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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Human Trafficking vs. Prostitution, by Daniel Walker

Human Trafficking vs. Prostitution

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Responsible semantics should not be underrated.

The words we use when we communicate, especially when talking about nonprofit charities, faith-based or not, that require fundraising efforts are extremely important.

There is much confusion, for example, around the terms ‘human trafficking’ and ‘prostitution,’ and when working in the area of covert investigations into the sex industry, this is a vital distinction that should be made.

Human Trafficking. The social injustice of modern day slavery is quickly becoming a buzzword– an issue stars like Lucy Lu are tackling and a leading focus of politicians like Hillary Clinton. MTV and CNN {The Freedom Project} have campaigns committed to keeping the issue on a global stage, and there are new movies, like Nefarious and the MTVExit videos, that highlight the realities of the 20-some million people who are forcibly held against their will, either in labor camps or in sexual slavery today. {You can read here some recent words Clinton shared with the international community on the issue.}

It is true that as I type this, there are young girls and women {and some boys} who are physically locked behind closed doors, who are threatened with their family’s safety, and who are paying off debts by servicing men in brothels. Estimates are, in fact, that there are about 4.5 million women and children forced, by coercion or abuse, into the sex industry today.

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Prostitution. Another heartbreaking reality for many women globally is that of prostitution, involving around 40 million women in this, the “oldest profession in the world.” In this part of SouthEast Asia, as is the case in much of the world, many women turn to prostitution because there are very little economic opportunities elsewhere, particularly for those born in impoverished areas. Couple the fast money even an uneducated woman can make with the pressure to provide for her family, and add that to the widespread cultural acceptance of the sex industry, and prostitution quickly becomes a viable option– sometimes seemingly the only one.

But, here’s the thing we are learning working in the counter-trafficking community of NGO’s in Asia– fighting human trafficking and reaching out to prostitutes is not the same thing.

And while obviously there is a fuzzy margin of gray between the two, we often see “helping bar girls” pegged under the “fighting human trafficking” banner– an example of unintentionally irresponsible communication, in our opinion. Because there are 40 million prostitutes, working mostly by choice, compared to the {much smaller} 4.5 million trafficked victims, trapped in the sex industry by force. And while you could make valid arguments that poor women don’t have much of a choice to begin with, economically-speaking, most prostitutes come to bars, and then stay in bars, not by outright force or coercion {as is the case with trafficked victims}.

Both situations for women {and some men} are heartbreaking, nonetheless.Heartbreaking.

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And, so, who really cares what we call what? Why do the semantics really matter anyway? It’s all charitable work helping women who are poor, undervalued and often abused, right? What does it matter what we call it in our newsletters and charity-pitches?

Well, it does matter. Greatly. Because we have seen firsthand the subtle damage that can be done by Westerners who barge into red light districts assuming they are fighting modern day slavery and who raise funds under that belief, but then teach English to prostitutes who are working in the industry by choice. And while it is good that awareness is being raised for the issue of slavery, and while it is absolutely a loving thing to reach out to those working in the sex industry {especially by providing them with other work opportunities}, it is not the same thing as rescuing victims of trafficking or slowing down the economic machine that makes the sale of flesh so lucrative.

And I wonder if the funds, efforts and organizations that do effectively fight modern day slavery become diluted by the myriad of well-inentioned people that jump on the bandwagon under its name.

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In the words of Daniel Walker, an undercover investigator into the sex industry,


“I would be doing them {prostitutes} a gross disservice to pretend that there are not degrees of freedom and more subtle forms of exploitation involved in every case. What broke my heart on many occasions was hearing the stories of women who were equally enslaved by poverty, sexism, gender inequality or addiction. While they fell outside the narrow legal definition of ”forced” or “trafficked” and were therefore beyond our ability to assist, they longed for an alternative means of survival and for the opportunity to escape the invisible chains that held them.” - God in a Brothel

* Article adapted from original post by Laura Parker