Tag Archives: trafficking

Trafficking in the Netherlands – knowing what to do

“Measuring well is knowing what to do,” is the quote with which the report from the Dutch National Rapporteur Human Trafficking begins. In my first post about this report I showed that the author of the report doesn’t succeed in measuring well. But what about knowing what to do against trafficking in the Netherlands?

In order to take effective action against trafficking, it’s important to make a distinction between voluntary prostitution and trafficking. We want to make it difficult for criminals to exploit people and to force them to work, and we want to offer victims of these sorts of practices as effective and humane help as possible.

The Barrier Model
Making it as difficult as possible for traffickers, that is the goal of the barrier model. This involves barriers with regards to entrance/identity, housing, labour and fincances. According to this method, making it more complicated for traffickers to make women work as prostitutes will cause trafficking to decrease. The author believes that this model is very sensible and proposes expanding it.

We see from this paragraph that a number of victims that were recruited in the Netherlands came in contact with the recruiter through the internet. Creating barriers on the internet is therefore relevant. (page 152)

“Recruiting” is the word that the author uses for all the ways that sex workers get into prostitution; a recruiter is anyone that helps a sex worker with this. In practice, the barrier model means that it’s made difficult for prostitutes to work. Legislation and regulation around sex work are becoming more and more complicated, controls are becoming stricter, and there are even plans to begin registering sex workers. Take note, prostitution is a controversial profession, which makes sex workers a vulnerable group. It often causes problems if people realize that you are a sex worker. People lose their other job (for example as secretary or kindergarten teacher), people lose their friends and family, they get trouble from neighbors and acquaintences, child protective services can interfere with your children. Sex workers prefer to avoid attention because of the stigma, but the author almost wants to see them all going around with “prostituted woman” written on their foreheads.

It’s notable that the barrier model causes many sex workers to be dependent on helpers, particularly foreign sex workers who need help with papers and housing. Prostitution permits cause sex workers to be dependent on their exploiter, because only the exploiter has a prostitution permit. You’re paving the way for abuse.

It appears that a substantial number of the middle- and eastern- European suspects operate as kidnappers from abroad. The same group of suspects arrange more frequently in relation to the other suspects for the necessary documents (such as a work permit) for the victims. (page 167)

It’s a pretty bizarre situation. The government’s interventions make it so that sex workers can’t arrange everything themselves, if they get help it’s called trafficking, so then the interventions are intensified so that sex workers need even more help in order to be able to work, which we then call an increase in trafficking!

But from the case study of the National Rapporteur it doesn’t seem that traffickers usually work in cooperation with other criminals (page 132)

Police Raids
Prostitutes call them round-ups; the author of the report doesn’t think it’s a problem to use this term. They enter the brothel by force with 300 police agents (500 in Alkmaar), smash everything to pieces, the women and all others present are thrown in a police wagon and taken along. (page 38, round-ups in Eindhoven). Meanwhile they may also enter your house to break stuff and steal your things (they call that confiscation, because you’re a victim, of course, so the money is derived from criminal activities. We should do more of this, says the author, page 221). You’re not arrested because you’re a victim, but you’re also not allowed to leave. You’re interrogated about drugs, pimps, violence and abuse, and bribed with stories of compensation for damages (page 213) if you will just give them a culprit and be a good victim. The intimidation can go on for a whole night. Not only is it terrifying, it is also quite an invasion of your life to be suddenly taken from your work and interrogated. Arrests normally don’t happen, because trafficking is rare, but it’s explained away with the idea that they get more of an understanding of prostitution this way.

Don’t Listen
Above all, don’t listen to sex workers. That’s what the author emphasizes. We shouldn’t assume that women that are “freed from the hands of the trafficker” can act out of free will (page 160) and so we don’t have to take their words too seriously, either. That women don’t see themselves as victims and don’t want to cooperate on prosecution is simply a sign that they have been deeply controled by a trafficker.

“The idea that a “freed” victim once again has free will and can immediately decide to cooperate with the investigation is possibly contradictory to the control that the victim has experienced during the exploitative situation.” This must be taken into account when determining when to record the statement. Intake workers, but also treatment officers, can fulfill a role by exploring the options whereby they can pass suspicions about this on to the police. The police can then decide to delay taking the statement, with the goal of getting a more accurate statement at a later stage. (page 160)

Not to listen to sex workers is advice that you see repeated throughout the whole report. They’re victims whether they want to be or not, and if they don’t immediately admit that they are a victim then we give a ‘statement of victimhood’ and use threats and promises (including residence permits and compensation for damages) to try to get the woman to cooperate. That this rarely leads to prosecution is logical, but it does give us a larger number of suspects. Which looks good in the reports.

According to the author, knowing what to do mostly consists of making work more difficult for prostitutes, interfereing with prostitutes, and ignoring prostitutes when they talk about their experiences. By doing this the position of the sex worker is made weaker, which makes her more vulnerable to exploitation. Our approach to trafficking seems to cause the exact problem that we are trying to fight.

Measuring wrong and having not an inkling what to do. But what should we do, then? In the third part of this series I will present concrete recommendations for how to deal with human trafficking.

Trafficking in the Netherlands – measuring well

Measuring well is knowing what to do,” is the quote with which the report from the Dutch National Rapporteur Human Trafficking begins. But to what extent does the author of the report succeed in measuring well, and with those results deciding on the correct actions? While reading the 430 page report, I noticed that these critical questions went virtually unaddressed. And they should be adressed, because the author falls short. She fails at measuring well, and she fails in knowing what to do, and she fails in realising what disastrous results her inadequate efforts have.

Sex work is legal but regulated in The Netherlands.

Measuring well is knowing what to do.

Measuring well means that you take note of and register victims of human trafficking. That you identify victims is called ‘sensitivity’ — your method of measuring is sensitive enough that it detects actual cases. But measuring well also means that you don’t incorrectly register people who are not victims as being victims. You have to be able to separate the chaff from the wheat, and that’s called ‘specificity’.

However, the author recommends in all cases to stuff more chaff in with the wheat. Particularly to register individuals as victims more frequently, regardless of if there is an indication of actual trafficking. At the same time, she acts as if the false positives (reports of suspicion of trafficking when it is not actually occurring) are not a big deal, and are comparable with the number of false negatives (no report in cases of actual trafficking). See, for example, the following graph (page 28):

This graph shows the number of false positives as being smaller than the false negatives and ‘dark number’ together, which suggests that the scope of the problem is bigger than the represented numbers. But are there really so few false positives? I was pretty shocked when I saw the following example in the report:

In the course of the controls of the so-called “risk flights” out of Bulgaria, the ‘sluisteam’ (part of the border control) of the KMar [Koninklijke Marechaussee: Royal Dutch Marechaussee, or Marshals] spoke with a Bulgarian woman. This woman has been checked multiple times by the KMar when she arrived in the Netherlands, and she indicated that this was tedious. She claims to (“still”) not have anything to do with prostitution. This time she says that she is coming to the Netherlands for 3 days to visit a number of friends.  From further observation by the KMar officers to identify a possible person picking her up it seems that the woman went to the information desk of the Dutch Railway (Nederlandse Spoorwegen or NS), then made contact with someone via a public telephone, and made contact with someone again with her mobile phone. She subsequently left the airport by train. The KMar registered the woman with CoMensha. (Page 78)

Reports of possible victims of human trafficking are registered with CoMensha, the Dutch coordination centre for human trafficking. The number of reports in the last few years has increased significantly.

What do these increases mean? Various explanations are possible. It could be that there’s more awareness in different organisations, causing more signals of human trafficking situations to be seen. Or could it be that there’s more capacity for detection, which causes human trafficking to be more visible? (Page 21)

But a very logical explanation is skipped over: we’re making reports left and right of situations that have nothing to do with human trafficking, which is making our data completely meaningless. There’s enough in the report to support this explanation: most of the ‘victims’ don’t ask for additional help and don’t cooperate with a declaration. The KMar produces some extreme statistics: only 2% of the so-called victims want help.

Admittedly, in the report there’s talk of ‘victims(P)’ instead of victims. What they mean by ‘victims(P)’ is possible victims. But, as Zondares aptly puts it: “So they say here that the numbers that the whole report is based on, and that are used as if they are the truth, don’t show how much human trafficking there is, which is what the report is about, but that it is very important, regardless.” Exactly.

Reports of suspicions of human trafficking come mostly from the police (55%) and the KMar (25%). The police file a report when 10 points are tallied on a list of signs of trafficking. You get ten points, for example, if you don’t have free access to your earnings. You also get ten points if you come from a “source country” and you haven’t arranged for your visa or travel yourself. At the same time, the KMar and the international legislations make it impossible for you as a sex worker to arrange for these things yourself, but if you get help then that’s called trafficking. In addition, many expats let their employer take care of these affairs, but this list only applies to whores, of course. It’s ten points if you don’t have your own living space and therefore sleep at your workplace. Human trafficking. Having a guard is seen as suspect, having lots of friends, too, and also having few friends. Oh, and buying new stuff is no good, together with being positive about your employer and a large circle of friends it’s enough for a report. And if an agent thinks that he “feels” that it’s trafficking then that’s also ten points.

The KMar is a completely different story. Most of their reports are done on the basis of article 273f, clause 1 preamble and bullet point 3 from the code of criminal law.

‘Guilt of trafficking is punishable with imprisonment not exceeding twelve years or a fine of the fifth category ‘[…]’ one who recruits, brings or kidnaps with intent for the other individual to make themselves available in another country to perform sexual acts with or for a third party against payment.’ (Article 273f Sr, valid beginning 15 november 2013)

This means that it is forbidden to help foreign sex workers work here. It doesn’t matter if they want to work as a prostitute, if they hire you to help them, or if you are her sister and paid for her ticket in advance, every foreign prostitute who comes to work in the Netherlands and was helped in any way is by definition a victim of human trafficking. Once again, to be clear: every foreign prostitute that received any help is, according to the law, a victim of trafficking.

In the course of the controls of the so-called “risk flights” out of Bulgaria, the ‘sluisteam’ (part of the border control) of the KMar at Schiphol spoke with a highly educated Bulgarian woman. The woman admitted during a conversation with the KMar officers that she has lived in Amsterdam since sometime in 2010 and since about then has worked as a prostitute in the Netherlands, for which she registered herself with the Chamber of Commerce. She couldn’t give her monthly earnings from prostitution, but she does report that the earnings are not much and that she has kept a written record of the precise details. She can give her expenses, which concern 1,250 euros for the rent of her house, 90 euros for the rent of a window during the day and 100 euros for the rent of a window at night. After the conversation with the woman, the KMar officers observed whether the woman would be picked up. However, this seemed not to be the case: the woman simply left the airport by taxi. She was reported for registration with CoMensha.

Because of the completely careless manner of registration it is made impossible to get a picture of actual human trafficking. Trafficking where the victims are forced to work, are held against their will, are brought over country borders against their will. We don’t know how often this type of trafficking occurs, but the author of the Dutch national human trafficking report proposes never to find out and instead to make even more wild reports.

It’s recommended that the minister of Safety and Justice requires, in the to-be-developed national referral system, that all victims known by organisations must be reported to CoMensha. Organisations that have a requirement to report must consistently comply, organisations that don’t have such a requirement should report all known-to-them possible victims nonetheless. (page 250)

It isn’t going well with the measuring, but what about with the “knowing what to do”? Read part two here.

Originally posted on Marijkes Praktijken
Author: Marijke Vonk
Translated by: Kiimara Baker

The Ew Factor in Sex Work

I get a lot of e-mail from people who need advice or have questions, and I don’t usually mind answering them. I know my way around the Dutch BDSM scene, I can point people to the right websites, and questions about sexuality don’t bother me.

Dear Marijke, my name is Mike and I have a question. I’m really into women’s underwear. I sometimes borrow my sister’s panties, it just really turns me on wearing them. Is this normal or is there something wrong with me?

See, no problem. I let Mike know there’s nothing wrong with him, it’s not necessarily normal to enjoy wearing women’s underwear but it’s a harmless fetish. And really, Mike, buy your own and don’t steal your sister’s panties, that’s not nice.

But then there’s the eh, other type of e-mail..

Dear Marijke, my name is Edward and I have a question. I’m really into women’s underwear. I sometimes borrow my sister’s panties, it just really turns my on wearing them, feeling the soft fabric on my hard, pre-cum dripping cock, smearing it all over, and the tight feeling over my balls, the softness just barely cupping them feels so hot. It this normal?

Right. Yuck. It’s obvious Edward is getting off on telling me about his fetish, he’s involving me in his sexual experience without my consent. Sometimes it seems these people actually get off on the fact that I don’t consent, like a virtual ‘flasher’. I call it the ew-factor, the feeling that a certain boundary has been crossed, something’s not right here and it’s just.. ew.

mensenhandelProstitution in the Netherlands is legal but regulated. The human trafficking myth is used to further regulate sex work, laws have been proposed to make registration of sex workers mandatory and allegations of trafficking are currently used to close down red light districts. For example, the Zandpad area in Utrecht was closed because of supposed human trafficking and will not be opened untill at least 2016 (despite sex workersprotests). I disagree with these developments, but then there’s also… the ew factor.

ICT project manager prevents human trafficking. Expert in ICT? Turn it into police work” it says on the advertisement above. You can find these posters in train stations and other public places, and it seems so voyeuristic to me. Bare legs, skimpy clothes, the suggestion of sexual violence, stereotypical image of street prostitution (actually one of the less prevalent forms of prostitution, but apparently it’s a good image).

The human trafficking myth is not just incorrect, not just used to oppress women and sex workers, it’s also very sexual. Thirteen year old girls being forced to read pornographic stories so their owners get more money, sex workers displayed against their will for abolitionists’ enjoyment and very explicit, violent and pornographic stories about horrors that might actually have occurred. It’s like they’re getting off on it. Ew factor.

It’s not right to use women and girls for your own sexual gratification without their consent. I don’t care how much of a hero you think you are, it’s not acceptable.

wietBy the way, the Dutch are making a habit of harassing adults engaged in consensual behaviour. Recreational use of cannabis is tolerated in the Netherlands, but as you can see on the left: “Software engineer rounds up marijuana grow room. Expert in ICT?”

Yeah. Ew.

The Myth of Trafficking

Originally published on Marijkes Praktijken. Author Marijke Vonk. Translated by Maartje Swart.

It’s a classic heroic tale: bad guys abduct an innocent little girl, hero barges into their lair and saves the damsel in distress. It’s the exact story that we get told about human trafficking in the sex industry. Human traffickers steal a woman away and force her to work until the heroes storm the brothel and save her. But what if the ‘damsel’ wasn’t actually in distress? What if there are no bad guys to be found? What if the heroes turn out to be the bad guys?

The rescue industry is big business. The USAID Counter Trafficking in Persons project pulled in a good 7.3 million US dollars. The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, one of the largest international organisations against prostitution, offers financing and jobs to countless projects and persons. The Dutch organisation Free a Girl raised more than a hundred thousand euro through their Lock me Up campaign, for example for the Alliance Anti Trafic, which orchestrates rescue missions in which prostitutes are taken from their workplaces and kept locked in government buildings. In itself a worthy goal, of course, trying to rescue women from sexual exploitation. But there are problems.

“It’s as if prostitutes don’t want to be saved,” said a surprised manager of a Rescue Foundation shelter in India. The rescuers had once again made a raid on a brothel, after which the women had been forced into a shelter they weren’t allowed to leave. Again and again women escaped, continually protested their imprisonment in the shelters, and returned to their old workplaces as soon as they were able to make a run for it. It was as if the women were working as prostitutes of their own accord, didn’t view themselves as victims, thought of the rescue missions as threats to their human rights and livelihoods and for the most part felt victimized by the rescue industry.

We have now reached a point in history where there are more women in the Thai sex industry who are being abused by anti-trafficking practices than there are women being exploited by traffickers.
– Thailand, Empower Report

In Thailand sex workers refusing to admit after capture that they were human trafficking victims can be detained for months so they can be used as witnesses in other human trafficking cases. They don’t have a right to legal counsel, aren’t allowed to contact their families or other organisations and aren’t allowed to leave. The medical care in such ‘shelters’ (prostitute prisons) is inadequate. There’s no independent institution where the prostitutes can complain, there’s no trial, the rescue industry gets a free pass.

In India, too, women try desperately to stay out of the rescue industry’s clutches. After women had fled the ‘shelters’ (prisons) in Mumbai once again, the High Council ordered an investigation. “The shelters are a living hell” was the conclusion. Women suspected of prostitution, regardless of whether they are guilty (or well, victimized) can be kept prisoner for years, even if they want to leave. They have no right to legal counsel because they are ‘victims’ and there’s no trial. They aren’t allowed to communicate with the world outside the shelter, although often their families are often informed they are sex workers, so that women don’t dare to go home and face this disgrace. They are fed concoctions with insects, worms and gravel in them. Sexual assault by staff members is an everyday occurence, just like forced vaginal exams and abuse. Sanitary amenities are inadequate, women urinate and defecate on the floors, there is almost no medical care. They want out. Women are depressed, fearful and even suicidal. More and more money is spent on guarding these shelters: not for the safety of the women, but to make sure they stay inside and contain the umpteenth try to break out.

Because what you need to understand is, organisations that are part of the rescue industry earn good money for rescuing and rehabilitating enough women in their shelters. The more court cases (if there are any perpetrators they are rarely convicted), the more ‘witnesses’ they ‘protect’ and the more sex workers they ‘offer a chance at a better future’ by having them make products that are sold in the Western world for big bucks (“made by disadvantaged women who were saved from the sex industry!”) the more money the projects rake in. More women means more cash.

In South Korea the bullying by the police has gotten so severe that prostitutes rather killed themselves than be ‘saved’. The United States pressured the government into making a stand against  prostitution (‘human trafficking’). Despite protests from the sex workers themselves the police kept arresting johns and pestering the prostitutes. Women used to earn about  nine thousand dollar each month, but this shrunk to a good three thousand ever since the police kept invading the brothels. The US and the South Korean government have reached their goal: women are being forced out of prostitution against their will. For 920 USD per month they are allowed to live in a shelter and work for the government, but as usual few prostitutes are happy to perform forced labor while impris… I mean, to be rescued.

RATSW: If a woman agrees to go to work in a brothel but ends up sent to a factory and forced to sew, is that trafficking? Would you rescue her?
Police: No that is not trafficking. We wouldn’t rescue her. That is called an opportunity.
Empower Report

Size of the human trafficking industry
The rescue industry claims there are millions of people all over the world, particularly women and children, who are being traded like chattel across borders to work as slaves in the sex industry. However, real proof for large-scale human trafficking operations is never found. The rescue industry claims this is because it’s a hidden and shadowy world which makes it hard to find hard data, but even big ‘rescue operations’ don’t succeed in proving the existence of trafficking. Take for instance the British project ‘Pantameter 2’, involving the police forces of the entire United Kingdom (as well as that of the Republic of Ireland and the UK Human Trafficking Centre), in which raids were performed in hundreds (hundreds!) of brothels and massage parlors. Results? No arrests. Not a single arrest was made for trafficking or forced prostitution. Zero. Nada. Dissatisfaction with this result led to the foundation of the Acumen project, explicitly designed to provide proof of human trafficking. The results were disappointing: none of the women had been kidnapped, held against her will or sold. To be considered ‘vulnerable’ in this investigation they had to fulfill one of the criteria, of which working in a brothel was one, which labeled the whole group as ‘vulnerable’. Other criteria were having an economically disadvantaged position (not speaking English, not having had an education), having a disadvantaged social position (being an illegal immigrant for example), being wrongly informed (it was sufficient if you were working in a different city than had been agreed on) or having been abused/having been forced (was found only rarely). Four of these criteria were enough to be considered a ‘victim of human trafficking’ in this report, regardless of whether you actually were a victim of human trafficking. 11% of the women included in the investigation complied to these criteria. Next, this percentage was raised considerably based on preconceptions (“this has to be too low, in reality there must be more women from vulnerable countries”) and the results were presented to the world: thousands of victims of human trafficking in the UK! They hadn’t found even one…

CoMensha is a Dutch foundation that fights human trafficking and puts out reports about the scale of human trafficking in the Netherlands. Their numbers are used by the Justice Ministry’s WODC and by the police. In their annual reports, CoMensha mentions the amount of reports they have received of possible victims of human trafficking, but for convenience’s sake, they abbreviate this structurally to victims of human trafficking. And to be clear: CoMensha does not check or investigate these reports, they are reports of suspicions.

The imprecise (and misleading) language use of CoMensha is copied without scruples by all sorts of official institutes, and this turns the reports of possible victims into actual victims. When the government ordered the Intraval agency to investigate prostitution, their report mentioned “400 victims of human trafficking” instead of the actual 400 reports of possible victims. The real problems in the sex industry are not talked about. Prostitutes in Utrecht are hindered in their work and are denied a place of business ‘for their own good’ and ‘because of suspicions of human trafficking’.  Again, the myth of human trafficking is used to put prostitutes in a more dangerous spot, to force the sex industry underground and to take away the rights of sex workers.

In the year 2000, The National Human Trafficking Reporter asked 155 help and special interest organisations how many reports they had had of possible victims of human trafficking, and simply added the numbers these organisations gave them (!) with no correction to account for doubles, then  systematically talked about ‘victims’ in the report instead of ‘possible victims’, causing news papers and other media to wrongly state that in the year 2000, there had been 608 victims of human trafficking.

In Cambodia alone there are hundreds of organisations ‘rescuing and rehabilitating’ sex workers’ and it’s suspected there are more activists than victims of trafficking. An audit by the USAID Counter Trafficking in Persons project reported that in 2009, only 12 people had been charged  for human trafficking.

The Asia-Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) reports how the rescue industry is almost pornographic in their way of using  lurid stories about sexual humiliation in order to rake in more funds, even while they have trouble finding any actual victims.is how the organisations explain this failure.

The police is often the perpetrator of violence against sex workers. In countries where prostitution is prohibited, it turns out the police is the number 1 agressor when it comes to violence against sex workers. They have the power to arrest and publicly humilate these women and this power is abused at a large scale. In Cambodia, 70% of the prostitutes who work in a brothel reports having been abused by the police and almost 60% has been raped by the police. The awful thing is, they are hardly able to report this sort of crime for fear they themselves will be arrested or abused further.

Anti-trafficking organisations have put themselves in the idiotic position where they have to use violence and human rights violations against the women and girls they say they are rescuing, so they can prove there has been a crime, in spite of the denial and the uncooperative attitudes of the alleged victims.

Sex work as a profession.
Of course, sex work isn’t always a completely free choice, often women find themselves needing to work in the sex industry because they lack other options. Research by Mai (2009) for example showed that a lot of immigrants in the UK work in the sex industry because that way they can eke out a respectable living for themselves and their families. A lot of immigrants choose sex work to avoid the abuse in other sectors, where long hours and little pay are not uncommon. Many of the sex workers in Cambodia are former seamstresses and clothing factory workers, who prefer the circumstances in the sex industry above those in other sectors.

Almost 95% of women in CSOM research reported the money they earned as the primary motivation to work as a sex worker. About 3.9% of women reported having ever been forced to work. This percentage, in this research and comparable ones, is similar to the percentage of women not in the sex industry who feel forced or abused. Furthermore, 97% (!) of women working as escorts report an increase in self confidence since they started working as a prostitute whereas only 8% of streetwalkers reports this. Another research (Decker, 1979: 166, 174) showed that 75% of escorts feel their lives improved since they started working as a sex worker, 25% says it didn’t change anything, and 0% felt that their lives had gotten worse. Australian research showed that half the protitutes considered their work as one of the major positive aspects to their lives, and 70% said they would choose prostitution again if they had to do their lives over (Woodward et al., 2004: 39).

The human trafficking myth allows governments to enforce restrictive migration laws, claiming it is to stop human trafficking but in reality mainly to stop immigration. In 2008, Cambodia passed the  Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation Law, a law financed and supported by UNICEF. This law makes it impossible for sex workers to work safely, makes almost any social or financial transaction surrounding sex work a criminal act, and has forced sex workers out on the streets. The consequences are horrendous: sex workers are being raped, abused and arrested by the police, the rescue industry keeps women locked up against their will and women have been known to die in custody.

When sex workers are considered either criminals who need to be punished, OR victims in need of rescue, the rescue industry takes away any humane option from sex workers. Take for example Project ROSE in the US, in which prostitutes have to admit that they are victims, are lectured on the evils of ‘selling one’s body’ and have to promise to give up on sex work forever or they will be thrown in prison. You’re either a filthy whore or a powerless victim, nothing else.

‘Rescue missions’ in the sex industry and laws against ‘human trafficking’ in practice make sex workers’ positions more vulnerable and dangerous. Restrictive migration laws  to fight human trafficking and laws aimed against the clients of sex workers make a protitute’s job more complicated or even impossible, forcing sex workers to take more risks to fly under the radar. For many migrant sex workers the rescue industry and their ‘rescue missions’ are a greather threat to their safety and livelihood than john or ‘pimps’.

Large organisations for the rights of sex workers, like Empower in Thailand (50 thousand sex workers) are calling out for help against anti-trafficking organisations who are slandering them, insulting them, setting the police on them, keep them imprisoned for years, forcing medical exams on them, having them follow mandatory programs and forbidding them from crossing the border.

Stop human trafficking
To stop human trafficking, first the rescue industry has to be stopped. Reducing prostitutes to powerless victims and then raiding their homes or workplaces, keeping them in shelters they cannot leave and where they are forced to work for minimal pay because otherwise they are faced with arrest or worse is HUMAN TRAFFICKING.

Sex work needs to be acknowledged as a legitimate profession, so that sex workers can be protected against abuse and violence from police and institutions. In New Zealand the laws were changed in 2003, making sex work legal. Sex workers reported feeling no apprehension about going to the police or to court to make complaints about bad circumstances. A good 60% of sex workers indicated that under the new laws, they were better able to refuse work. The research committee’s conclusion was clear: legalizing sex work improves the rights and safety of sex workers.

Only when sex workers have equal rights as people in other professions we can begin to truly combat human trafficking. When sex workers can rent a space, have an accountant, can cooperate and have rights, then we can fight injustice.  Right now, prostitutes in England sharing an apartment for work can both be arrested and convicted for ‘being a pimp’ and ‘keeping a brothel’, allegedly making the other their victim! In India, adult live-in children of sex workers are arrested for human trafficking (because they benefit financially from their parent’s income). In the US, prostitutes travelling or visiting a client together are arrested, again because they ‘victimize’ each other. If, as a sex worker, you can file a report on a bad situation without fear of being kidnapped and held by the rescue industry or arrested by the police, you can arrange so much help from within the sex industry itself. The world is in no way improved when we punish sex workers.

The real causes of human trafficking need to be addressed. Problems surrounding poverty, gender inequality, migration problems, discrimination, cultural problems and sex negativism. Human rights. But that’s not as exciting a story as 13-year old girls in a six foot square closet, so human trafficking is still being financed by us. The saviors. The good guys. It’s enough to make you cry. 🙁

In New Zealand, by the way, there hasn’t been an incident involving human trafficking since 2003.