“The marketplace of victimization operates according to the economic laws of supply and demand, much like any legitimate market. As in any market, supply and demand for commercial sexual services are correlated; supply, while it can and will affect the market structure, increases to meet a growing demand for sexual services throughout the world. Evidence suggests that supply is becoming younger in response to buyers’ demands for youth due to perceptions of healthiness and vulnerability.”
DEMAND: A Comparative Examination of Sex Tourism and Trafﬁcking in Jamaica, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United States (Shared Hope International: July 2007), pg. 15.
According to at least one widely circulated study, the average age of minor’s entry into prostitution today is just thirteen years old. That means that half of these children are even younger! The United States accounts for more than 25% of the world market for “sex tourism”, quite often involving child sexual exploitation. Operations catering to these customers operate openly right here in this country.
The demand for sexual services is as old as history. The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women has tagged it “the world’s oldest oppression“. Such also was the case with the legal slave trade. That is now not only illegal, it is socially and culturally abhorrent less than a century and a half after its abolition. Yet we live in a culture where in many instances it is still acceptable to consider women as commodities that can be bought and sold. We have become so conditioned to viewing women as sexualized objects that the constant affront of using sex in every advertising medium is hardly noticed, and the lifestyle of the pimp is glamorized in many media. How can we open our community newspaper or phone directory, and not be appalled by page after page of businesses using provocative photographs to sell young girls? According to the National Organization for Women, the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services has found that ads featuring specific ethnicities or “in call only” escort services, most often have human trafficking ties. These publications promote and profit from human trafficking! Why is that acceptable?
This is not a first amendment issue. This is not political speech. It is commercial speech for an illegal product! When even the advertising for tobacco and alcohol products is severely circumscribed, why does advertising for sexual slaves get a free pass? Could it be the hundreds of thousands of dollars that these publications rake in? Is it because they charge three times the amount charged to legitimate advertisers knowing there will be no questions asked and money is no object when wrung from the bodies of girls trapped in bondage? Could it be because no one is sufficiently outraged to say “NO! Enough!”?
How can we change this cultural landscape? We are not puritans or prudes and this is not a question of religion or morals. It is an instance of illegal commerce. It is imperative that where prostitution is illegal, those laws apply equally to the customers who drive this trade and to all businesses that capitalize on it. The current policy of chiefly punishing the victims is indefensible. Court mandated ‘john schools’ for educating customers of prostitutes have been quite successful and enjoy a very low rate of recidivism. They aim to teach men to view these women as the daughters, sisters, and mothers, often driven by desperation, that they truly are. But jail time should not be reserved only for sellers, when it is the buyers who drive this demand.
The demand for cheap goods and labor is also firmly rooted in our culture and our economic system. But here all consumers of good will can exercise the power of the purse. Ask yourself not just “what is the price?”, but “what is the true cost in human suffering?” Can you really enjoy that chocolate bar knowing that the cocoa beans were harvested by kidnapped children in Ivory Coast who are beaten if they fail to labor from sunup till nightfall? Would it be worth another fifty cents to buy organic chocolate? Or Fair Trade coffee? Or union label clothing? Ignorance may be bliss… for you, but not for the victims of labor trafficking!
Ending Demand: An Annotated List of Books, Articles, Organizations, and Projects Addressing the Demand Side of Human Trafficking, Laura J. Lederer, The Protection Project Journal of Human Rights and Civil Society, Issue 5, Fall 2012. See: Bibliography, Pages 131-209
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