Editorial: Review of Radio Broadcast on Global Trafficking of Women
(from Beijing '95 newsgroup, posted by Carol Leigh)

What the Voice of America Report on Trafficking of Women omits is that women who want to travel and do sex work are dependent on black market traffickers. A large portion of exploitation and abuse of prostitutes and 'trafficked women' takes place because women are forced to rely on exploitative persons in order to travel, migrate and engage in prostitution.

A serious problem with 'anti-trafficking' rhetoric is that it belies an avoidance of the acknowledgment that some women travel to do prostitution without being tricked, or kidnapped, and that we should not be rallying to deport them. Nor should any prostitute have to claim that she was forced in order to gain asylum, which is a result of even the most humane of anti-trafficking proposals.

Current laws against trafficking in the US, for example, make the INS responsible for protecting immigrant women!

While people cry out to punish traffickers, poor women are stuck making twenty dollars a night in some countries when they can earn several hundred in another country.

Meanwhile men from the US, for example, freely go to countries with sex tourist industries without even needing visas, while women from these countries aren't given a visa to enter the US, and are doing the same acts with Americans in the woman's country for a fraction of the money.

This is not to ignore the realities of the other portion of persons who are kidnapped, tricked, sold and otherwise forced into prostitution. Of course we need to outreach to these populations (and provide alternatives besides deportation!) Alternatives include laws against abuse and exploitation in the context of trafficking, not laws against trafficking, per say (as a trafficker is defined, even in relatively progressive contexts, for example, as one "... who undertakes any action which he or she knows or could reasonably suspect, may bring the other into prostitution..."

Women and prostitutes often communicate, advising and assisting each other with travel arrangements, and prostitutes who travel should have the right to equitable travel assistance. Prohibiting consensual arrangements in the context of trafficking is much like prohibiting prostitution. These laws take aim at exploitation of immigrants, in general, by attacking the support systems for immigrant prostitutes.

The solution to exploitation of women based on imperialism and exploitation of the economies is economic equity, and women's rights. If consensual prostitution for immigrants as well as natives is decriminalized, there is far less room and impetus for those who kidnap and extort women. It is always easier to fight abuse in less marginalized communities.

Even in countries in which prostitution is less criminalized, prostitution by immigrant women is still a crime. Prostitutes rights organizations oppose the criminalization of immigrant sex workers.

What can women in the US and other wealthier countries do?
1) Demand that our sisters in poor countries women be allowed to travel and migrate freely, including sex workers.
2) Support a global pay scale, global minimum wage, etc. so that women have other options.
3) Provide support services to those who have been forced into prostitution.
4) Provide support to, and acknowledge the circumstances of, those who may have voluntarily agreed to work as prostitutes, but who face exploitative conditions.

Certainly more violence against sex workers and coercion takes place within our imperialist economic system. However, people should realize that more emphasis on enforcement of laws against people who bring sex workers in is not the answer. Enforcement should be against traffickers who are brutal or exploitative.

As far as I am concerned, it is not morally wrong, nor should it be criminal, to arrange for a women to travel to work as a prostitute. It could be a service that could be offered in a safe, non-exploitative way.

What right to we in the US have to tell poor women in countries which we exploit that they aren't allowed to come to the US to work as prostitutes? And that we support arresting anyone who helps them come here? It's obvious that the more corrupt and sinister the traffickers are, the better they will survive in such a system.

This also means that women who travel on the black market will be under more pressure to pay traffickers more money. Already the contracts are for exorbitant amounts. Mostly scare tactics and some violence is currently used in this country to collect the money. More violence will be applied as a result of the anti-trafficking fervor. The prostitutes will feel the brunt of this classist solution.

Why do the anti-traffickers only speak of the ways to inhibit the travel, and never of a plan to allow more visas for women to travel to this country?

In addition, by not criminalizing those who practice prostitution and travel, it will be easier to secure the trust of women who will be able to report the abuse of traffickers. In the current situation, if one is working as a prostitute, one would choose not to report abuse from any party, because you could lose an income.

I believe that the reason this is rarely discussed in the context of trafficking is that many women are deeply opposed to prostitution. To me it seems highly unfair to poor women to pass or enforce laws and policies against sex-for-money. It is fair to be vigilant against those who are violent and abusive to prostitutes.