Watch on

"Pimp-led prostitution is one of the most violent and prolific forms of trafficking found in the US, with hundreds of thousands of women sold annually for commercial gain. Many are branded with tattoos by their traffickers as a sign of ownership and control. After experiencing such an ordeal in Columbus, Ohio, Jennifer Kempton founded Survivors Ink, a grassroots project that helps formerly trafficked women to cover up their branding with their own symbols of hope and recovery." - via The Guardian 

For many years in the northern most part of the Vietnam, there have been mysterious disappearances of thousands of girls. Since 2008 in Lao Cai, 78 Hmong girls between the ages of 14 and 18 have gone missing. The Hmong have a cultural practice of Hmong boys “kidnapping” Hmong girls to take as their bride. Traditionally, when a Hmong girl disappears, the family assumes they will hear from the Hmong family that has taken their daughter within the next 3 days, so they generally do not report that anything is amiss until the traditional three days have passed.  At that point, it will have been too late for the girls who had instead been taken by traffickers to be sold to Chinese men.
The Vietnamese government have tried to spread the word among the Hmong community, warning them not to mistake missing girls as brides taken by another Hmong clan, but instead, she may have been taken as a victim of human trafficking. Trafficked Hmong girls is becoming a huge problem in the last few years, and the Vietnamese government is powerless in their abilities to stop it. Poverty and poor awareness levels make Hmong girls prime bait for the traffickers.
Everyday the Hmong men cry and pray for their wives and daughters back. Hmong men never cry, but when asked about the disappearances, they begin to weep. 

Sex work vs migrating to work in the sex industry under whatever conditions possible vs coercion/ rape

I see a lot of people say this and I’ve been guilty of it too: that sex trafficking is not sex work, it is rape.  In the current legal climate, and more importantly, in the current global conversation about sex trafficking, where definitions of “trafficked” have changed from “illegally move across borders” to “anyone who sells sex” it’s hard to talk about this stuff accurately, even harder when there’re groups of people waiting to use anything negative you say against you in their endless and endlessly tedious quest to put you out of existence, BUT!  let’s try. 

A lot of sex workers who are described as “sex trafficked” are still actually sex workers.  They were sex workers prior to migration, they were aware that they would be doing sex work after migration, and they agreed to do sex work after migration. Coercion may or may not be an element here: some people engaged in moving laborers across borders do use coercion at the destination and some don’t.  This gets even more confusing when you remember that a woman was arrested for “trafficking” herself when she exchanged sex for a tattoo This case is an example: 

They’re using the language of trafficking here, but it must be the old definition, as the women obviously have freedom of movement. 

On the other hand, the man who kidnapped 12 women and kept them locked in his house and raped and abused them?  That’s definitely rape.  If he was transporting them all to hotels and accepting money in exchange for sex with them, that fits all definitions of trafficking and is rape. Are they sex workers?  Was Jaycee Dugard a sex worker?  We didn’t use this language as much when she was found, and I doubt it would have been used: too stigmatising of the already traumatised pretty white girl. Was Elizabeth Smart sex trafficked, or raped and abused? 


Many people who are trafficked for nonsexual labour (domestic or agricultural) are kept imprisoned and unarguably coerced and abused, but there’s no salaciousness to that narrative, nothing titillating. I mean they’re poor and brown, right?  who cares.

Kim Love: …I’ve had them put me in a shock holdin’ cell, and I told them I did not want to be there. They told me that’s gonna be your husband, and that’s where you’re going to be and you’re going to love him. And I did my time with him…Without the sexual tension being brought down, the prisoners would probably overturn that place. Because there’s more prisoners than there is COs. They use us.

…As Kim Love’s experience shows, it is a prison industrial complex norm to use women’s bodies in unsafe ways to pacify male inmates. The prison staff and the PIC create sexually opportune environments (e.g., cage women in the same cells as straight men), coerce women into having unsafe sex with their cell-mates because there are few if any barriers for the sex acts, then validate the sexual roles with toiletries or medical favors (exchange of goods or services).

Forced boarding by a third party for sexual contact, or in prison “V-coding,” on the streets would be seen as pimping, as Kim Love called it. The placement of such coercion inside of prison, however, serves to locate pimping as a central part of a transwoman’s sentence. Most acts performed by prison staff, violent or not, are unfortunately upheld as the norm of prison culture. The vision of “sexual tension being brought down, to where there’s no sexual tension—they would probably overturn that place” screams to Love’s understanding of prison staff using her body to pacify her “husband.”

…Emmet Pascal witnessed many women attempting to resist or refuse being “V-coded,” but guards only turn a blind eye. The refusal of prison guards to acknowledge such violence (deliberate indifference), if not to directly coerce it, places the guards in a pimping position. Legal definitions of pimping consistently include intentionally inducing another to become a prostitute or soliciting a patron for sex acts with the sex provider. At what point do prison staff members receive such direct immunity from pandering or procuring customers (“husbands” or men they want to silence) for a sex act?

In an equally abusive placement, gender-variant women are being V-coded close to the end of their sentences. This location works to keep women incarcerated because if they defend themselves against rape or other violence that occurs with their “husband” or cellmate, it is common for them to be charged with assault then placed in the “hole.” The assault charge then shreds the previous parole possibility or release date.

"No One Enters Like Them: Health, Gender Variance, and the PIC" by blake nemec in Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex, ed. by Nat Smith and Eric A Stanley

Where are anti-trafficking activists when it comes to activism against trans women being trafficked like this in prison? Of course, without even going into how many of them are terfs, anti-traffickers would never side with prison abolitionists, seeing as how their carceral/governance feminism is about direct support of the prison industrial complex.

"My parents sold me for $800 when I was 9 years old. A family in Johor bought me to work on their rubber plantations. It was difficult work for a child. And once I even got injured. But they didn’t give me proper medical care so my leg never healed properly.

By the time I was 11, I couldn’t take it anymore because they beat me. So I ran away. I knew that if I followed the railway track, it would lead back to Singapore. So I walked along the track and managed to find my way home. After that, my parents returned the $800 to get back my birth certificate.

But they were still poor so they sold me again - for $880 this time. I was sold to a temple in Malaysia. I did cooking and cleaning at the temple… But there was trouble at the temple and eventually I had to leave when I was 17. Again I found my way back to Singapore.

When I got home, I opened a business tailoring clothes. I was never trained but I’d seen the tailors working in the streets and figured it out. I had lots of business.

That’s how I met my husband. He came to the shop one day to tailor a jacket and later he asked me out…

I suppose my childhood was quite hard. My reading and writing is not so good because I couldn’t go to school all those years. And there were some hardships. But now I have a good life. I have three grown children and my husband is always with me. We are very happy.”

If we ignore the evidence for the structural inequalities of sex, race, and class in prostitution and if we ignore the clear statements of women who tell us that they want to escape prostitution, then we end up in a postmodern neverland where liberal theory unanchored to material reality frames prostitution as a problem of sexual choice, workers’ rights or sex trafficking as an immigration problem. Prostitution is the international business of sexual exploitation. Describing the strategic focus on sex buyers, a Swedish detective said, “trafficking is a business, we try to destroy the market.” Yes.
—  Melissa Farley, “Prostitution, Liberalism, and Slavery”.
Each act of violence that has been made visible as a result of the
women’s movement—incest, sexual harassment, misogynist and racist verbal abuse, stalking, rape, battering, and sexual torture—is one point on prostitution’s continuum of violence. This violence is denied by liberals who support prostitution as a choice made by consenting adults. Liberal sex business apologists declare that opposition to trafficking is “sex-slave panic,” and that since many trafficking victims knew they would be prostituting, they therefore
consented to trafficking.
—  Melissa Farley, “Prostitution, Liberalism, and Slavery”.

Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry released the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report, which measures and grades the efforts governments are making around the world to crack down on human trafficking. Thailand and Malaysia are among 23 countries to receive the lowest ranking, putting them on par with Iran, North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Zimbabwe. Where does your country rank? 

"The campaign simply and effectively capture’s India’s most dangerous contradiction: that of revering women in religion and mythology, while the nation remains incredibly unsafe for its women citizens. Last year alone, 244,270 crimes against women were reported in the country."

India’s “Abused Goddesses” Campaign: 

Cold-blooded reptile smugglers feel the heat: Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement Agents break up international animal trafficking ring

Nathaniel Swanson thought that he had it all figured out. His Everett, Washington reptile store provided the perfect cover. His contacts in China were trustworthy and reliable. His customers were discreet. He had a system, a ring of effective black market animal traffickers that brought him hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal profit. But one moment of laziness on the part of his Hong Kong partners, one alert delivery service package handler, and timely intervention by the Fish and Wildlife Service’s special agents brought his ring down. His illegal wildlife trafficking activities cost him a year of time in prison and tens of thousands of dollars in fines and penalties.  


Wood turtles, threatened in the United States, were among the reptiles sent to China by Swanson’s smuggling ring. Credit: Colin Osborn/USFWS

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On capitalism and coercion

Are trafficking, slavery and forced labour actually necessary for maintaining liberal capitalism?

Apr. 18 2014

Slavery, trafficking and forced labour are crimes which sit at the far end of the labour exploitation spectrum. As Bridget Anderson observes, they are to “badness” what apple pie and motherhood are to “goodness” - that is, just as we all know that apple pie and motherhood are “good”, so everybody knows that these three are “bad”.

And by any measure, they’re getting worse. Barely a day passes without stories of trafficked women here or child slaves there. Governments all over are passing laws, NGO interest is exploding, films such as 12 Years A Slave are mobilising the media, and more people are either being exploited or are in sufficient precarity to be attuned to that exploitation.

Yet there are major problems with this trend. Although exploitation merits our attention, the contemporary focus on its extreme forms obscures far more than it reveals. By concentrating on extremes which are considered to lie outside of the liberal capitalist system, we are in fact led away from a discussion as to how liberal capitalism is itself responsible for these extremes, and for the wider exploitation and dispossession of which they are but the worst manifestations.

In what follows, I wish to make the case, therefore, not only that we must be more critical when thinking of trafficking, slavery and forced labour; but that, conceptually and politically, we would do well to understand these apparently “outside-of-the-system” extremes as systemically necessary to the maintenance of liberal capitalism itself.

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Ali was soft spoken and only shared his story of broken dreams in broken English, bit by bit. He arrived from Pakistan 10 days ago looking forward to his new job.

"I paid the agent Two Lakh. About two thousand Singapore dollars. And my airfare. But when I got here, the agent disappeared. There was no job. So I have to go home. Soon."

"Do you have a ticket home?"

"No. That’s why I am selling tissues. To pay to go back."

"Do you think you will earn enough in time?"

"In shaa Allah."