Slavery – Frequently Asked Questions
Our hope is that this section allows you to learn from those around the world that have been in bondage and about those who are fighting modern slavery. This page is intended to provide an introduction and framework to modern-day slavery. Browse the topics below to further grasp what it is we’re joining together to fight.
- IS THIS SLAVERY?
True or False
- TRAFFICKING AND GLOBALIZATION
Sex trafficking simultaneously exploits both the best and the worst aspects of globalization
- CHILDREN ARE NOT PROSTITUTES
Masking sex trafficking as prostitution
- TRAFFICKING CHILDREN
Recruitment and extraction
- TRAFFICKING CHILDREN
An industry of exploitation
- TRAFFICKING CHILDREN
Control and violence
- LEGAL EFFORTS TO CURB SEX TRAFFICKING
- MEN WHO DRIVE THE DEMAND
Snapshot: “Sexual tourism”
- SHAME AS A WEAPON
Shame is a club that beats enslaved women at practically every turn
- DIGNITY BEYOND THE WALLS
Rescuing slaves does not end the moment they are freed from captivity
- LEVERAGING INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMACY
In October 2000 the U.S. Congress passed a vital piece of legislation, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which directs the U.S. State Department to issue an annual report evaluating the performance of individual governments as they confront and prosecute human traffickers.
- Real Stories from Africa
- Real Stories from Asia
- Real Stories from Europe
- Real Stories from North America
- Real Stories: How Dave Met Thailand’s Kru Nam, Modern-Day Abolitionist
Is This Slavery? True or False
:: Excerpt from “Not For Sale: Return of the Global Slave Trade” by David Batstone ::
When slave owners become subject to criminal prosecution, they usually cloak their activity in a number of falsehoods. IJM has created a handout that aims to straighten out the record. It lists the most common rationalizations that slave owners have used and counters those falsehoods with the truth. The following list is paraphrased from the handout:
Falsehood: “My loan helped these people in an emergency.”
Truth: While the initial loan may have brought immediate relief, forced labor puts them in a far more vulnerable position. Because the victims are paid very low wages and are often charged high interest rates, they are never able to repay the lender and may suffer a lifetime for a single loan.
Falsehood: “The worker asked me for the advance.”
Truth: Whether or not workers wanted an advance, the employer cannot take away their freedom.
Falsehood: “If it weren’t for me, these people would be homeless.”
Truth: The provision of housing, which is often substandard, does not mitigate the injustice of enslaving victims. Moreover, relevant law states that freed laborers are not to be evicted from their homes.
Falsehood: “If you release these people, they’ll be jobless.”
Truth: In addition to the rehabilitation to which victims are entitled upon release, they are freed from debt, removed from an abusive labor situation, and allowed to find a better source of income.
Falsehood: “If I’m not repaid for the loans I gave, I’ll lose a substantial amount of money.”
Truth: Because the loan was illegal in the first place, it is null and void. To accept payment on such a loan is to be subject to criminal penalty. Regardless, in most cases victims have repaid the loans multiple times over, and the owner has already made astounding profits on the loan.
Falsehood: “The industry would fail if it couldn’t use forced labor.”
Truth: Fair labor practices are necessary for legal, moral, and economic reasons. It is true that the cost of eradicating slavery might be borne largely by wealthy classes. But it will also lead to the modernization of industry practices and may boost the country’s economic progress.
Falsehood: “The workers are free to go if they pay the advance first.”
Truth: Relevant law specifically prohibits employers from preventing individuals from pursuing employment elsewhere. An inability or unwillingness to repay an advance does not abrogate that right.
Falsehood: “You are just picking on my operation. Every other business in the industry does the same thing.”
Truth: The law is binding. An industry’s failure to follow the law does not give any employer the license to deny workers their fundamental rights.
Falsehood: “Brokers brought me these people. I didn’t know how they were paid or what freedoms they had.”
Truth: The law assumes that those in charge of a company know its operations. On that basis, the law deems those in charge of a company guilty when an offense occurs, regardless of their personal knowledge.
Falsehood: “No one will work if I don’t give them cash advances.”
Truth: Advances are not illegal. The issue is whether or not the laborers are forced to work.
Falsehood: “Even if the law says the advance must be canceled, the workers still have a moral obligation to repay the debt.”
Truth: As well as having no legal obligation to pay the debt, laborers have no moral obligation. A moral obligation cannot arise from an immoral act.
Trafficking and Globalization
Sex trafficking simultaneously exploits both the best and the worst aspects of globalization. The champions of globalization tout the growing ease of conducting business across national borders. Sophisticated communication tools and relaxed banking laws make it possible to exchange assets internationally with ease. Virtual enterprises can operate everywhere and nowhere, making themselves known only when and where they choose.
Organized crime syndicates take advantage of these tools to create more efficient overseas networks. Although most trafficking originates with local operators, they deftly connect to an international sex industry looking to fill slots in brothels, massage parlors, strip joints, and lap dance bars.
A club owner in Chicago can pick up the phone and “mail-order” three beautiful young girls from eastern Europe. Two weeks later a fresh shipment of three Slavic girls will be dancing in his club. Though a number of quasi-independent traffickers were likely involved in moving the girls, the operation would appear seamless to the Chicago client.
The critics of globalization point out that capital flows wherever it can most easily exploit cheap labor. The owners of capital will abandon a specific location quickly once one of two conditions occurs: (1) the assets it exploits are depleted, or (2) those assets can be obtained more cheaply in other markets.
Sex trafficking also manifests itself in this form. Over the past three decades, the prime area for recruiting sex slaves has shifted rapidly from one zone of economic depression to another. In the 1970s, traffickers targeted girls from Southeast Asia “above all Thailand and Vietnam” as well as the Philippines. After ten years or so of mining in Asia, traffickers shifted their focus to African girls from Nigeria, Uganda, and Ghana flooded the international sex bazaars. In the mid-1980s and spilling over into the early 1990s, Latin American girls from Brazil, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Central America (especially El Salvador and Guatemala) became the favored pool.
Traffickers move opportunistically to prey on vulnerable populations. In the 1980s, the trafficking of girls out of eastern Europe hardly registered on the radar screen. Following the economic and political collapse of the Soviet Union, that situation changed dramatically. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that roughly a quarter of a million females were trafficked within Europe alone “from East to West” since 1991.
Even within eastern Europe, the prime recruitment zones for trafficking shift rapidly to exploit opportunities. In 1992, the vast majority of trafficked victims came from Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. By the mid-1990s girls in those markets had been depleted, so traffickers started targeting Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Moldova. After the turn of the century, the prime recruitment zone shifted to central Asia “Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan” and Georgia.
Wherever the greatest profit can be extracted, there the traffickers move. In an impassioned speech delivered in Brussels, European commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou aptly characterized the “ruthless efficiency” of these modern-day traders in human property:
“They know their business inside out and respond to changes in the market with a speed unmatched by even the most competitive corporations. Their expertise and ability to exploit the market are surpassed only by their disregard for human life. Women are bought, sold and hired out like any other product. The bottom line is profit.”
Children Are Not Prostitutes
Young boys and girls in every city on the globe today are forced to serve as sex slaves. Sex traffickers target twelve- to seventeen-year-old children as their choice candidates. The johns who pay regular visits to brothels prefer adolescents above any other age group. Looked at from the cold perspective of a slaveholder, adolescents also have a longer shelf life. Any older and they start to lose their youthful appeal. Any younger and they may draw the attention of law enforcement authorities.
Because sex trafficking masks itself as prostitution, the general public does not feel outraged. The children are perceived to be criminals or sexual deviants or at best victims of their environment: desperate for survival, the kids “choose” to sell their bodies for profit.
The real criminals hide in the shadows. An illicit network of traffickers, pimps, recruiters, brothel owners, and johns preys on vulnerable kids and forces them into a life of sexual commerce. Once the inner workings of that criminal network are exposed, common sense prevails. Of course a child would not volunteer for the repeated trauma of ten (or more) grown men penetrating their bodies every evening. We have a word for exploiting minors that way: rape.
It should be noted that the same mechanisms of financial bondage and violent intimidation that enslave children are practiced on females of all ages. Adult “prostitutes” too can recount shocking testimonies of pimps locking them in closets, flogging them with coat hangers, and forcing them to ser vice a staggering number of clients. The pimps quite explicitly refer to these women as “my property” and will attack anyone who acts to compromise their control.
Donna Hughes, an influential activist in the campaign to stop the flow of sex trafficking, explained to the U.S. House Committee on International Relations that prostitution and sex trafficking are inextricably linked: “To not understand the relationship between prostitution and trafficking is like not understanding the relationship between slavery in the Old South and the kidnapping of victims in Africa and the transatlantic shipment of them to our shores.”
Without a doubt, we need a more nuanced understanding of prostitution. Katherine Chon, co-founder of the Polaris Project, points to a conversation she had with a Korean woman in her early twenties whom she suspected was a victim of sex trafficking. When Katherine asked the woman whether she had been coerced into coming to the United States to work in the sex trade, the woman adamantly denied that was the case.
Katherine decided to change her tack: “Well, on a scale of 0 to 100 percent, how much control do you feel you have over your decisions each day to continue selling your body to men?”
Given the flow of the conversation up to that point, Katherine expected the woman to give a response that might fall close to 90 percent. But after considering for a few seconds, the woman gave Katherine a surprising answer: “Oh, I’d say maybe 5 percent.”
Confused by her answer, Katherine started digging a bit deeper: “So why do you feel such loyalty for the owner of the brothel where you work?”
“The owner told me that if I got into trouble, she would bail me out of jail and pay for an attorney,” the Korean woman replied. “I am not from here [the United States]; the police can do bad things to you, so I need security.” The Korean woman went on to explain that the brothel owner also keeps possession of all her “savings.” If she were to leave the brothel, the owner would not give her the money back. Her pimp also provides her protection, though he threatens to beat her if she tries to leave him.
Is she a slave? It would not be much of a stretch to identify her as such, even though she technically does not live under lock and key. Tragically, the woman herself rejects the label. She has come to accept her destiny the coercion weaves so seamlessly into her surroundings that she no longer recognizes it as a chain.
Coercing children into the sex trade entails much less ambiguity. The actual process of enslavement varies from place to place; the most influential independent variable is the strength of law enforcement in a particular region. Research across five continents uncovers a disturbingly common pattern in child sex trafficking, regardless of whether international crime networks are involved or the operation runs on a regional level with ad hoc players. The process of enslavement involves five predictable elements:
Recruitment- Traffickers target children most commonly from communities that lack social power, at times with the consent of the victims parents.
Extraction- Traffickers remove recruits from their home community and shift them to a destination where they are unlikely to get support from law enforcement bodies or the general citizenry.
Control- Slaveholders seek control over every aspect of the child’s life so that escape becomes unthinkable.
Violence- Slaveholders exercise violence as a means to reinforce their control and ensure compliance.
Exploitation- Slaveholders show slight regard for the physical or emotional health of the child in their pursuit of financial gain.
Trafficking Children: Recruitment and Extraction
Only on rare occasions will a sex trafficker abduct a child from a neighborhood that enjoys social power. Doing so carries too high a risk. A family from an empowered community is more apt to mobilize legal and political authorities to conduct an extensive search for an abducted child. If caught, recruiters face a higher probability of prosecution and place their entire operation at risk. Why would recruiters take that risk when so many candidates can be found in relatively powerless neighborhoods?
Furthermore, recruiters can deceive destitute families more easily with promises of a better life. The allure of a steady job may cause parents to overlook the risks of sending their child off to a faraway destination. Teenagers might be promised a modeling job in another country or less glamorous, yet high-paying work in a restaurant or a retail store. Parents of young children in the rural areas are told that a wealthy family in the big city needs a domestic servant or a nanny. These offers are crafted to extract children from the reaches of those who might care for them. Recruiters have no intention of fulfilling their promises of course; they intend to sell the children to a brothel owner at their first opportunity. But their game depends on maintaining the illusion of a golden path out of the depressed conditions that the families face.
In that regard, lower-middle-class families with heightened aspirations can be as vulnerable to traffickers as the most impoverished family. A shortcut to upward social mobility holds tremendous appeal.
Consider the case of Lan, a seventeen-year-old Laotian girl living in Bangkok. Her mother migrated to Thailand with Lan and her two siblings when the children were all under ten years old. The mother worked in a local street market, and the children contributed to the family business. Years passed, and the family’s hard work lifted them out of dire poverty. Lan works today in a luxury tourist hotel in Bangkok as a waitress. She owns her own car and a modest wardrobe of fashionable western clothes.
Lan has tasted enough of the “good life” to entertain aspirations for an even more glamorous lifestyle. Her best friend met an American visiting Bangkok on a business trip, and he occasionally sends her friend a plane ticket to meet him in some exotic holiday spot. The American recently invited Lan along and sent her a plane ticket, too. Despite the prevalence of sex trafficking in Thailand, this invitation did not raise a red flag for Lan. She in fact aspires to find a “friend” who will offer her nice gifts and travel like her friend receives. It will be only a matter of time before a well-heeled trafficker will ensnare Lan unless her attitude changes.
Parents with material aspirations are at times willing to put their children in dangerous situations. It is not uncommon for parents to deliver a child to a recruiter even when they are fully aware that the child will be exploited sexually. The recruiter might pay the parents a cash advance for their child’s future earnings, with the promise of more payments to come. For their part, recruiters make these arrangements so that they can establish a steady trade in a region. Neighbors will witness the recruiter’s credibility, as well as the financial rise of the family that has sold their child, and will become more willing to sell their own children.
Abolitionists fighting sex trafficking in both Southeast Asia and Latin America report that parents commonly sell their kids so that they can make an improvement on their home or purchase a vehicle or other consumer item. These stories align with a report in the New York Times that parents in Albania sold their children to traffickers so that they could buy a color television.
Nonetheless, the sex trafficker who deals in children usually wants to extract recruits from their home region as expeditiously as possible. When kidnapping is involved, the trafficker has more reason to fear arrest. Even if the parents of the abducted child do not get involved, an adult relative or friend may advocate for the child and press the police to take action.
An anonymous individual who bears the stigma of “child prostitute,” on the other hand, is much less likely to have an advocate. Foreign children evoke even less sympathy than those who share the nationality or ethnicity of the mainstream population. For that reason, traffickers typically shift child slaves to the other side of the country or, even more effectively, across an ocean.
In that regard, Save the Children investigators discovered that kids who are trafficked from the rural regions of Peru become invisible to law enforcement officials in the capital: “It is alarming to view the impunity with which networks trafficking in minors operate in [Lima], in full view of authorities who not only do nothing, but who . . . also do not consider that children and adolescents are people who need to be defended and protected.”
Trafficking Children: An Industry of Exploitation
The classic concept of prostitution invokes the image of a client who pays a sole individual for sexual activity. Most johns like to maintain this illusion because they do not like to think of their “date” as a sex slave. As Save the Children investigators exposed, “[The clients] say that because they do not use violence to force the child or adolescent to have sex, the situation does not violate the minor’s human rights. They do not identify the children and adolescents as victims of sexual exploitation.”
Most people are vaguely aware, however, that women and children who sell their bodies for sex rarely operate independently. Even in the movies, pimps control the activities of the prostitutes.
But the tentacles of the “sex industry” go much deeper. An entire underground economy is built around sex slaves. Whether it’s Munich or Phnom Penh or Lima, similar economic sectors profit from exploitation.
The conference industry serves as a useful analogy. Major cities hire an entire staff to persuade professional associations and trade groups to host an annual convention or other big event in their city. Not only does the city’s convention facility benefit from a successful bid, so do the city’s hotels, restaurants, night clubs, taxis, airports, and so on. In other words, a major conference delivers a financial bonanza across the city’s commercial sector.
In like manner, the growth of the sex industry in a city like Lima, Peru benefits many parties, but much of the money flows through underground channels. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that a substantial number of Lima’s hotels could not survive without the sex trade.
The financial interdependence that the sex trade spins can be observed even when scaled down to the microlevel. A single child trafficked into the center of Lima brings a significant bonanza to the owner of the hotel where the victim is lodged. The food vendors and bars in the immediate vicinity will benefit from the daily visits of a dozen johns. They will in fact negotiate deals with sex slaves to bring the johns into their place in exchange for a free meal. Multiply these connections thousands of times over, and a lucrative industry begins to take shape.
The only people who do not reap financial benefits from the sex industry are the ones upon whom the whole network depends: the slaves.
Trafficking Children: Control And Violence
Once traffickers extract victims from their home community, they typically sell the children to slaveholders who deal in commercial sex–for example, pimps or the owners of strip clubs, sex bars, brothels, karaoke clubs, or massage parlors. Most traffickers have a steady relationship in place with the slaveholder; hence, they know who the buyer will be before they recruit the child. Although it is more rare, some traffickers act as both recruiter and operator of their own “retail” sex shop.
The slaveholder acts swiftly to take complete control of the child’s life. Passports, birth certificates, national identity cards, and any other documents of citizenship are stripped from the child’s possession. The child is kept closely guarded and locked in a room when not accompanied. Even if escape were possible, the child has no money, probably does not speak the local language, and does not know to whom he or she could turn for help. Given their past experience, slave children would not instinctively trust public officials or the police.
The slaveholder also generally manipulates a relationship of financial dependence with the child. Basic life necessities like food, clothing, and shelter are charged to the child’s “account.” Until that money is repaid, the child is obligated to continue in the slaveholder’s service.
Slaveholders will buttress these social controls with the constant threat of violence. Almost all trafficked children will testify that they were victims of an extreme act of violence within the first forty-eight hours of their abduction. Whether through rape or brutal beatings, slaveholders use violence to imprint their dominance. In the logic of the trafficking world, a terrified child is a compliant child. The slaveholder therefore will never let the child slip out of a state of terror.
Ranchers refer to “breaking the spirit of a wild horse”; in a macabre sense, that is how slaveholders approach child sex slaves. The sex slaves will have to learn to comply happily with whatever sexual act a client requests. The liberal application of violence early on will crack the resistance they will inevitably mount. If a client ever complains that the sex slave was less than accommodating, swift and brutal punishment will be meted out.
The threat of violence becomes a ubiquitous force in the life of a sex slave. The child knows that a failed escape attempt would result in a severe beating. Moreover, the slaveholder may threaten to harm the child’s family even if the child does manage to get away. To remind the child of that fact, the slaveholder may occasionally drop some piece of current news about family members, whether real or fabricated, as if to say, “Yes, I am watching them, so don’t do anything stupid.”
Legal Efforts to Curb Sex Trafficking
For more than a century, sex trafficking has been a concern of international leaders. In 1904 twelve nations, including the United States, ratified a treaty called the International Agreement for the Suppression of the White Slave Trade. Responding to the widespread abduction of girls for the purposes of sexual exploitation in Europe and Asia, this agreement urged governments to prohibit “procuration of women and girls for immoral purposes abroad.”
After World War I, the League of Nations adopted a broad-reaching document against slavery that essentially affirmed the 1904 treaty but added children to the agenda. The League also replaced the term “white slave trade” with the term that enjoys currency today: “trafficking in women and children.”
Then, in 1949, the United Nations General Assembly set out to establish a legal framework to stop the traffic. Known formally as the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, it declared that the enslavement of women and children for the purposes of sexual exploitation was incompatible with fundamental human rights. It called on governments to adopt procedures for punishing any person who sexually exploits another individual or who runs a commercial enterprise that profits from such activity.
Under the terms of the convention, the consensual contract between two individuals would be honored as a matter of free choice. All the same, the convention deemed prostitution to be unfitting the dignity of a human being and encouraged nations to offer public education and material assistance to persuade individuals not to sell their bodies for sex.
Unfortunately, the convention was ratified by fewer than half of the member states of the United Nations (72 out of a total of 185). Today, nearly half a century later, its translation into policy yields widely divergent legal strategies.
The United States took a very narrow interpretation of the convention. All of the states except Nevada criminalize prostitution and make all parties liable for prosecution–prostitutes, customers, traffickers, and commercial exploiters. In actual application, the U.S. public justice system has addressed the supply side of the equation (prostitutes and brothel owners) much more aggressively than the demand side (johns).
Rather than seek to prohibit sexual commerce, western European nations make a more concerted effort to regulate it. The best policies for accomplishing that goal, and their consequences for sex trafficking, are matters of heated debate.
The Netherlands, for example, has historically maintained an open tolerance for the commercial sale of sex. In October 2000 it went a step farther and officially legalized prostitution. The German government followed suit two months later.
The lawmakers of these nations were persuaded that exploitation thrives in environments of illegality. If prostitution will always be with us–and lawmakers in Germany and the Netherlands presume that to be the case–then criminalizing it will create a black market where the mob underworld makes the rules. The fact that 70 percent of prostitution in the United States is linked to organized crime would seem to support that argument.
In Germany and the Netherlands, sex workers are offered legal protection from commercial exploitation and receive social service benefits. But these laws do not apply to individuals who are not residents of the European Union. To the chagrin of law-makers, a booming underground sex trade has emerged in both countries. A 2003 survey found that foreign-born women make up 65 percent of the sex market in the Netherlands and 50 percent of the market in Germany.
Most abolitionists vehemently argue that legalizing prostitution engenders a broader social acceptance of brothels for sexual entertainment. That kind of cultural environment, in turn, leads to a greater demand for young girls that will be filled by sex traffickers. Ongoing research should be able to determine whether prohibition or legalization does spawn higher levels of sex trafficking into a country.
At the very least, the legalization of the sex trade makes the prosecution of traffickers, pimps, and brothel owners almost impossible. They can use the defense that the girl consented to work as a prostitute, and the burden of proof will be on the girl to prove otherwise. If at any point the girl actually did consent to work as a prostitute, all subsequent forms of coercion will find legal cover.
Sweden has moved in a unique direction. In 1999 the Swedish government became the first in the world to prosecute the buyer of sex, the john, while legally treating the woman as a victim. The Swedish government also established a comprehensive outreach program that encourages sex workers to change their livelihood.
The maximum sentence in Sweden for a convicted john is six months in prison. In the first five years following passage of the law, about 750 men had been charged, and two-thirds were sentenced. As a result, street prostitution in Sweden has dropped dramatically, as has the influx of trafficked women.
“What differentiates us from the Netherlands and Germany. . . is that we link the ‘slave trade’ with prostitution and pornography,” explains Marianne Eriksson, a Swedish member of the European Parliament and a strong proponent of her country’s legal strategy on sex trafficking. “Everyone in the European Union is against human trafficking, of course,” she clarifies, “but we know that 90 percent of this commerce has to do with sexual exploitation.”
The Men Who Drive The Demand
Every night the streets of Bangkok are filled with middle-aged men who walk hand-in-hand with teenage girls. These sex tourists have traveled from all over the world to be here and play out their own private fantasy. Some men pay for quick sex, but most prefer to buy a ‘girlfriend’ for an entire night or even several days. The johns behave like young adolescents, publicly pawing their “dates,” squeezing their buttocks and breasts with little shame.
Specialized travel agencies around the globe promote “exotic sexual adventures” with Asian women “who know how to please a man.” After sex tourists experience firsthand how easy it is to buy young girls, they frequently make their own arrangements for return visits.
Thailand, in particular, has been branded internationally as a Disneyland for sexual escapades. A Bangkok-based children’s rights group has tracked the country’s boom in sexual tourism over the past two decades. Its research shows that 2 million foreigners visited the country in 1984, 4 million in 1988, and more than 11 million in 2003.7 Out of the total number of foreign visitors, roughly two-thirds entering Thailand were unaccompanied men. In other words, about 7.3 million unaccompanied men visited the country in 2003. Certainly, not all of these men came as sexual tourists, but it’s a good bet that a significant percentage did. In fact, according to a survey of travel agents con- ducted by international aid agency World Vision, 65 percent of all tourists to Cambodia are men and one-fifth of them travel with the express purpose to have sex.
Male clients from Japan, China, Korea, and Taiwan drive the demand for young girls who are virgins. In these Asian cultures, sex with a virgin is thought to bring good luck to a new business venture. Moreover, virgin girls pose less threat of exposure to sexually transmitted disease.
The lucrative market in virgins tempts parents to sell their preadolescent daughters to a brothel for a high premium. It’s a bizarre business: a john may pay $750 for one night with a young girl, and one week later that same girl may be seeing ten clients a night for $2.50 a session.
The growing demand for virgins has created a niche market outside the usual channels for commercial sex–the bars, karaoke clubs, and brothels. A growing number of parents market their daughter’s virginity like an independent talent agent, selling her to the highest bidder for a one-time sexual experience once she reaches the age of twelve or thirteen. As a matter of propriety, the daughter will be sent away “to visit relatives” for a couple of weeks. After a fixed period of sexual exploitation, the girl will return to her normal life at school or work at home.
Though much less common, Japanese and Chinese men are known to pay parents years in advance to “sponsor” a young child. The families receive a regular payment to raise a healthy daughter, and when the sponsor is ready, he will come and use her for sex.
Western sex tourists, on the other hand, tend to frequent the bars and brothels in major cities. Though some specifically request sex with children, most act in an opportunistic way; that is to say, they react spontaneously to what happens once they arrive at a sex bar or karaoke club. Some men may not even initially plan to engage in commercial sex on their journeys to Southeast Asia, but find it easy to do once they are there.
Sexual tourism clearly feeds the beast of sexual slavery. Nonetheless, its contribution to the sex trade in Southeast Asia is vastly overrated in the global media. By far the largest proportion of johns comes from the local population. “Foreigners are not the only ones who exploit our children,” confirms Cambodia’s former Minister for Women’s Affairs. “The real disease comes from within.”
Particularly in Cambodia and Thailand, men will visit a brothel together during a night of partying; it’s simply a part of the evening entertainment. A number of studies conducted in both Cambodia and Thailand show that approximately 40 to 50 percent of local men pay for commercial sex during the course of a year. 10 Married women quietly accept that their husbands will pay to have sex on a night out with the boys. Men have sexual needs, the wives reason, and at least they will not be in pursuit of eligible single women who could displace them.
Paying for sex has become embedded in many social rituals. Businessmen use paid sex as a courtesy in the arrangement of commercial deals; if a firm does not offer its clients sex, it may risk losing them to competitors who will. Working-class men buy sex for their friends on birthdays and other special occasions. Doting fathers pay for their sons to have their first sexual experience at a brothel.
Sexual tourism could end tomorrow, but it would make only a modest change in the flow of sexual slavery in Southeast Asia. In fact, at the sites frequented by sexual tourists, a minority of the women who work are enslaved. By and large, bar owners consider it too risky to present enslaved women to foreign visitors. While some women may be in debt slavery to the bar owners, most of them work as free agents, paying the bar owner a commission for each trick. Enslaved women, on the other hand, typically are found in brothels that cater to local men.
Shame As A Weapon
Shame is a club that beats enslaved women at practically every turn. It starts when young girls from impoverished families are blamed for the destitution of their parents. “Good” daughters manage the health and welfare of their mother and father. Their suffering translates into her shame, so she is willing to make any sacrifice to change their condition.
The community’s perception of sexual purity also plays a major role in a young girl’s shame. Once an unmarried girl has lost her virginity, she is considered despoiled. It does not matter if a family member sexually abused her or a stranger raped her. Purity is all or nothing–either you have it or you don’t. Her family will treat her as blight to its honor, and no ‘respectable’ man will want to marry her. The girl might as well be sold into a life of prostitution, for she has lost her innocence. So strikes the club of shame.
Traffickers and brothel owners alike also use this cultural value to manipulate girls. If a new recruit resists the idea of having sex with a paying customer, the slaveholder might rape her himself and say, “Now you are used goods; you might as well give it up for other men.” Tragically, the girl is apt to understand the logic of this brutal indoctrination and resign herself to life in the brothel. She has lost everything–her family will reject her and her neighbors will treat her as a pariah. And each day she stays, the possibility of rejoining respectable community life diminishes. She lives in exile.
Dignity Beyond the Walls
Rescuing slaves does not end the moment they are freed from captivity. To abandon the rescued and expect them to fend for themselves would leave them vulnerable to falling back into a forced labor relationship with a different owner. Abolitionists therefore must answer the question “What next?” before they rush into a rescue plan.
That solution probably will not be as simple as “sending them back home.” In some cases, enslaved individuals were trafficked across borders, perhaps from even an ocean away. Even if the brothel owner or pimp can be brought to justice, the victims may be ongoing targets for the original traffickers who extracted them from their home village.
Though social workers throw around terms like reintegration and restoration, the process of aftercare often turns out to be far more complicated. Teenage girls freed from a brothel may decide that a pattern of shame and abuse awaits them in their home village, so they elect to build a new life elsewhere. Because they are likely to experience intense emotional trauma from repeated episodes of sexual abuse, they may need a supportive environment free of recrimination.
Interviews with forced laborers that IJM helped rescue from a rice mill reveal yet more complexity. Among the rescued, twenty-five of the laborers have a kinship relationship.
When the matriarch of the family was asked where she was from originally, she gave a puzzled look and replied, “The rice mill.” She explained that her father had been pressed into labor when he was in his twenties, so she had worked in the rice mill her entire life. She raised her own children as laborers in the same mill.
As the matriarch recounted the saga of four generations of servitude that began with a $10 loan, her thirty-five-year-old daughter offered pieces of her own story. She too had met her husband at the rice mill. They were raising three children, ages eleven, thirteen, and eighteen, who had a long future of boiling and drying rice ahead of them. IJM and a local magistrate teamed up to alter their destiny overnight. What would “sending them back home” mean to this family and to millions of forced laborers with similar histories?
IJM today helps sixteen hundred people, former slaves and their families, in a broad array of aftercare programs. For the period immediately following a rescue, IJM collaborates with a network of relief partners to provide ex-slaves with shelter, food, emotional counseling, and protection from vindictive owners. Except in extreme circumstances of imminent violence, the agency will delay executing a rescue plan until it has a long-term support structure in place.
IJM assists former slaves in obtaining loans or grants from local authorities and available government land for houses. Additionally, IJM helps former slaves enroll their children in public school, often the most important tangible right that those in slavery so desperately want.
How critical is effective aftercare? Monitoring the results of its own programs, IJM learned that 93 percent of the former slaves it places in a supportive environment do not return to bondage.
Leveraging International Diplomacy
In October 2000 the U.S. Congress passed a vital piece of legislation. The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act commits the U.S. government to use its political and economic influence to impede human trafficking around the globe. Though legislation of this sort often turns out to be just highfalutin rhetoric, this act comes with sharp teeth.
On an international level, the legislation directs the U.S. State Department to issue an annual report evaluating the performance of individual governments as they confront and prosecute human traffickers. The report charts the incidence of trafficking within each country and examines the specific laws, policies, and practices that the government implements to resolve the problem. The country’s performance is then ranked into one of three”tiers”:
Tier 1: a country whose government complies fully with the act’s minimum standards.
Tier 2: a country whose government does not comply with the act’s minimum standards but is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with those standards.
Tier 3: a country whose government does not comply fully with the minimum standards and is not making a significant effort to do so.
The “teeth” of the act come into play in two ways. First, the State Department publicly releases the report for the entire world to see. It does so with the hope that inactive or offending governments will be sufficiently embarrassed to change their behavior. Second, those countries ranked on Tier 3 are subject to stiff sanctions, including cuts to foreign aid and U.S. opposition to its applications before the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The State Department released its first Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report in July 2001 to great fanfare and controversy. For utter disregard for trafficking within its borders, it relegated twenty-three countries to Tier 3, including Russia, Israel, South Korea, Romania, Albania, and Greece. Even the most cynical observer had to be pleased that the State Department objectively shamed even some of its closest political allies. It was disappointing, on the other hand, to see perched on Tier 1 several European countries, like the Netherlands and Germany, that have significant trafficking problems.
As might be expected, the countries that received abysmal marks cried foul and engaged in serious political lobbying leading up to the 2002 TIP Report. Once that report was released, the United States’s closest political allies had miraculously improved their performance. Abolitionist and human-rights groups expressed their displeasure that geopolitical politics had so obviously influenced the report.
The 2006 TIP Report confirms that bias that plays a strong role in the evaluation process. Among only a handful of nations relegated to Tier 3 can be found Cuba, Burma, Venezuela, North Korea, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Syria, and Iran. These nations just happen to be on not-so-friendly terms with the U.S. government. Meanwhile, countries like Albania, Romania, Serbia, Russia, India, Israel, Turkey, and Thailand, all of which have an abysmal record on trafficking, do not receive a Tier 3 ranking.
Several of these countries do appear on a Tier 2 “Watch List,” a category established in the 2004 TIP Report. The countries on the Watch List teeter on the cliff above Tier 3. They show increasing numbers of trafficking victims and fail to demonstrate progress in complying with minimum standards of law enforcement. Again, it is not clear what it would take to tip these U.S. allies over the cliff and in to Tier 3.
Despite the uneven application of the TIP Report, it nevertheless has the potential to be a very useful tool. The more evidence that abolitionist groups can collect and publicize on the performance of specific nations, the more difficult it will be for the State Department to sanitize the performance of any given country. The overall goal, of course, is to create tangible incentives for government action on trafficking.
The U.S. Congress took another positive step when it authorized the creation within the State Department of a unit specifically charged to fight trafficking. In 2003 John Miller was appointed the first ambassador of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Miller, who retired from his post in December 2006, turned out to be a tireless and effective advocate in the antislavery campaign.
At his swearing-in ceremony as ambassador, Miller eloquently raised a moral challenge to American abolitionists:
The people of eastern Europe thank us for freeing them from Soviet tyranny. . . . In the future, if we are successful, millions of men in forced peonage and millions of women and children forced into prostitution and sex slavery will thank the United States for their freedom