The numbers of sex trafficking victims are exaggerated

Figures relating to sex work and trafficking have been fudged by mainstream media, conservative feminists and career politicians. The numbers of people who are victims of sex slavery and trafficking are far lower than what is generally reported, writes Elena Jeffreys.

A startling report by investigative journalist Nick Davies for The Guardian last October, Inquiry fails to find single trafficker who forced anybody into prostitution, has shocked English policy makers and created a new war of words over migration, sex work and exploitation. Numerous opinion pieces, first hand accounts and rampant moralising followed The Guardian’s coverage of the issue between October and November last year, but Davies’ articles remains an important contribution to understanding the figure-fudging in relation to sex work and trafficking.

Davies writes that politicians and the media have been exaggerating the numbers of sex workers who are victims of sex slavery and trafficking. He goes on to compare the exaggerated numbers of trafficked sex workers with other government lies including weapons of mass destruction, and the sexed up policy dossiers that rationalised UK’s hawkish actions in relation to Iraq. Continue reading

Older Stories: Beyond Immigrant Brothels

by Juhu Thukral on October 2, 2006

At the age of 17, Cathy* came to the United States from Thailand, expecting to work off a debt. As soon as she arrived, though, her traffickers demanded the money. If they weren’t paid, they said, she would have to go into prostitution.

Cathy was able to escape on her own and eventually found a job in a restaurant, but she was stressed about the money that she owed. Threatened by her traffickers, her family in Thailand had gone into hiding.

When I met with Cathy, I told her she might be eligible for assistance as a victim of trafficking given that she had been held against her will, had experienced threats against her family, and had been threatened with forced prostitution. Continue reading

The Crusade Against Sex Trafficking

By Noy Thrupkaew

This article appeared in the October 5, 2009 edition of The Nation.
September 16, 2009

This article is the first part of a two-part series. The next installment will explore alternative approaches to addressing the problem of trafficking for the purposes of forced prostitution.
–The Editors

Gary Haugen is cradling the padlocks in his thick hands. A former high school football player–bristly crew cut, broad shoulders squeezed into a dress shirt–Haugen has more the mien of a military man than a lawyer, although his image is in keeping with the muscular work of the organization he founded and heads. The president of the International Justice Mission, an evangelical Christian organization devoted to combating human rights abuses in the developing world, Haugen is musing over the mementos of IJM’s work in India and Cambodia. The padlocks look ordinary enough: heavy brass, a squat square one, a round one with a key. But they had once hung on the doors of brothels, until local law enforcement busted the establishments in raids initiated by IJM. Continue reading

The Sex Workers Project Welcomes Increased Protections for Trafficked Persons

PRESS RELEASE

Last update: 12:32 p.m. EST Dec. 12, 2008

NEW YORK, Dec 12, 2008 /PRNewswire-USNewswire via COMTEX/ — This Wednesday, in the waning days of the 110th Congress, the House and Senate passed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, a bill which increases protections for people coerced into all forms of labor, including sex work.

“The bill will ensure better protection and assistance for immigrant victims of trafficking into labor and commercial sex, and will facilitate reunification with their families,” said Sapna Patel, a staff attorney at the Sex Workers Project. “It softens some of the burdensome requirements that trafficking victims must meet to obtain immigration status, making it easier for them to stay in the U.S. free from harm if they choose to.” Continue reading

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE ANNOUNCES GRANTS TO ENHANCE EFFORTS TO FIGHT HUMAN TRAFFICKING

  • OJP
  • Phone: (202) 514-2007

Task Force Members, Others Meet to Discuss Investigations and Services for Victims

ATLANTA – Associate Attorney General Kevin J. O’Connor today announced almost $10 million in additional funding to supplement existing task forces and to expand the number of task forces working with community-based organizations to combat human trafficking. The Associate Attorney General made the announcement at the 2008 National Conference on Human Trafficking, where more than 350 representatives from federal, state, and local organizations gathered to discuss methods of investigating human trafficking and servitude and how best to provide services to trafficking victims.

“Human Trafficking is a serious crime and deserves the focused attention of law enforcement and victim service providers,” said Associate Attorney General O’Connor. “The task forces receiving funding today are made up of both of these important elements. We will continue to use all of the resources at our disposal to make sure that traffickers are convicted and that victims receive the assistance they need to recover.”

Since 2002, the Department has partnered with state and local law enforcement, and victim service organizations to convict 342 traffickers and assist 1,300 victims from 80 countries. In 2007 alone, the Department opened 154 new trafficking investigations.

Of the funds announced today, more than $4.1 million will go to task forces in: Washington, D.C.; Hawaii; Boston, Mass.; Suffolk County, N.Y.; New Jersey; Nassau County, N.Y.; San Jose, Calif.; Saint Paul, Minn.; Lee County, Fla.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Multnomah County, Ore. Three new task forces will be established in Westminster, Calif.; Homestead, Fla; and Pitt County, N.C. To date, the Department has provided more than $70 million in funding to these task forces.

In addition, the following victim service organizations have received funding to work with the task forces:

Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance
$230,000
International Rescue Committee, Miami, Fla.
$460,000
North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault
$460,000
Salvation Army, Orange County, Calif.
$460,000
Bilateral Safety Corridor
San Diego, Calif.
$230,000
YMCA of Greater Houston Area
Houston, Texas
$230,000
Heartland Alliance for Human Needs
Chicago, Ill. area
$230,000
Safe Horizon, Inc.
New York City and Nassau County, N.Y. areas
$230,000
Salvation Army Hawaiian and Pacific Island Division
$230,000
Justice Resource Institute, Inc.
Massachusetts
$200,000
Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST)
Los Angeles, Calif.
$230,000
Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach
$230,000
International Rescue Committee
Phoenix, Ariz.
$230,000
International Institute of Metropolitan St. Louis
St. Louis, Mo.
$230,000
Tapestri, Inc.
Atlanta, Ga.
$230,000
Catholic Charities of Venice, Inc.
Lee County, Fla.
$230,000
Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Philadelphia, Pa.
$230,000
Catholic Charities Oregon
$299,999
Salvation Army Alaska
$230,000
Refugees Services of Texas
$230,000
Northeastern University
$299,999

The Department also announced more than $400,000 to fund two studies conducted by Abt Associates, Inc. and San Diego State University Research Foundation. The studies will assess criminal justice strategies and collaborative programs across the country and internationally that focus on reducing the demand for commercial sex.

The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) provides federal leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice and assist victims. More information about OJP’s work on human trafficking can be found at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov. More information about the efforts of the Civil Rights Division to combat human trafficking can be found at http://www.usdoj.gov/whatwedo/whatwedo_ctip.html.

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OVC08110

Sex Worker Rights Are Human Rights

By Juhu Thukral, On The Issues Magazine
Posted on August 28, 2008, Printed on August 29, 2008
http://www.alternet.org/story/96875/

The idea of sex workers fighting for their human rights is a foreign concept to most people, even those who identify politically as progressives or feminists. Sex workers have lived on the margins of society through most of human history, and despite the prevalence of this work all over the world, sex workers are often treated as less than human, both in cultural attitudes and public policy. In fact, it cannot be said enough: sex workers are people — friends, neighbors, family members, wage earners, and parents — and they deserve the same human rights as everyone else.

What Human Rights?

Feminists and advocates of all stripes have argued that they want to work for the human rights of sex workers, often without an analysis of what human rights for sex workers might look like.

While many people would agree that access to human rights includes the right to be free from harm, to have access to health care and housing, and to seek safe employment that pays a living wage, there is fierce debate as to what any of this actually means. Some feminists argue that sex work is inherently harmful and that the very act of trading sex for money is a violation of a person’s sanctity or dignity, and is, in and of itself, an act of violence. For these feminists, the story ends there, even when sex workers all over the world speak out, not to ask to be pulled out of sex work, but to demand that their rights be protected as they work.

Others, like the Sex Workers Project, believe that a human rights framework includes active participation of sex workers from different backgrounds and experiences; efforts to combat violence, whether it is at the hands of customers or of the police; advocate for public health programs that promote the autonomy of sex workers, and work to empower sex workers so that they can make the best choices for themselves and their families, assessing their life circumstances as best as they can. These elements are key to any effort to respect the human rights and health needs of sex workers; to properly assist those who want to leave sex work for other work, and to protect the rights and safety of those who continue in sex work.

Another key issue that gets less attention is the fight over the role of the criminal justice system. Some feminists view prosecution and punishment through the criminal justice system as the cornerstone for helping victims of violence. Others view rule of law as one of many important keys toward guaranteeing human rights, but argue that an excessive focus on the criminal justice system is detrimental to many marginalized groups, including sex workers, who have been victimized by the police. There are fundamental clashes between the needs of a criminal justice prosecution, and the needs of a human being who would most benefit from a rights-based approach.

Feminists Line Up Differently on Law Revision

These debates, often centered on agency and autonomy, might seem theoretical and unimportant in the realm of people’s daily lives. However, the debate often plays itself out in concrete policy terms, especially around the issue of human trafficking.

While human trafficking involves the experience of force, fraud, or coercion in any type of labor, such as domestic work, agricultural labor or sex work, it has been salaciously painted as being synonymous with prostitution. The idea that prostitution equals trafficking has been burned into the public mind by lurid headlines that scream of victims rescued from their captors, often without follow-up news items that might explain that the reality is more complicated, and that any number of prostitutes decided to go into that work because it was a way to make enough money to live on and also support their families, who are often in other countries.

Feminists who wish to abolish prostitution entirely have found strong allies in the Christian right and in the Bush administration. The efforts to incorrectly equate prostitution and trafficking as the same have culminated in recent efforts around the federal anti-trafficking law that Congress has been considering for reauthorization in 2008 (final vote still pending in early July).

The House version of the legislation includes a dangerous and unnecessary change to the Mann Act, a federal law that prohibits interstate travel for the purpose of prostitution. This change has nothing to do with human trafficking, and thus far, the Senate has bravely withstood pressure from some feminists and have not included this expansion in their version of the bill, SB 3061.

The federal anti-trafficking law, enacted in 2000, already defines anyone under 18 who is involved in commercial sex acts, and anyone in prostitution who experiences force, fraud or coercion as a victim of human trafficking. Changing the definition of trafficking so that law enforcement does not need to look at a person’s age or experience of coercion (the heart of the trafficking crime) will put the focus squarely on prostitution, rather than on labor and prostitution situations in which people are living under a climate of fear and experiencing genuine human rights abuses.

Are We Listening?

As law enforcement look for more victims, they will inevitably arrest more sex workers, and will lessen their focus on people who are trafficked into sectors other than prostitution. This will lead to untold harms to people who have been trafficked into other labor sectors and who cannot receive the help and attention they deserve; and to those who work in prostitution for reasons as diverse and complicated as any that go into deciding how to make money and build a life. At the Sex Workers Project, we find that most of our clients go into sex work because they can make more money and work more flexible hours than in other industries. In our 2005 study, 67 percent of the sex workers we interviewed did not make a living wage in other jobs such as waitressing, administrative work, or retail. For many, sex work was not their only form of work — 46 percent supplemented their income from mainstream jobs with sex work.

The people we see every day at the Sex Workers Project are just like everyone else — they want to know that if they are a victim of a crime, that they will receive the same attention as anyone else. What they do not want is to be classified as a victim of human trafficking as they go about the complicated business of living their lives and supporting their families as best as they can.

All feminists need to agree that when we hear the voices of sex workers advocating for their human rights, we need to really listen, rather than impose our own views of what life decisions we might deem acceptable.

Juhu Thukral, Esq., is the director of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York City. She has been an advocate for the rights of immigrant women in the areas of health, work, and sexuality for fifteen years.

© 2008 On The Issues Magazine All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/96875/

Taking On the Traffickers

August 23, 2008
NYT Editorial

 

The Federal Trafficking and Victims Protection Act of 2000 was an ambitious attempt to rescue women and children who are smuggled into the country as sex slaves and to step up prosecution of the pimps and traffickers who drive this ghastly business. It has fallen short on both counts.

The law is now up for reauthorization, and Congress must strengthen it and extend protections and services to victims born in the United States.

The legislation provides federal funds to local trafficking task forces made up of prosecutors, law enforcement officials and social service groups. The social service groups are supposed to help identify victims and then provide them with the guidance and support they need to rebuild their lives.

According to federal estimates as many as 17,000 people — most of them women and children — are brought into this country and forced to work in brutal and inhumane conditions, often as prostitutes. The 42 federally funded task forces that have been set up have only been able to identify a small fraction of those victims.

There are many reasons for this. Traffickers are experts at moving people around without being detected. They also train the women they exploit to fear the police. The task forces are often understaffed, with too few investigators to do the job effectively. That needs to change if the country is going to get at this problem.

Prosecutors are also having a hard time making cases against traffickers and pimps. Even victims who are not too terrified to testify, must meet a very difficult standard. They must prove that they did not consent to become prostitutes and did so because of “force, fraud or coercion.”

The House reauthorization would help prosecutions by adding the Mann Act’s somewhat easier-to-prove standards that calls for prosecution of pimps who “persuade, induce, entice” women into prostitution. The Senate should add that language as well.

The social service groups that help prostitutes on the streets have zeroed in on another serious shortcoming: the government’s failure to protect and support sexually exploited women and children born in this country. The House reauthorization requires the Justice Department to conduct a study of domestic victims so that there is at least an understanding of the scale of the problem. That would be a start but is not enough.

Congress was right to take on the problem of sexual trafficking. Now it needs to pass a more effective law; one that will provide real protection and help for all exploited women and children.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/23/opinion/23sat2.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntemail0=y&oref=slogin