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Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery

by Siddharth Kara

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Cathlicism

Condensing everything I wanted to convey about human trafficking into a single movie was one of the most challenging aspects of writing the book. Deciding which characteristics, regions, trends, modalities, and other vital features of human trafficking would be included or eliminated was a difficult process. The result is a highly inclusive story that portrays the most crucial elements of human trafficking around the world.

One of the challenges in writing the book was walking the fine line between truthfully portraying the bleak realities of sex trafficking and making it so dark that people would be unable to stomach it. Telling the story in which exploited women are rescued by courageous crusaders, as this almost never happens in the real world. The author wanted the story to show the self-empowerment, grace, and resolve that every survivor of sex trafficking manifests to overcome the darkest exploitation.

The author has conducted research on sex trafficking in a total of forty-one countries and has fully documented 892 cases of sex-trafficking victims. In the earlier days of the research, the cases were based on semi-structured interviews in which the information was elicited to determine if all criteria for sex trafficking were imaginable It is a story in which female power of life-affirming dignity conquers the destructive and violent aspects of male energy.

It is a global voyage of human trafficking that seeks to transcend stereotypes and display the raw truths of sex trafficking in a palatable yet honest way. These criteria require that an individual be recruited, harbored, transferred, or transported through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. In the case of a minor, no force, fraud, or coercion is required.

Establishing force, force, fraud, or coercion has always been the most challenging aspect of assessing if a case is indeed one of sex trafficking. How much does an individual truly consent to the recruitment process and the commercial sexual activity? Some cases are quite clear, whereas others are murkier. Those cases in which the individual may have consented to the recruitment offer knowing that there may be some kind of ‘entertainment” involved in the work opportunity have typically been the hardest to adjudicate.

The broad notion of coercion includes verbal threats and threats against family members, psychological forms of abuse, as well as duress that results from a lack of any reasonable alternative to accepting the offer from the trafficker (such as desperation to escape a war-torn region, fleeing from abuse or sexual violence, aging out of foster care without reliable residence or employment options, etc.,)

The results of the research led the author to think about a new set of tactics to attack sex trafficking. While the demand curve establishes an economic elasticity, implied in this result is the fact that male demand to purchase cheap sex could very well be sensitive to deterrence-focused interventions in addition to those predicated on creating upward shocks in retail prices.

Put another way, if demand fluctuates significantly based on price, it can very well fluctuate significantly based on efforts to deter the purchase more directly. Interventions focused on deterring the purchase of commercial sex can best be tested in systems where the purchase is criminalized. One can then assess policies such as economic penalties prison time, naming and shaming, or placement on a sex offender list, among others.

Policies like these are being tested in small pockets around the world, with some of the most interesting work being done by Demand Abolition, based in Boston, Massachusetts. The author believes that some summer deterrent policies coupled with demand-side efforts to elevate cost and risk to the trafficker provide our best chance to have a major impact on the business of sex trafficking.

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