Home Sociology Human rights and social justice in a global perspective : an introduction to international social work
Sexual Exploitation by Private Citizens
Approximately 22% of those who have been trafficked experience primarily sexual exploitation—currently approximately 4.5 million people. Ninety-eight percent of these sexually exploited individuals are women and girls; 21% are children (ILO, 2012a). While some victims of economic exploitation, such as those in domestic labor, are sexually exploited as well, many others find that sex work is their main “employment.” Sexual trafficking is often an outcome of dual oppression: poverty and gender discrimination. Poor girls often have no other means of economic survival or perceived skills other than the sexual use of their bodies. Gender discrimination and poverty have often barred them from an education or other skills, while cultural expectations in many parts of the world require females to support their families.
The money that girls are able to send back to their villages encourages families to send their daughters to work in the sex trade. For example, families in Yunnan province in China would send girls to work in the sex trade in Thailand as the money they earned paid for large new houses with air conditioning for their families (French, 2005). While not all women in the sex trade are forced into it, virtually all suffer from a lack of other economic options.
Thus, poverty plays an important role. As the vast majority of those who experience sex trafficking migrate, either internationally (74%) or internally (19%; ILO, 2012a), it is not the extremely poor who experience this, as they do not have the funds to travel (Danailova-Trainor & Laczko, 2010).
Sexual exploitation provides a clear example of how voluntary migration may become trafficking. Many are tricked with false job offers or offers of marriage. While some of the women realize that they will be working as prostitutes, many do not until it is too late. Even those who do know this do not know the conditions under which they will be work- ing—they are often forced to service 10 men a day without protection while suffering additional physical and sexual violence (Tverdova, 2011). When village girls in Thailand were asked what a prostitute was, the most common answer was “wearing Western clothes and eating in restaurants” (Caye, 1996, as cited in Bales, 2004). Globalization has increased knowledge of other nations, but only to the extent portrayed in the media. Therefore, to those living in impoverished nations without job opportunities, the Global North appears to be a place where it is easy to make money. In some nations, “employment agencies” are set up as fronts for recruitment into sex trafficking. Girls are told they will be working in Western nations as models, nannies, or waitresses (Hodge & Lietz, 2007). Girls have idealized notions of these countries. Believing they will get wealthy there, the girls eagerly sign up. These situations have been found in such diverse countries as Malawi, Mozambique, the Philippines, Thailand, and Colombia (International Organization for Migration, 2003; Lee, 2005) as well as countries in Southeast Europe (Dottridge, 2006).
India is a source, destination, and transit country for trafficking. In both India and its neighbor Nepal, females have few opportunities for education or employment. Girls are regarded as an economic burden because not only are they typically unable to access well-paying employment but their family must provide a dowry upon marriage. These factors all contribute to trafficking (Deane, 2010; Patel, 2013). If a girl’s parents are unwilling or unable to pay a dowry, she may be sent to the city to find work. Typically, the work she is able to find will be in the sex trade. In other cases, parents trade their child for a sum of money, either knowing or not knowing the type of work into which their daughter will be forced. Thus, one is able to see how the double burdens of poverty and discrimination against women can lead to sex slavery in these highly patriarchal cultures. Females from Nepal or rural India may also be lured with false job or marriage offers (Deane, 2010; Patel, 2013). The border between Nepal and India is open, making migration across it extremely easy. In response, NGO workers monitor the border where possible to try to spot those who are being crossed to be trafficked (“Keeping watch,” 2010).
Turkey provides another example of this phenomenon. It has become a destination country for women from Eastern Europe seeking better employment because it is relatively easy for them to enter Turkey due to its visa policy and because it is close to their home nation (Demir & Finckenauer, 2010). While prostitution is legal in Turkey, many of the immigrating women either do not realize they will be working in this trade or do not realize the conditions under which they will be forced to work. After they enter the country, their passports are taken away and they are beaten into submission and forced into prostitution. They are kept locked up unless they are being sold to a customer (Demir & Finckenauer, 2010; Smith, 2005).
Thailand has become both a destination and a sending country. Women from China, Myanmar, and Cambodia are trafficked into Thailand, while Thai women are trafficked abroad to places such as Japan and Taiwan. Thai women have entered Japan legally under “entertainment visas,” believing that they will be working in dance clubs, only to find themselves forced into prostitution (Bales & Trodd, 2008; ILO, 2005). Other Thai women who emigrate to Japan are aware that they will be working in the sex trade, but they are unaware they will accumulate large debts to the traffickers, which will place them in servitude. They may have their passports confiscated by the traffickers or be sold to Japanese gangsters after their arrival in Japan (Onishi, 2005). The Culture Box at the end of this Chapter provides a more in-depth look at trafficking in Thailand.
While sex tourism has received a lot of media attention, most of the women working in the sex trade who serve foreigners are not working under conditions of forced labor. They face conditions of economic oppression, often due to limited opportunities for females, but they are not enslaved (Blackburn, Taylor, & Davis, 2010). Most of the trafficked women in the sex trade serve men of their own country or low-income migrant workers from neighboring countries (Bales, 2004; Pearson, 2001). Thus, when we focus on eliminating sex trafficking, sex tourism should be only a piece of that focus. The exception to this, of course, is children who are sexually exploited and the tourists who seek them. A number of countries in the Global North, including the United States and Canada, have enacted laws criminalizing such acts and have sent their citizens to prison for violating them.
Other cultural factors such as religious customs can also lead to conditions of institutionalized sex slavery. Known as trokosi in Ghana or devadasi or devaki in India and Nepal, young virgin girls are given to the priest at a shrine if a calamity strikes the family. The girl is then bonded to the priest and expected to perform domestic and sexual services for him for no payment for the rest of her life. There is no limit as to the number of girls that can be bonded to each priest, so a “harem” may be developed. The girls can be beaten or denied food for infractions such as refusing sex, running away, or lateness (Pearson, 2001).
Forced Marriage North Korea is among the poorest countries in the world, and the situation for its citizens is even direr due to the repressive nature of its government. Citizens from North Korea will emigrate to China with the hope of finding jobs that will pay enough to allow them to send money back to their families in North Korea. Despite the repressive government, their primary reasons for leaving tend to be economic (Muico, 2007). However, illegal border crossings have become more difficult in recent years with reports of border guards being told to shoot to kill (US Department of State, 2013a). However, those who successfully cross are at risk for being trafficked in China (US State Department, 2013b). Women are most at risk as their work tends to leave them isolated within a household. They may become domestic workers or sold into prostitution. Many North Korean women in China, however, are sold into forced marriage (Kim, Yun, Park, & Williams, 2009; Muico, 2005). China has an imbalance of men to women, and some men have difficulty finding a wife. This imbalance is due in large part to China’s “one child” policy, discussed further in the Culture Box in Chapter 4. These women often face physical and sexual abuse in their marriage. Women of other nations such as Myanmar and Cambodia are at risk of forced marriages to Chinese men as well, a situation not calculated in the ILO’s estimate.
Trafficking victims are reluctant to approach Chinese authorities for fear of repatriation. Leaving North Korea without permission is a crime that can result in the death penalty, and the Chinese government is known to forcibly return them there (US Department of State, 2013b). Typically, returned immigrants will be sentenced to a labor camp (US Department of State, 2013a). In the camp, they receive little food and are forced to work at hard physical labor. The following case study summarized from Muico (2005) illustrates the plight of these people:
My eldest daughter went to China to sell a porcelain bowl at a market but didn't return. To look for her, I took my youngest daughter and crossed the icy Tumen River into China in the middle of the night.
Once there, I worked as a nanny for a Korean-Chinese family. After a week, I was sent out to the market on an errand and when I returned, my younger daughter was gone. The family said they didn't know anything about it. I ran out of the house in despair searching for her. To get her back, I had to pay 4,000 yuan ($500).
After two years in China, four men came to our house at night and kidnapped us. They were planning to sell us as “brides” to men in a mining town for 10,000 yuan ($1,200) each. The neighbors suspected foul play and called the police. My daughter and I spent 40 days in a Chinese detention centre before being deported to North Korea. In North Korea, we were stripped naked, checked for hidden money, and sent to a labour training camp. My daughter was beaten and interrogated on whether we met any South Koreans or missionaries in China. All we had for food was porridge made from black, rotten flour and watery soup. We worked in the cabbage patches and carried heavy logs from the mountains. The guards threw stones at us if we didn't run fast enough. I escaped after four days, but my daughter remained in prison for two and a half months.
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