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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”



Sex, Race, and Criminalization

Edited by Jael Silliman and

Anannya Bhattacharjee

A Project of the Committee on Women,

Population, and the Environment


Policing the National Body


2 million women and children internationally trafficked each year into the sex industry and for labor.2 All estimates, however, are preliminary and do not include trafficking within countries. The most prevalent forms of sex trafficking are for prostitution, sex tourism, and mail‑order bride industries. Women and children are also trafficked for bonded labor and domestic work, and much of this trafficking concludes with their being sexually exploited as well.


Defining the Problem

Currently, there is an international debate about the definition of trafficking and whether to separate trafficking from prostitution. We use the definition of trafficking from the new UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime that became open for member nations' signatures in Palermo in December 2000. Thus far, the protocol has been signed by at least eighty countries.


(a) "Trafficking in persons" shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour, or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs;

(b) The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used.3


Exploitation, rather than coercion, is the operative concept in this definition. A definition of trafficking, based on a human rights framework, should protect all who are trafficked, drawing no distinctions between deserving and undeserving victims of trafficking, that is, those who can prove they were forced and those who cannot. Any definition based on the victim's consent places the burden of proof on the victim and offers a loophole for traffickers to use the alleged consent of the victim in their own defense.

Other definitions have focused on consent. However, the 1949 United Nations Convention for the Suppression of Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of Prostitution of Others, and Article 6 of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women are representative of a consensus in international law, that human trafficking is the recruitment and transport of persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation, regardless of whether or not they have "consented" to their trafficking. The new UN Protocol on the Trafficking in Persons is continuous with this international consensus.



A Global Problem

Countries as diverse as Vietnam, Cuba, and those in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union‑all beset by acute financial crises while becoming market economies in varying degrees‑are witnessing a tremendous increase in trafficking and prostitution. Mail‑order bride industries capitalize on the trafficking of Russian and Asian women, particularly to men in industrialized countries who want foreign wives they deem to be pliable and exotic.

In the Asian region alone, 200‑400 Bangladeshi women are illegally transported into Pakistan monthly and 7,000 to 12,000 Nepali women and girls are sold yearly into the brothels of India. The trafficking of girls from Nepal to India is probably the most intensive sexual slave trade anywhere in the world. In 1992, more than 62.5 percent of total "entertainers" (a code word for prostitution) in Japan were Filipino‑92 percent of them undocumented. In Asia, millions of women and girls have been led into systems of prostitution such as street prostitution, sex entertainment clubs, sex tourism, and brothels that may literally be cages or, conversely, luxury establishments. Brothels in Bombay and Delhi receive trafficked women from Bangladesh and Nepal and are often the transit point for moving women to Europe and North America.4

International women are trafficked from economically unstable countries to economically stable ones; from developing countries to industrialized countries; from rural to urban centers within developing countries; from developing countries to adjacent ones with sex industries; through developed countries and regions, such as Western Europe and Canada, to the United States; and within the United States. Both international and domestic women are domestically trafficked within their countries of destination or origin, respectively.


Trafficking Into and Within the United States

Until recently, trafficking in the United States was rarely acknowledged. It was not until Russian and Ukrainian women began to be trafficked to the United States in the early 1990s that governmental agencies and many non‑governmental organizations (NGOs) began to recognize the problem. As many critics, including ourselves, have pointed out, Latin American and Asian women were trafficked into the United States for many years prior to the influx of Russian traffickers and trafficked women. The fact that it took blond and blue‑eyed victims to draw governmental and public attention to trafficking in the United States gives the appearance, at least, of racism.

Trafficking of women into the United States by transnational sex industries is beginning to be increasingly researched, estimated numerically, and compared with the drug and weapons smuggling industry by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The US government estimates that 45,000 to 50,000 women and children are trafficked annually from Southeast Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union to the United States for the sex industry, sweatshops, domestic labor, and agricultural work.5

However, the documented incidents of sex trafficking in the United States have, until recently, been published in isolation and usually in newspaper articles following an enforcement crackdown and prosecution. These accounts have generally lacked an analysis of the structures that account for women being trafficked into prostitution, namely, the global sex industry, the subordination of women, the gendered labor market, and the multiple economic crises and inequalities that underlie women's lives.

Many factors‑including death threats to themselves and their families at home; conditions of isolation and confinement; the high mobility of the sex industry; fear of deportation; the lack of acknowledgement within many human rights and refugee advocacy service organizations who are struggling with a range of other problems; and the lack of "safe houses" and shelters‑make it nearly impossible for trafficked women to seek assistance and to testify against traffickers and other exploiters.6

Further, the limited legislation, light penalties, and long, complicated nature of investigations for trafficking convictions tend to make trafficking cases unattractive to many US attorneys, according to a recent government report.7 Additionally, the current immigration and criminal justice system in the United States is weighted against trafficked women. The current system hampers undocumented victims of trafficking from coming forward for fear of deportation and the lack of INS assurance that victims will be allowed to remain in the country if they choose.

This overview and analysis of the trafficking of women in the United States for sexual exploitation has had to rely, therefore, on indirect and secondary sources, including federal government estimates, as well as a minimal but growing body of primary sources, chief among which are interviews with trafficked women conducted by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. The authors have pieced together a composite picture of the scope and methods by which immigrant women, migrant women with temporary visas, and women lumped into the INS categories of "‑undocumented aliens" and "illegal aliens" end up exploited in prostitution in the United States.8

As for delineating the harm suffered by trafficked women, we draw from three sources: studies of prostituted women which document the health effects of prostitution including the harm from violence; the literature on the health burden of violence against women; and our interviews conducted recently with trafficked Russian women. Everything learned in this investigation of sex trafficking directs us to a policy of prevention of trafficking through alternatives for women, protection for trafficked women, and prosecution of traffickers and other exploiters.

Public health and environmental protection agencies‑once they have documented human health and environmental, threats‑typically respond with intervention and protection programs for those at risk, coupled with enforcement mechanisms to punish and deter violators. Prevention is generally late upon the scene and inadequate for the need. In documenting the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation, we have concluded that three fronts of response to this grievous abuse of human rights are equally vital: namely, investing in women's economic development and women's human rights to create alternatives for women, while exposing the sex industry and the harm to women; providing services and protection from deportation for trafficked women; and aggressively punishing the crime of sex trafficking, not by criminalizing the women but by punishing the recruiters, traffickers, pimps, and buyers.



Migration: The Nexus of Individual Necessity,

Country Policy, Post‑Colonial Development,

and Industry Opportunism

In the mid‑1990s, nearly two percent of the world's population, or about 125 million people, were international migrants, that is, people living outside their country of origin, the highest number in history. International migration in 1995 was estimated to be up to 4 million people annually, with about one‑half of these entering the United States and Canada as permanent and temporary migrants, refugees, and undocumented migrants. No one international or national data source identifies all of the people moving across national borders, but all data sources tracking refugees and migrant labor