THE BLOG

Sex Trafficking and Prostitution -- Big Business With Plenty of Victims

If most Americans (those not involved in any aspect of the sex industry) think about prostitution, I would guess that we have two images of it -- gleaned mostly from movies and cop shows.

The first is the "call girl" image, where lovely, apparently educated women choose to become prostitutes, almost as a career choice. This is "clean" prostitution, prostitution as a profession -- where men always use condoms and women get tested for HIV as a matter of course. This is almost always portrayed as somehow empowering (and even fun) for women and the image is of high-class call girls getting paid a lot of money to have non-abusive, non-violent sex with wealthy, powerful but still "gentlemanly" (and usually attractive) men. This image seems to be the closest to the kind of prostitution that most people can feel comfortable with. This is the type that is viewed as "victimless" and "consensual". This is the type that people think should be legalized, regulated, taxed.

Then there is the second image -- call it the "hooker" image. Down-and-out (but still adult) women who perhaps came from an abusive childhood, who perhaps have a drug problem, who may have a pimp, but who still are adults making "choices". In this view, the image is of not-so-attractive women having cheap sex in motel rooms or cars with traveling salesmen or suburban husbands. What do we (meaning, those not involved in this in any way) think of this? Maybe we try not to think of it at all, except to remember to avoid certain streets in certain parts of the city.

Both those images are Hollywood images.

Read this interesting yet depressing article on prostitution in Newsweek magazine. The author, Leslie Bennetts, says:

Prostitution has always been risky for women; the average age of death is 34, and the American Journal of Epidemiology reported that prostitutes suffer a "workplace homicide rate" 51 times higher than that of the next most dangerous occupation, working in a liquor store.

Research indicates that most prostitutes were sexually abused as girls, and they typically enter "the life" between the ages of 12 and 14. The majority have drug dependencies or mental illnesses, and one third have been threatened with death by pimps, who often use violence to keep them in line.

Horrible for women. But she also explores how using prostitutes changes men, making them more desensitized, more aggressive, more demanding. How can that be good?

And then there's the new movie, The Whistleblower. It is the story of a cop from Nebraska who went to work as a UN peacekeeper in Bosnia and uncovered a sex trafficking ring. And a cover-up. A reporter for Foreign Policy, Colum Lynch, who reported on this story years ago, explains in his article:

What she gradually discovers is a community of U.S. cops and other international peacekeepers corrupted by the moral compromises they make in Bosnia. What's worse, she learns, is that the U.N. diplomatic and peacekeeping corps are the brothels' primary customers, and in some cases they are actually trafficking Eastern European women into Bosnia.

And this isn't the first incidence of this type of corruption. The reporter also says:

A decade ago, I wrote a series of stories on U.N. police misconduct in Bosnia for the Washington Post, including a detailed account of U.S. police abuses and this piece documenting U.N. efforts to quash an investigation by a former Philadelphia cop, David Lamb, into allegations that Romanian peacekeepers participated in sex trafficking.

I can't even get my head around this. It is one thing (and not a good thing) to understand and believe that there is human trafficking and sex trafficking in this day and age. But we like to distance ourselves from it -- we prefer to think it is a 3rd World problem, that the closest we come to it are middle-aged American men buying "tours" to Thailand, to have sex with 12-year-old girls or boys. As if that isn't disgusting enough.

It is another thing to learn that sex trafficking is getting worse instead of better.

But it is beyond belief -- or at least, I wish it were -- that U.S. corporations and UN peacekeepers not only participate in this as "customers," but that they engage in the business itself, the corruption and the cover-up of all those aspects.

Just some stunning statistics:

• Sex trafficking is 90% women and girls.
• Over 50,000 women are trafficked into the United States every year.
• Asian women are sold to North American brothels for $16,000 each.
• 2 million children are forced into prostitution every year. Half of them live in Asia.

How is it that we are not universally disgusted by this? How is it that we don't rally as a country to combat this? How is it that it barely gets our attention? Where are the headlines, the outrage, the campaigns to address this? If only this got half the passionate outpouring, the coverage, the indignation that the Casey Anthony trial got, we might be able to make some progress combating this global horror.

Maybe we're too caught up now in our bad economy, our own problems. I would hate to think that it is because this is a crime perpetrated mostly by men against predominantly women and girls.