What Should Be Done With Sex Trafficking

Jyoti Sanghera unpacks the trafficking discourse, which has become way too complicated due to involving too many actors and has become synonymous with the prostitution debate. For example, the majority of anti-trafficking laws in most countries are also prostitution laws, which seek to criminalize or regulate the sex trade. The end result leaves individuals either on the pro- or anti-prostitution side, which is only one very narrow focus of human trafficking. Trafficking and Prostitution Reconsidered: Unpacking the Trafficking Discourse by Jyoti Sanghera

Dave Feingold argues that legalizing prostitution will increase trafficking depending on how it’s done, by pointing to the Netherlands, Germany and Australia which have legalized prostitution, but have good scores on the Trafficking in Persons report. Efforts to prohibit prostitution have increased sex workers’ risk to the dangers of trafficking. Legitimizing sex work could hamper trafficking by opening establishments to inspection, allowing labor organization, and exposing underage prostitution. Feingold argues that there is little evidence that prosecutions have any significant impact on aggregate levels of trafficking. For example, prosecuting one local recruiter has little impact on the overall scale of trafficking.

In regards to the current state policy approaches to prostitution, there are the abolition, prohibition and regulation frameworks, but on the other side of the debate are sex workers, who have advocated for decriminalization. The underlying issue in weighing the different perspectives presented by liberal feminists, abolitionist feminists, neo-abolitionist feminists (such as the CATW) and various NGO groups is the forced versus voluntary’ framework and the position of consent.

Ronald Weitzer extends the discussion by analyzing activist groups for and against sex trafficking, by looking at pronouncements, movement documents, publications of government agencies and relevant legislation in order to identify and evaluate the core claims of dominant forces in the anti-trafficking campaign. Some groups think prostitution and sex trafficking should not be linked together, while others think they are one in the same, whereas “‘abolitionist feminist’ refers to those who argue that the sex industry should be entirely eliminated because of its objectification and oppressive treatment of women, considered to be inherent in sex for sale” (p. 450).

There are many faith-based organizations on the right side of the crusade including “Focus on the Family, National Association of Evangelicals, Catholic Bishops Conference, Traditional Values Coalition, Concerned Women for America, Salvation Army, International Justice Mission, Shared Hope International, Religious Freedom Coalition, and numerous others” (p. 449). On the other hand, “The premier abolitionist feminist organizations in the United States include the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), Equality Now, the Protection Project, and Standing Against Global Exploitation (SAGE), in which, “their primary concern is the empowerment of workers and harm reduction via provision of condoms, counseling, and other support services” (p. 449). The fault in the key claims put forth by either side of the debate is that it is hard to argue for or against them without hard data.

Melissa Ditmore considers the role of the UN Optional Protocol of Trafficking as it relates to issues of trafficking. The feminist response to sex work sees all sex work as a form of trafficking. The different arguments provided by the lobbying factions present during the drafting of the UN protocol, such as the Global Alliance Against Traffick in Women and the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, had very different opinions about whether prostitution is inherently trafficking in persons” (p. 111). CATW and the Human Rights Network proposed an abolitionist approach to sex work, making the sex industry more illegal, and punish men involved as clients. It is suggested that they prioritized anti-prostitution activism over human rights. These groups include prostitution and other sex work in the definition of trafficking in persons, whereas the International Human Rights Law group wanted to separate sex work and trafficking. Trafficking in Lives: How Ideology Shapes Policy by Melissa Ditmore

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