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”.

“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.”

Macedonia museum staff guilty of trafficking artefacts

A former director of Macedonia’s national museum and six other people have been found guilty of trafficking 162 ancient artefacts, a Macedonian court said Friday.

Pero Josifovski, who used to head the museum in the capital, Skopje, was jailed for seven years and eight months, while his accomplices – five of whom were also museum staff – received prison sentences ranging from one to seven years.

All seven accused were found guilty of stealing “cultural artefacts of great importance belonging to the state” and of “abuse of power”, the court in Skopje said in a statement. Read more.

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? 

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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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: http://zeenews.india.com/news/north-east/thai-woman-among-eight-held-in-siliguri-sex-racket_1499750.html 

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.

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.”

#SUCCESS: The Senate has finally passed a stalled anti-human trafficking bill that will increase penalties for perpetrators and support for survivors!

While we were hopeful the Senate would also pass the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act, this legislation is a step in the right direction.

LIKE to celebrate today’s bipartisan support for trafficking survivors!

Read the full story here.

Foreign journalists who write about Africa are often criticized for focusing on the bad news over the good, privileging the sensational over the everyday, even for casting the continent as a 21st century heart of darkness. It can be a valid criticism, and one that I and I think most of my colleagues take to heart. Whatever we might say about dutifully pursuing the most newsworthy stories, there is inevitably a strong degree of subjectivity, and ultimately course correction, that goes into deciding what, and what not, to cover. You find yourself thinking hard about what your readers will take away from your reporting—even if only because of their own misconceptions. And you wonder whether you’ve written too many negative stories of late and try to find some more positive ones to rectify the imbalance.

Overall, though, the bad news stories tend to win out. Violent outbreaks and kidnappings by religious extremists easily get more press than local entrepreneurship initiatives and less sensational stories, though that’s not unique to Africa; take a look at the local news in New York. Problems are more obvious than solutions. Editors play a role too. Portraits of everyday life in faraway lands draw fewer clicks than frightful tales of genocide and extreme poverty. When I first moved to West Africa to report, I made the rounds of editors in the States to gin up some interest ahead of time. I got more or less the same response from a few. “Good for you. Let us know if something blows up.” Positive stories about Africa, meanwhile, can be equally frustrating, such as the mindless bandying about of impressive GDP growth figures without heed to what those numbers mean on the ground.

I’ve felt some angst about my Madagascar reporting because I haven’t by any means struck this mythical balance. I wrote about human trafficking, child prostitution, the plague and a rather flawed election. What I thought was a reasonably optimistic story about sapphire mining in southern Madagascar got the headline, “A Cursed Land.”

Read the rest of the story and more from Pulitzer Center grantee Aaron Ross. Image by Rijasolo. Madagascar, 2014. 

Police in China are investigating the disappearance of more than 100 Vietnamese women who had reportedly been sold as wives to Chinese men. According to local news sources, the bachelors paid thousands of dollars each to a Vietnamese matchmaker who has since disappeared.

A cultural preference for male offspring coupled with China’s longstanding one-child policy have created a gender imbalance that has made it hard for some men to marry. The demand for brides has led to the growth of matchmaking services which fuels human trafficking.

Read more via BBC News