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The Link between Prostitution and Sex Trafficking
by Marko Kananen
2009-03-10 09:15:43
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On March 8th the world celebrated International Women’s Day. In order to stress the fact that lot of women around the globe live under circumstances that give no reason to celebrate, the United Nations had chosen “women and men united to end violence against women and girls” as this year’s theme.

Trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation is one of the most outrageous human rights violations of today. It is the third most lucrative activity of organized crime, following trafficking of arms and drugs. It is also an activity that is growing in a rapid pace. According to the Migration Policy Institute, criminal networks traffic each year up to 120,000 women and children into Western Europe for sexual exploitation.

Poverty and lack of prospects force thousands and thousands of women and children from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe to strive for a better future in prosperous West. The lack of choice makes them easy target for the criminal networks, who entice the women to take the hazardous trip to Europe by offering tempting jobs and drawing pictures of a better life. Traffickers promise – against high costs – to organise the trip to Europe with forged documents. After entering Europe women’s passports are taken away and they are kept isolated. Therefore, without documents, legal status or contacts, they are totally dependent on the traffickers. In order to pay back the travel costs, which can amount to up to 60.000 euros, they are forced to engage in prostitution. Possible resistance is broken by violence and threats.

The European Union has taken several measures to fight human trafficking. For example, through financial aid to countries of origin and strengthened control of illegal migration, it aims at stemming the flow of trafficked women. Further, in order to improve the protection of the women forced to work in prostitution it has adopted a directive calling on member states to grant human trafficking victims a short-term residence permit. Because the women have entered Europe illegally and thus live under a constant fear of deportation, the prospect of a legal residence was considered to entice them to cooperate with the authorities and to turn in their traffickers.

Victim protection, co-operation with countries of origin and fight against traffickers are all important measures in tackling the brutal exploitation of women taking place in front of our eyes. However, more attention will have to be drawn into the root cause behind human trafficking – prostitution. It is an undeniable fact that without the male demand for commercial sex, the supply of women and girls would not be neces¬sary and the market would collapse. Because the European Union does not have a common legislation concerning prostitution, it is regulated by a jungle of national laws.

The Netherlands and Sweden are genuinely mentioned as two opposite ways of dealing with prostitution and trafficking. The Netherlands has legalised prostitution and the operation of brothels. It is assumed that through legalisation the sex industry becomes better regulated and therefore the cases of trafficking can be detected and exploitations driven out of the business. Sweden, on the other hand, has prohibited any act involving sex against payment and punishes sex purchasers as a way of reducing the demand and through that decreasing the supply of trafficking.

In the Netherlands the overall sex industry has grown due to the legalisation of prostitution and brothels. This has not, however, meant that trafficking would have disappeared or even decreased. Rather, legalisation has created a façade of legality, behind which traffickers for sexual exploitation can operate. In Sweden, at least the visible prostitution has diminished significantly. This however hides the fact that prostitution now takes place underground, where it is harder to control.

Although neither of these laws has been able to totally abolish trafficking, I am still willing to claim that in a long run only the Swedish model has a chance to be successful. This is because the fight against trafficking can not be win through control of supply. In a world where accumulation of wealth is drastically unequal, and where few countries are therefore economically superior over the many, there will always people trying to get into this market (either legally, illegally, voluntarily or forced) in search of a better future. Hence, the control of supply, whether it means controlling illegal immigration or legal sex industry, can never be tight enough to detect all the misuses. That is why, instead of supply, we have to focus on demand. 

However, even the strictest regulation can not abolish the demand and use of prostitution. The only way to achieve a permanent change is to change our attitudes. That is why it is important to be aware of the message that the different laws around prostitution are passing. The Swedish model is based on a presumption that prostitution is always harmful to women and it violates their human rights. The law aims at passing the message that exploitation of women can not be tolerated in any form and that gender equality has to become a grounded norm. It therefore makes prostitution socially unacceptable.

In contrast to that, the model employed by the Netherlands is treating legal prostitution as a normal service industry. But what is the message passed here, what does it say about the relationship between women and men? It is hard to imagine gender equality to be attained in a society where men are considered to have a legitimized right to demand sex from women anytime and any way they want it. As put by Sheila Jefferies, any acceptance of prostitution is an acceptance that certain women (mostly the poverty-stricken ones) can reasonably be set aside as appropriate objects of exactly the harassment and exploitation that other women seek to get out of their workplaces and lives.

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Anonymous2009-03-10 09:57:07
Straw man. There is no "right to demand" anything, and nobody is suggesting that. It is quite impossible to discuss the issue reasonably when there is such willful intellectual dishonesty involved.

It should be a transaction between two consenting adults. If it is, there is absolutely no way for anyone to make sure it is not being paid for. People have unromantic sex where they sell each other for mutual benefit all the time, and I do not necessarily see it as a bad thing if someone compensates with money what they otherwise may lack, if this is OK for both involved.

Emanuel Paparella2009-03-10 14:56:39

Indeed, the above is one paradigm by which to condemn prostitution: that the abuse and coercion of any individual, especially the most vulnerable, is always a reprehensible and condemnable action in as much as by its very nature it violates the civil rights of the abused person. It is indeed a rather modern late comer, which some people would consider the best just for being a late comer according to the Hegelian dialectical philosophy of thesis antithesis and synthesis. There is however a much older more traditional paradigm as adopted by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica. He places the act of prostitution within a moral framework and talks of violation of the natural law and sins against life. Thus Aquinas condemns prostitution in no uncertain terms as a sin and for three specific reasons: it is a species of lust that is one of the capital vices that wreak the greatest havoc on the human soul and leads to other sins; it is a mortal sin that threatens the proper rearing of children and by extension threatens the common good of society; it violates the natural law of matrimonial union. Yet, despite this strong condemnation on moral grounds Aquinas refuses to have civil law oppose prostitution. He does one better on the Dutch and Instead he notes that the state should allow fornication and prostitution to exist for the sake of the common good. (continued below)

Emanuel Paparella2009-03-10 14:57:19
Relying on the well-known passage from Augustine's De Ordine, Aquinas advocates tolerance of prostitution by noting: "Accordingly in human government also, those who are in authority rightly tolerate certain evils, lest certain goods be lost, or certain evils be incurred: thus Augustine says [De Ordine 2.4]: If you do away with harlots, the world will be convulsed with lust.'" If these social practices were to be suppressed, the public reaction might be such as to threaten the peace of society. What Aquinas seems to be saying that the role of government is not that of legislating morality but that of ensuring civil order. Would he side with the Dutch position? Yes, but conditionally, that the Dutch give up seeing the sin of prostitution as a mere violation of civil rights.

Emanuel Paparella2009-03-10 15:33:29
P.S. Were Aquinas alive today he would advice the Dutch to be a bit more coherent in their social policies and apply their liberality to religious minorities and tolerate their more traditional moral views based on their faith just as they tolerate prostitution. It is an oxymoron to defend liberality and modernity with intolerance. The liberal end of an ultra modern lifestyle which considers prostitution just another social transaction to be tolerated and regulated, does not justify the illiberal means adopted to defend it. It is not liberal to think of one’s lifestyle at the cutting edge of modernity while considering every other, especially those based on a religious faith, as antimodern and reactionary.

AP2009-03-10 15:41:16
Mr. Kananen has a point. Besides, Dutch authorities have been realising that they didn't get rid of the problems, the pseudo-liberal laws just made it easier for the state (and for a short period only), they don't protect the citizens at all.
On the other hand, we should not forget that legal prostitution applies both to women and men - but it looks like the male demand for female prostitutes is still much higher.
In any case, there is a clear link between prostitution and human traffick in Europe, in Asia, in South America - everywhere. Meanwhile, the phenomenon is not solely restricted to traffick and is more complex than that - there are some people doing it who actually affirm they do it because they want to.
The argument according to which "it will always exist anyway" doesn't make automatically legitimate a state's protection and conivence with the phenomena behind prostitution, nor with the self-destruction that many times it implies, as it is an attack to basic rights and human dignity - willingful or not.
As a woman, the only thing I can tell you is that common women (just like many common men) prefer to starve to death than to prostitute themselves, so the only thing that I can imagine is that the ones who do it must have either really really strong motives (and no job alternatives, not even as cleaning ladies) or they are somehow unbalanced - if not explored by someone else.

Dimitra Karantzeni2009-03-10 20:55:46
It is, in my opinion, completely unacceptable to treat this major problem that destroys any sense of gender equality or respect of women's rights, as a commodity, by examining and regulating its demand and supply... A pan-european, or even global, common policy is needed in order to protect not only women, but also small children, from the pestilence of violent, inhumane exploitation of their bodies and souls, which is almost always, an irreversible situation.

AP2009-03-10 21:37:45
It shocks one a bit to talk about this subject matter in terms of "demand and supply". But on the other hand I understand that the author is trying to be objective about it and justify his position. That doesn't necessarily mean that he considers the trafficked people as "supply", he's just using market terms and that's... well shocking when you realize they're human beings. It's the symptom of the total objectification of certain people.

errata - traffic

Anonymous2009-03-11 02:55:20
It should also be mentioned that I really find the confluencing of pedophilia into this just outright ludicrous... OK, let's deal with the trafficking and pedophiles, and making sure the social safety net is strong enough in general. That should get rid of the "wrong motives" to get into prostitution.

Also, it may be difficult to believe for some, but even those who may consider compensated sex, are expected to be ethical beings. That is, there is responsibility for taking a good hard look at what kind of situation one is dealing with (that it is, indeed "consenting adults").

If the above is taken into account, we're just dealing with a cultural issue on how money "shouldn't" change hands. Other kind of "promiscuity" is otherwise completely tolerated already, but I have a feeling that this will change too over time.

AP2009-03-12 00:23:02
"those who may consider compensated sex, are expected to be ethical beings"
Just exactly who expects that, and based on what facts?
Yeah, and the world is pink... and there are nightingales singing on rainbows.

I don't think the issue is cultural nor simply about different forms of money exchange, it is about basic dignity, body and psyche protection. Psyche, by the way, was Eros' consort in Greek mythology - not Pimp's consort. They were the parents of Delight.

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