Human Sex Trafficking and Its Demand

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Image courtesy of theheartsofhope.org

Darlene Ngo – Period 3

Many different terms are used to describe the atrocious crime of human sex trafficking, like “sex slavery,” “human trafficking,” or “sex trafficking,” but they are all essentially the same: they describe the buying and selling of human persons for sexual exploitation through migration and a third party. Human sex trafficking is even referred to as “modern day slavery,” which compares the cruelties of both slavery and sex slavery, but one thing sets them apart: now, human trafficking does not focus on a race or gender or any specific parameter: it is scarily all-encompassing. But, the United States (U.S.) Department of State introduced their Trafficking Persons Report in 2007 by noting only one commonality among trafficking victims: vulnerability[1]. This vulnerability, through socioeconomic status, mental state, or desire to have a better life, is preyed on in a $150-billion-dollar-per-year industry[2]. With such wide parameters in identifying victims, people have difficulty understanding the concept of sex trafficking and its causes, or that slavery, a sex “slavery,” still exists today. By trying to understand the demand behind sex trafficking, we may be able to get closer to the root of the problem.

While standards of conversation prevent us from speaking about it freely, we are still obsessed with the idea of sex and its pleasure. Between media like Playboy and events like the sex expo EXXXOTICA planned to be held here in Dallas, sex has become a phenomenon across America. This obsession creates the demand for industries like pornography and prostitution, which some critics argue to be the cause for demand in human sex trafficking.[3] Donna Hughes Ph.D, a professor in gender and women’s studies, writes, “The trafficking process begins when men and pimps create the demand for women and girls to be used for prostitution. Where the demand for prostitution is high, insufficient numbers of local women and girls can be recruited… there is no dignity in prostitution.”[4] This viewpoint is also the official stance of the U.S. government as voiced in a policy decision made in 2002: when the demand for sex becomes too extreme, it results in capitalization through trafficking. Aristotle’s take on the virtuous life coincides with this view: because he argues that the purpose of life is to use our reason and virtues to reach our ends, Aristotle would claim that the desires and lust for sex in tamer industries like porn inevitably lead to an evil end, sex trafficking. Proponents of Aristotelian theory would argue that by not practicing virtuous behavior in daily life, we cannot train ourselves to have those virtues. He calls virtue “a purposive disposition, lying in a mean that is relative to us and determined by a rational principle, by that which a prudent man would use to determine it,” meaning that by having temperance with our desires (a lifestyle not promoted by sex industries,) we can develop these virtuous habits.[5]

On the other hand, others argue that false claims have been made about sex trafficking and have given the public a skewed view of sex trafficking.[6] Sociologist, criminologist, professor, and sex industry expert Dr. Ronald Weitzer asserts that evidence is needed to support theories about sex trafficking; otherwise, the writing is what he calls “oppression literature” with “extravagant claims” that automatically link prostitution and domestic violence with sex trafficking, lumping together different subjects and generalizing them altogether.[7] Melissa Ditmore, a researcher with training in sociology and behavior science, adds that “equating sex work and trafficking leads to an overly simple analysis” of the issues of trafficking, “ignored in favor of a more politically popular and publicity friendly condemnation of trafficking as sex work.”[8] Ditmore argues that the government and others find it easier to blame porn stars and prostitutes who make them uncomfortable than to actually face the issue. She argues that these sex industries thrive rightfully, and those who exploit sex work are the ones who should be blamed – not those who work honestly. This more Libertarian point of view runs more along the lines of Mises or Bastiat, who argue that freedom of market is essential for economic development[9]. In this utilitarian way of thinking, as long as there is consent and pleasure among all parties, the trade of goods or services is good. Proponents of this hedonism would argue that industries like pornography and prostitution are honest and have no relation to human sex trafficking, where there is no consent, and where good markets have been exploited to an extreme. They would also argue against the criminalization of victims of sex trafficking and emphasize that no one is trafficked of his or her own accord; therefore, the arresting and interrogation of victims when trafficking rings are infiltrated is wrongful and counterproductive.

What confuses the concept of demand for this industry more is how we believe we can suppress or extinguish it: some believe we can, while others believe it is impossible. Critics may believe in a Keynesian view of intervention to help regulate the sick cause of this problem. Opponents of capitalism and a laissez faire market may find that this extreme demand for sex is inevitable when tamer demand is not met by other sex work. They may pessimistically believe that these are the effects of capitalism and greed. A Bastiat fan may argue that this free market will eventually fix itself, much like how aggregate demand and supply work in order to reach an equilibrium point. Even John Stuart Mill, who said, “A state of exalted pleasure lasts only moments, or in some cases, and with some intermissions, hours or days, and is the occasional brilliant flash of enjoyment, not its permanent and steady flame,” could be interpreted as to say that finding a permanent state of pleasure is like the permanence of sex promoted in human sex trafficking, whereas porn and prostitution are more temporal[10]. In contrast, Marxists could say that Marx warned about the dangers of free trade and greed, where the bourgeoisie continue to exploit the proletariat, or victims.

Because it is an issue in the U.S. with transnational connections, human sex trafficking cannot be solved with just legal action. The most important step towards abolishing sex trafficking is spreading awareness by sharing statistics, anecdotes, or even art. By doing so, we make the crime more concrete and noticeable, which may lead to better understanding and identification of victims. For example, Marian Lefeld, an art professor at Richland College in Richardson, Texas, plans to create an art exhibit consisting of two thousand large gold coins, representing the two thousand people who fall victim to human sex trafficking in Dallas every year.[11] Engraved onto one side are the words “In You We Trust,” and on the other, an image of a young woman. The volunteers that help her with her project may be able to listen to speakers on the issue of human sex trafficking and its prominence in a radius of even a few miles. Her purpose is not to solve the issue with one fell swoop, but to make a statement and educate others and help people understand the places these victims are in.[12]

By understanding the victim and focusing on a victim-based approach, we can help them escape, recover physically and mentally, and resettle into their new lives, building trust between victims and those around them. With this communal response, the victims may feel more comfortable sharing information to aid law enforcement in persecuting the traffickers. That is to say, this chain reaction of possible actions towards abolishing human sex trafficking starts with spreading awareness and being aware, a task anyone can do.  The scariest part of human sex trafficking, or this modern slavery, is that it knows no race, age, or gender. It could be you, kidnapped while vacationing, or you, coaxed into an abusive and cyclic job. Traffickers themselves are rarely caught and prosecuted because not many people are educated on the topic and our current legislation addressing it is weak. These victims need their voices, and we can help them.

[1] . “Trafficking in Persons Report: 2007–Introduction.” Trafficking in Persons Report. (retrieved February 19, 2016).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Hughes, Donna M.. The Demand: The Driving Force of Sex Trafficking. (retrieved May 14, 2016).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Aristotle. “Nicomachean Ethics.”

[6] Weitzer, Ronald. “Sex Trafficking and the Sex Industry: The Need for Evidence-Based Theory and Legislation”. (retrieved November 29, 2015).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ditmore, Melissa. “Trafficking in Lives: How Ideology Shapes Policy.” Trafficking and Prostitution (n.d.): 2005.

[9] . “How to Achieve Happiness Without A Free Lunch.” 2016.

[10] Mill, John Stuart, and Oskar Piest. Utilitarianism. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1957.

[11] Marian Lefeld(artist), in discussion with author, April 2016.

[12] Ibid.

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