The Booming Global Economy of Sex Slaves

Alex Jacobs

Modern day slavery exists every day, everywhere all over in the world. You may hear that there are more people in slavery, as sex workers and forced labor bondage, than at any time in history. According to the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO) 2015 report, “The Economics of Forced Labor”, the illegal profits obtained through the practice of human trafficking/sex slavery/forced labor, amount to an estimated $150 billion per year worldwide, an estimated $99 billion in the sex trade (mostly women and girls) and the rest in forced labor (mostly men and boys). The ILO report says, 20 million people are in forced labor, 4.5 million of them are in the sex trade, and another 14.2 million are forced unpaid or underpaid labor; some 59,000 of these workers are in the U.S. and 5800 in Canada. A forced laborer makes a profit of $30,000 for their owner in a developed country, compared to $4800 per worker globally; a sex slave makes their owner 10X as much as forced labor in other areas.

That’s where the current “30-35 million in slavery worldwide” number comes from, but unlike the “good old days of slavery” when apologists will give you a list of why it wasn’t that bad and actually was good for the workers, the value of slave labor was a long process over time where there was a possibility of freedom for the worker after so much “profit” was made. Today the owners get a quick and high return on their investment but can “replace” the young worker very easily and quickly. That euphemism means death, drug addiction, or abandonment and if the culture is conservative, they can be shunned, abused and never fit back in society.

As you can see that’s a pretty good way to get attention, loosen heart-strings and send money to the nearest organization that pledges another war on euphemisms. Make no mistake the problem exists all over the world, maybe near your neighborhood, maybe you purchase goods made by child labor and we all know stories of someone who was affected, missing, abducted or who survived. Unfortunately there are high-profile cases of purported sex slave survivors who have embellished their own experiences into money making ventures. Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times supported two of the biggest names until their stories unraveled, Somaly Mam whose story generated major fund-raising for her non-profits and Chong Kim, whose story was turned into the 2012 movie “Eden”. Advocates for sex workers have been exposing these scams because as marginalized members of society they suffer abuse at the hands (or the neglect) of authorities.

The ensuing moral outrage and “white panic” has resulted in conservative, sometimes repressive, legislation and law enforcement tactics. It also generates media stories, more sales and donations, and more embellishment by various government officials who use outdated or unreliable data to generate higher numbers to justify budgets. Sex workers claim they are being swept up in raids, targeted by repressive laws, and websites that advertise services are taken down, but the workers say these sites are a layer of protection and information. Part of the corruption are aid agency workers and government officials who were found trading sex for assistance or other questionable behaviors. In the U.S. recent studies state that almost 10% of all police misconduct reports are for sexual abuse, second only to excessive violence. Sex workers report that they are abused more often by the police than workers in care facilities, and even more than pimps.

You can follow the anti-trafficking, non-profit, profit-making breakdown of the top 50 charities and related issues in copyrighted stories at Truthout by Anne Elizabeth Moore, Mike Ludwig and Alana Massey here.

$150 billion is a huge amount, but authorities tie human trafficking into drug smuggling and such magic numbers are used to estimate income for illegal drugs, illegal arms trade and counterfeit goods, all unknowable. Yet in 2005, the same ILO report stood at $44 billion profits worldwide for this “industry." Perhaps they are including the fund-raising going on worldwide for “human trafficking/sex slavery/forced labor” and other euphemisms. Critics say the numbers are obviously estimates and that actual criminal and justice reports can only find thousands of reported victims. Anti-trafficking sites say many runaways and missing children are not reported accounting for missing numbers. Sex workers say official statistics merge slavery numbers with legal or accepted forms of “consensual” sex which skews them upwards.

105 years ago U.S. politicians passed the Mann Act to protect defenseless females from white slavery and threw in “for any other immoral purposes”. The FBI used the Mann Act to grow its agents in the field and political power in D.C. Current moral outrage and “white” panic seem to spur media reports, celebrity and targeted fund-raising and justify the passage of conservative, even repressive legislation. Now the recent corporate victory with the TPP legislation (passed while everyone was arguing about flags and burning churches) includes provisions that drop human trafficking to a misdemeanor, to make it palatable to the host countries and the Corporations.

Global economic slavery is just a matter of depth perception and how much light you have to shine. American workers may feel like they work for ‘slave wages’ when they see media reports on Corporate CEO’s making $30,000 -$750,000 U.S. dollars PER DAY, while they fight for minimum wage or are denied food stamps and health care coverage by many of those same executives, or by politicians with tax-subsidized health care and government officials in revolving door jobs with industries they once “regulated”. But Sex Slavery forever changes a young person’s life and while many can find opportunities to get back their self-esteem, very often society does not treat them well, and they end up in self-destructive loops. In Third World countries the police and judges still abuse them, telling them to go back to the streets to make better money, as any government subsidy is meager and the bureaucracies just don’t care. All poor countries have terrible economic conditions that the predators depend on to basically steal or buy people for profit and then discard them, and that includes poor counties in the good old USA. Along with overworked, underfunded Social Service Agencies there are group homes, professional women’s groups, ethical non-profit fund-raisers, village to market co-ops and Third World micro-loans that help many get their lives back by creating support systems.

You can check non-profits and NGO’s before you donate to any organization that uses the euphemisms: forced labor/human trafficking/sex slavery/CSEC - Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. You can even hire ex-CIA-FBI-Navy Seals to “rescue your missing children and bring the human traffickers to justice”. Part of the current climate of fear is the wife-slavery agenda of ISIS and Boko Haram and even the Taken movie franchise with Liam Neeson. We’ve all heard: “Terrorists are crossing the border bringing in drugs to pacify us, or they will kill us all, institute Sharia Law and turn everyone into sex slaves!” Now we have Jeb Bush telling those stressed out American workers with 3 jobs they need to work longer hours to remain competitive in the global marketplace. One business website has a story about the Big Money to be made at the 2016 Super Bowl and how it is targeted by traffickers, anti-traffickers and law enforcement. Slavery is now a business reported on in business journals and people are probably investing in human futures and commodities without knowing it. Or maybe they do know, it’s just called something marketable, some brand – and where does that trendy term come from?

Foster Care Children in and out of the programs are targeted by traffickers as well as non-profits raising money to place them, protect them or rescue them. Some state reports say thousands of foster children “disappear” from any contact with programs. One story linked to the U.S. Congressional Hearings on Human Trafficking in 2012, was a young girl from the West Coast, who testified: “In most of my 14 different placements in foster care homes, I was raped, and attached to a check. I understood very early that I could be raped, cared for, and connected to money. It was therefore easy to go from that to a pimp, and at least the pimp told me that he loved me.”

It doesn’t take much to apply these issues to Indian Country as Native advocates fight for the rights of Native children and women through ICWA, VAWA and MMIW. Indigenous people survived slavery on this continent and it is part of our Historical Trauma yet it continues around the world as the seamy underbelly of Corporate Globalization. Tribal, clan and mutual aid societies are natural ecosystems and offer the possibility of the “it takes a village” philosophy to take hold.

Alex Jacobs, Mohawk, is a visual artist and poet living in Santa Fe.

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Sammy7's picture
Alex, wado for walking in the lower world to learn it’s ways and bring them into the light. Your information and writing have the power to create strong emotional revulsion. We have been swallowed by a death culture of monstrous worldwide proportions. The Eagle teaches us to see into the distance and in ways that we can be a helper to bring distant images into right relationship. The Mouse teaches us to see things close around us and to help to bring those things too into right relationship. We each have individual personalities given to us by Spirit, and; each of us have differing cultures and lifeways. What appears to be a complicated path is not complicated at all. Each of us simply needs to have the courage to see the darkness, the strength to maintain hope despite it, the will to be a helper if we can, the responsibility to live in right relationship with our relatives, and the ability to pray to Spirit for guidance. The rest is up to Spirit and acceptance must be our path. What is simple is not easy, and The Red Road is a hard road to walk. Wado and tobacco prayers offered….