So its no surprise that one response to Nicholas Kristof’s recent column in the NYT on sex trafficking was what he describes here in a follow up column as “skepticism.” He further responds to his critics here at his blog. He observes:
My concern isn’t what consenting adults do. But the fact that there are some women who choose to sell sex doesn’t mitigate the horror of 14-year-old girls kidnapped and locked up in brothels until they get AIDS. Millions of girls today are kidnapped and enslaved, particularly in countries like India, Pakistan, Cambodia and Malaysia. Estimates are all over the map, with the U.N. referring to 1 million children enslaved in Asia, and Lancet estimating that up to 10 million children are engaged in prostitution around the globe. The journal Foreign Affairs estimated that more women are trafficked each year into brothels than the number of slaves transported annually to the New World at the peak of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Kristof admits he hasn’t paid much attention to trafficking in the United States, which I hope will change. I question the basis for his assumption that: “By and large, the young Asian women working as prostitutes in the U.S., for example, are not forced into the sex trade (although they often they are deceived about how much they will earn) and have some freedom of movement.” What research is this based on? And what about women and girls trafficked from other parts of the world? And I strongly disagree with his apparent definition of what voluntary prostitution is, based on these words:
By the way, there’s one fairly simple test that gives a strong sense of whether a girl is imprisoned or not. If the customer can take the girl back to his hotel room, then that suggests that she is not forced. If the brothel requires customers to sleep with girls in the brothel, then that suggests that she is imprisoned.
If a girl has nowhere else to go, or fears what will happen to her family members or herself if she does not return, I expect she will be “allowed” if not ordered to accompany johns to their hotel rooms. Kristof has given these johns a way to justify their acts (“hey, she came to my hotel, clearly this is what she wants to do, Kristof said so”). Also, I would think that unless the john’s real identity is known, girls are actually somewhat safer in a brothel than they are accompanying strangers to hotel rooms or who knows where.
But even given the problems with some of his reporting and conclusions, at least Kristof is giving the issue some attention. And I think he is correct that the law enforcement model works to some degree: If pimps know that they may be arrested and go to prison for trafficking women and girls, they are less likely to do it. Denying the existence of the problem just motivates them to continue.