Monday, July 9, 2012

Sex Trafficking: The Demand Side

Through the monthly newsletter I receive from Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition, I found out about a case of a “John” (the customer using the services of girls and women in the sex industry) who was charged with the crime of sex trafficking. Anyone familiar with sex trafficking and the controversial issue of targeting the women, not the men using them, as criminals, could view the event as a great milestone.

Regardless of the still existing glamorization of the so-called “pimp lifestyle” in modern news and media, most people, even with a dearth of knowledge on sex trafficking, would readily assume and believe that the methods traffickers use to control the women serve as a proof that they are evil and quite dangerous individuals. It has been pointed out that the focus of the Bush Administration was to portray the traffickers and similar abusers of the innocent as “evil”. Even though research on the nature of traffickers, the reasons behind their actions, and factors that contribute to one becoming a trafficker is not abundant, most advocates readily agree that those are evil people. As a result, most efforts to fight the illegal sex trade have been targeted at traffickers as they are assumed to be the criminals driving this business. Certainly, traffickers could be dangerous and regularly torture the women they possess and as such, they should be punished, but they are not the only important actors in the equation of sex trafficking. 

Even if the treatment toward traffickers and pimps is varied and punishment not as severe as deserved, even less of a proper courtesy has generally been extended to the people on the demand side of the equation. The buyers of the services of trafficked females are an important variable in the business of sex trafficking and their demand is what stimulates the growth and sustainability of the trade. Academics and researchers argue that the established international documents against the traffic of women into the sex industry have failed to acknowledge the strength of the demand and the need for harsher policies to target its reduction. Even though the fines for arrested pimps are ridiculous, the consequence received by buyers is close to being non-existent. The “johns” are generally released if caught and even if fined, the fine is purely symbolic. They are considered to be men acting as men and using a prostitute can even be viewed as a rite of passage. What is even more disturbing is that certain societies blame foreign women, and not the men who purchase and abuse them, as the sole reason for the degradation of morals in that society. Should buyers be labeled as criminals and punished accordingly? The answer to this question is much more multifarious than it might seem at a first glance. That they deserve the appropriate consequence is without argument. However, describing them as a homogenous group of evil, emotionless sex addicts coming from the lowest rungs in society and who possess a complete lack of empathy and no morals might not necessarily be appropriate and would probably not help the exploited women. Certain cultural, social, and historical factors contribute to and sustain the increase in the demand for sex services and the resulting increase in the traffic of women to satisfy this demand. These factors and their origins must be thoroughly examined and evaluated for a comprehensive understanding of the trafficking process that contributes to modern-day slavery before any successful attempts to curtail the demand are made.  

Therefore, further research on the factors contributing to the wide-spread demand for women in the sex industry and indirectly impacting the increased trafficking of women is paramount in the understanding and eventual eradication of existing exploitation in the sex industry. I believe that an understanding of the demand side of this equation is just as important as the understanding of the actors on the supply end. International and domestic organizations are gradually becoming interested in and acknowledge the importance of research on male demand and the factors that impact it. For as long as there is a demand for a product, there will be a person or persons supplying it. Therefore, to successfully approach the issue people need to look at both sides of the transaction: the traffickers as well as the consumers.

-       Krasi

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