Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Over the course of history, in different parts of our world, women have been neglected and unmercifully constrained in terms of social conditions, political rights, economic opportunities and targets of inequality in a male dominated patriarch society. Till this very day the situation has not been eradicated completely as women are still victims of injustices, discrimination, physical and mental abuse, still chained behind the shadow of a man. Countries evolved, circumstances changed and women fought back and have been victorious in the battle for securing and upholding their rights in many areas and they fight still, but one thing remains unchanged: we are still a commodity to be bought and sold. Our bodies are seen as a mean to a sexual end, well before we are seen as mothers, sisters, friends, daughters and especially as human beings worth every ounce of respect and dignity. We are a commodity to be exchanged and sexually exploited in the human trafficking industry, in the era of modern slavery.
According to the Palermo Protocol of 2000 human trafficking is defined as follows: […] the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. Sex trafficking in particular, is a very lucrative and growing industry, with an estimated 99$ billion a year (table 2.8). At least 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual exploitation, forced labour and bonded labor and around two million children are exploited every year in the sex trade. Moreover, 54% of trafficking victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation, women and girls making up to 96% of victims¹. According to the 2017 ILO report of “Global estimates of modern slavery”²; Women and girls accounted for more than 99 per cent of all victims of forced sexual exploitation. More than 70 per cent of victims of forced sexual exploitation were in the Asia and the Pacific region, followed by Europe and Central Asia (14 per cent), Africa (8 per cent), the Americas (4 per cent), and the Arab States (1 per cent). Information from the IOM database suggested that the duration of exploitation was typically protracted; victims were exploited for an average of about two years (23.1 months) before being freed or managing to escape.
It is crucial that we are aware of how women/girls/children get trapped in this world of exploitation and the many factors that are involved in nurturing this lucrative industry. In critical economies, that is prevalent especially in rural areas, families either marry off their female members or sell them whether coerced, manipulated, betrayed, tricked or willing. She is regarded as a mean for survival, a source of income and more than often a burden to relieve, and unless she pays off the debt owed she is a prisoner in brothels. In troubled families where some girls are abused or in a situation in which the girl doesn’t have a chain of support system, they find themselves out in the streets and are picked up by “pimps” and forced to prostitute, otherwise they would be beaten and tortured, which happens regardless; just to keep them physically and emotionally helpless and broken. Countries that are conflict stricken, or wrecked by natural disasters, are places in which women are left exposed and vulnerable to “vultures” that prey on them and when the moment is right strike and trap them in the vicious cycle of exploitation. Countries, that decriminalize prostitution believe that it’s the right move in order to reduce the rate of sex trafficking but is having the opposite effect in order to meet the increasing demand and it renders more vulnerable trafficked women by creating barriers to seek help as what they do is considered legal. Moreover, it would be taken for granted that these women are actually in this position involuntarily either blackmailed and left without a choice. Furthermore, it creates a mindset where men believe that they are entitled to buy women and treat them as they please for their sexual needs as the law permits them to do so. According to the opinion piece of Julie Bindel written on The Guardian, “The promises from the government – that decriminalisation would result in less violence, regular inspections of brothels and no increase of the sex trade – have not materialised. The opposite has happened. Trafficking of women into New Zealand into legal and illegal brothels is a serious problem, and for every licensed brothel there are, on average, four times the number that operate illegally. Violent attacks on women in the brothels are as common as ever. “The men feel even more entitled when the law tells them it is OK to buy us,” says Sabrinna Valisce, who was prostituted in New Zealand brothels both before and after decriminalisation. Under legalisation, women are still murdered by pimps and punters […] The practice of using human bodies as a marketplace has been normalised under the neoliberal economic system. Any government that allows the decriminalisation of pimping and sex-buying sends a message to its citizens that women are vessels for male sexual consumption.”³ This underlines precisely my line of thought, and voices out my firm conviction that attention should be focused on the demand side, because the sex trafficking industry would not exist if there aren’t people that are willing to pay for it. Women of course seek sexual intimacy but they do not require a worldwide market for it, therefore a strong new consciousness should take place among society on how women are viewed and treated.
In my next article following this one, I will put excerpts of survivors stories and through their words, create awareness on the issue of sexual exploitation, the various circumstances that lead them into such a dark world and highlight the fact that sexual exploitation is real and it exists. Their full stories are found in the “Equality Now” website and most of them have bitter sweet endings, but for the purpose of this article I will highlight the brutal reality they faced before making it out.