The United States government recently released a document with their plans to combat human trafficking. They list “ten strategic objectives” which are:
- “ Investigate and prosecute traffickers and dismantle the criminal networks that perpetrate trafficking in persons.
- Enhance victim identification and the provision of relief and services for all victims of trafficking.
- Enhance training of stakeholders, including civil society, law enforcement, and government officials, to increase identification of victims.
- Encourage foreign governments to combat trafficking through international diplomacy and engagement.
- Forge and strengthen partnerships and other forms of collaboration to counter trafficking in persons.
- Fund domestic and international anti-trafficking programs focusing on victim identification, prevention, and outreach.
- Integrate anti-trafficking components into relevant government programs.
- Promote public awareness about modern slavery.
- Spur innovation and improve capacity to combat modern slavery through data collection and research.
- Gather and synthesize actionable intelligence to increase the number of domestic and international trafficking prosecutions.”
Former President Jimmy Carter’s A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power bridges the subject of human trafficking in a chapter on “Slavery and Prostitution.” Carter approaches the rights of women laborers from a perspective that is both moralistic and rights-based.
Carter opens by mentioning the work of Free the Slaves founder Siddharth Kara, who has called for a focus on male customers who “keep the slave masters and brothel owners in business,” and notes the “tragic” trend of pimpless prostitution made possible via websites like BackPage and Craigslist.
After discussing the state of sex sale and slavery in the United States, Carter turns to the topic of anti-trafficking efforts in India and Nepal. He introduces a variety of factors leading to the trafficking of women and girls: poverty, promises of legitimate employment, rapid urbanization, and a gender imbalance due to sex-selective abortion (a topic Carter tackles earlier in his book) that makes it difficult for young men to find female partners. For the reader unfamiliar with trafficking, it becomes apparent that there is more at play than demand for sex alone.
Carter closes the chapter with a long recounting of his efforts to work with regional leaders to curb the spread of HIV in southern African. He criticizes the former stance of the Catholic Church, which has consistently refused to condone the use of condoms as an HIV prevention method, and of western evangelical groups who convinced leaders in Uganda to adopt an “abstinence only” approach for similar moralistic reasons. By the close of his discussion, Carter’s call to educate sex workers and clients and make sex work safer reflects a practical rather than a moralistic plea. Here and throughout his book, Carter rails against institutions that inhibit human rights in the name of religious doctrine and holds them accountable for what he—himself a Baptist minister—considers to be gross distortions of inter-faith values like compassion and special assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable.
The Super Bowl came and went almost a week ago, but not without the fanfare of governor speeches, police crackdowns, prevention and education campaigns related to what has become a staple concern in relation to America’s biggest game: sex trafficking. The New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking produced a fact sheet summarizing anti-trafficking efforts in their state. (It is succinct, highly informative, and worth a read.)
You can read last year’s post on Trafficking and Sports for a brief overview of the issue, but what is known about the hype is basically twofold: 1) Sex trafficking in the United States is all too real. 2) Claims about inordinate spikes in sex trafficking in the latest Superbowl host city are unfounded.
Kate Mogulescu’s recent New York Times Op-Ed offers some perspective. Mogulescu is the supervising attorney for a Legal Aid Society project that represents nearly all of the individuals arrested on prostitution charges in New York City. Mogulescu details the trouble caused by drastic upticks in prostitution-related stings. The local legal system and organizations like the Legal Aid Society, she writes, become inundated with cases, even though a successful designation of victim-hood for a single trafficking survivor–and the subsequent matching of that survivor with the rehabilitative services to which she is entitled–can be extremely difficult:
I know firsthand the devastating consequences that aggressive arrest practices can have for both trafficked and nontrafficked people engaging in prostitution. Many, but not all, of our clients are, in fact, trafficked, and many more have survived an extensive amount of brutality, violence and trauma. Turning them into defendants and pushing them through the criminal justice system contradicts any claim of assistance.
As a colleague said recently, perhaps the awareness raised by the annual tradition of Super Bowl sex-trafficking hype (#1 on a list of six major “Super Bowl myths” that TIME Sports investigated at the end of January) will be ultimately positive for victims and their advocates. By now, the average American may say that they have heard of trafficking. Though their current understanding of this incredibly complex issue may be limited at best, there is room for growth. Future Super Bowls may bring more sophisticated media campaigns. Police forces might be trained in more effective anti-trafficking tactics. Public expectations of what trafficking prevention looks like may change.
In the fact sheet referred to above, the New Jersey Coalition addresses “those who downplay concern about Super Bowl” directly, noting that the event is
…an opportunity to educate the community. People will stop and listen if you mention Super Bowl but not necessarily if you just talk about Human Trafficking…
Raising human trafficking awareness is not a one time, one event, cause. Rather, promoting Human Trafficking awareness, especially during a national event such as the Super Bowl, allows for wide-spread community attentiveness to the issue. The problem of Human Trafficking in New Jersey will not end with the Super Bowl. It is the hope that the NJ Coalition’s awareness campaign will help to prevent Human Trafficking in New Jersey and when it does occur, to reach out to victims, providing them with aid and resources.
Indeed, Governor Christ Christie signed one of the nation’s newest anti-human trafficking laws into effect in New Jersey last summer and has made trafficking prevention a “priority” in the state. New York City established a Special Circuit Court to deal with trafficking cases. A couple of years back, when Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl, Indiana passed their own anti-trafficking law and the Attorney General’s anti-trafficking task force is (still) fully operational today. None of these, it might be argued, would have been accomplished without the Super Bowl as impetus. But Mogulescu’s closing paragraphs are not so forgiving:
The annual oversimplification of the issue, in which we conflate all prostitution with trafficking, and then imply that arrest equals solution, does a disservice to year-round efforts to genuinely assist survivors of trafficking — with emergency housing, medical care and other crucial services.
Remove the guise of ‘preventing’ human trafficking, and we are left with a cautionary tale of how efforts to clean up the town for a media event rely on criminalizing people, with long-lasting implications for those who are then trapped in the criminal justice system. If we continue to perpetuate fallacies like the Super Bowl sex-trafficking phenomenon, we will continue to perpetuate the harm caused by prostitution arrests in the name of helping victims.
We must judge Super Bowl anti-sex trafficking efforts not by the number of arrests accomplished by a host city, but by that city’s ability to assist trafficking survivors affected by those arrests. Future host cities should use the Super Bowl as an impetus for sustained change, and commit to longer-term and coordinated efforts to combat and prevent human trafficking, sex-related and not. First and foremost, they should ensure that their efforts are survivor-centered.
Last week, NPR released a series of radio pieces connected to the so-called Great Plains Oil Rush, or, if you’d prefer, a “modern-day Gold Rush in motion.” Most of us have heard something about the newly-bustling oil fields of eastern North Dakota, where sleepy rural towns have been transformed by sky-rocketing populations and traffic jams.
This “new” rough-and-tumble frontier, much like historical iterations, is predominantly populated by men: single, lonely men living in “man camps,” trailers and temporary row housing sponsored by oil companies. According to a February 1 installment of the NPR series, Booming Oil Fields May Be Giving Sex Trafficking A Boost, it is this demographic that an allegedly increasing number of sex workers–and sex traffickers–are looking to capitalize on.
In the words of one long-time resident of Williston, North Dakota, “If you’re looking for it [paid sex], you can find it; it’s there. You know, there’s women looking to make money, too.” But in North Dakota and Montana, as elsewhere, it is difficult for law enforcement and advocates alike to differentiate the “professional” sex workers from those forced into the trade by traffickers. In the United States, it is easiest to do so using the age of consent, currenty 18 years in North Dakota and 16 years in neighboring Montana. Young women or men found to be working in the sex trade may be considered trafficking victims by default though, in practice, it takes knowledgeable local authorities and a successful application of the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act plus relevant state and local laws to connect an individual “victim” with the services to which they are entitled. Women and men above the age of consent, on the other hand, are usually jailed or fined as perpetrators of illegal sex work.
See the whole Oil Rush story here (also hyperlinked above).
U.S.-based child sex trafficking made the news this week following a multi-state FBI sting (full story can be found here). However, Dr. David Finkelhor, an expert on child exploitation at the University of New Hampshire, says that the sting operation may be too little, too late. Country-wide arrests may make good headlines, but according to Finkelhor,
…it is only through a multidisciplinary comprehensive mobilization of dedicated child welfare, social service, mental health, drug rehabilitation, educational systems — working together with law enforcement — that we will find a solution to young people being sold or selling sex for money and survival.
Finkelhor’s July 31 CNN Opinion piece includes some surprising facts about child sex trafficking in the U.S., including the high number of boys in the sex trade and the ways that technology (internet, cell phones) allows both boys and girls to engage in the trade without the involvement of a pimp.
“Four years ago, 21 men with intellectual disabilities were emancipated from a bright blue, century-old schoolhouse in Atalissa, Iowa. They ranged in age from their 40s to their 60s, and for most of their adult lives they had worked for next to nothing and lived in dangerously unsanitary conditions.” Check out the entire story here.
Undocumented construction workers in Texas suffer from wage theft on a regular basis. Human trafficking, wage theft, and other forms of worker exploitation are closely related phenomena arising from similar economic pressures to increase profits.
Read “Construction Booming In Texas, But Many Workers Pay Dearly“