether women arrested for prostitution in South Carolina had been trafficked, and if there was evidence that they had been, they were neither jailed not deported. If H.R. 3387 was passed, every state would have to adopt the same approach. All trafficked women deserve humane treatment; working as coerced prostitutes does not “contaminate” people or make them less worthy of assistance. Those who would consign sex trafficked people to their fate should be challenged vigorously and their motivations questioned.

I also want to note one paragraph in the New Yorker article that I think is flawed and inaccurate. The reporter writes:

In line with this view, a 2003 reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act provided for cutting off aid to N.G.O.s and governments that”promote, support, or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution.”The provision threatens many groups that work with prostitutes on H.I.V./AIDS prevention:in the same way that family-planning clinics throughout the developing world have lost U.S. funding because they continue to offer abortion services.

The prostitution provision at issue is NOT the same as the abortion provision. It does not preclude any group from providing information, birth control or assistance to prostitutes. It does prevent groups receiving this U.S. governmental funding from running brothels, or selling women into brothels, or encouraging women to become prostitutes. The “no promotion of prostitution pledge” is NOT a gag rule. It is a requirement that government funds not be used to fund and promote pimps and prostitution based businesses directly. NGOS that sign on to the pledge can AND DO still provide condoms, education and other assistance to sex workers.

The only NGO that has been refused funds because it refused to sign the pledge is run by a pornographer, Philip Harvey, who SELLS (rather than gives) condoms to people in poor countries via DKT International. He was involved in promoting in brothels abroad, and therefore could not sign the pledge. Even if one views direct subsidization of brothels by US taxpayer funds (of which Harvey was keeping a big chunk for himself) acceptable, it is easy to understand why so many politicians from both parties do not. Read more here.

Being forced to deprive women of access to abortion, and not being allowed to use U.S. government funds to encourage women to become prostitutes, are not at all equivalent. But it is certainly clear why pimps and others who benefit financially from prostitution would seek to conflate the two.

See also, and see also too.

–Ann Bartow

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