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Human Rights and Modern Day Slavery, Essay Example

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Words: 1977

Essay

Purpose

The purpose of the following is to investigate a global practice which may be termed a phenomenon, if only in view of what is perceived to be an age of awareness: sex trafficking, or human slavery in the form of it.  The issue is extraordinary in several ways, not the least of which is that its widespread presence defies conventions regarding basic human rights, and governmental responsibilities in protecting them, more emphasized today than ever before.  The world is, as is frequently noted, an increasingly interactive arena; nations come together for commercial reasons alone in ways unthinkable only decades ago, and this then would appear to further cultural understanding and better affirm universal standards regarding human rights.  Nonetheless, the actual selling and transport of primarily women for the purpose of profit through sex markets is very much a part of this international commerce.  The insidious nature of the activity renders actual figures difficult, but a 2009 estimate assesses profits from the crime in excess of $36 billion annually, as it is also estimated that upwards of four million women and children are sold in the fashion every year (McCabe, Manian, 2010,  p. 1).  Circumstances vary somewhat, but these victims typically are forced into pornography and/or prostitution, the latter including military, spousal, and sex-tourism varieties.  It may well be that no greater outrage confronts the modern world, and the intrinsic human rights abuse perpetuated by sex trafficking demands both analysis and address.

Information

As noted, exact figures reflecting the reality of sex trafficking are hard to come by, a reality exacerbated by regional factors.  It is known that this form of human slavery is common in Africa, for example, and that approximately half of Africa’s nations are identified as countries of origin for various forms of human slavery export, including sex traffic.  It is ironic, but what typically places Africa in the headlines – natural disasters, military coups, extreme deprivation, etc – is precisely what both enables sex trafficking and obscures the gathering of information of it (McCabe, Manian, 2010,  p. 11).  What is absolutely known is that tens of thousands of African women and children are sold into sex markets outside of the continent annually, essentially because their living conditions render them particularly vulnerable.  Moreover, the African circumstances indicate patterns in human slavery of this type that have international parallels; more exactly, how each region and nation operates goes to how it enables sex trafficking. In Canada, for instance, Aboriginal girls are routinely sold for sex in the Northern provinces, and in ways reflecting both cultural norms and commercial interests. It is noted that, as these girls are seen as low in the culture’s caste, they are actually inculcated into selling sex by male family members.  Then, they are placed and exploited where the demand is highest, as in the mining and lumber industrial areas of Saskatoon and Alberta (Territo, Kirkham, 2009,  p. 31).  These are cycles of slavery long in place, and somewhat ingrained within the nation’s industrial existence.

In Europe, while acknowledging that statistics vary widely, it is observed that the trafficking of women also follows a pattern, as women from depressed, Eastern European nations are coerced into prostitution in Western European regions.  In these scenarios, the common practice is to entice young girls with promises of legal employment not available in their native countries and, upon the transport of them, remove their passports and place them in brothels.  One estimate from the European Union in 2003 asserted that Balkan criminals were victimizing 200,000 in this way but, again, actual facts are unknown (Territo, Kirkham, 2009,  p. 89).   In Asia, there can be no real understanding of the degree of trafficking largely because China itself is only beginning to address the reality of it.  It is known, nonetheless, that U.S. military bases in South Korea continue to serve as “trading posts,”  wherein girls from multiple Asian nations are made to offer sex in Korea or transferred to massage parlors and pornography companies in the U.S. (Territo, Kirkham, 2009,  p. 195).   The underground nature of this international trafficking of human beings must render information problematic, yet it also serves to reinforce the omnipresence of the practices which, as noted, are seen as increasing globally.

Assumptions

A prevalent assumption held, and one at least marginally supported by research, is that there is a significant “gray area” in regard to involuntary and voluntary participation of women thus sold.  One study presents that the vast majority of a collection of Vietnamese women understood that, in being transferred to Cambodia, they would be prostitutes.  European studies reveal similar findings, as most of one group of Eastern European were no coerced to migrate, but willingly entered Holland to become prostitutes (Weitzer, 2007, p. 453).  The field of inquiry into sex trafficking has taken, in fact, something of an altered approach, and there is a growing emphasis on altering the discourse away from ideas of victims as helpless and naïve (Breuil, Siegel, Van Reenen, Baier, & Roos, 2011,  p. 32).  In basic terms, even as cultures seek to identify and eradicate sex trafficking, there remains a form of opposition generated by feminist or humanist perceptions.  It is asked, then: are societies demonizing those who recruit women for sex industries because the societies find it unacceptable that a woman would consent to working within them?  A rising number of voices are, in fact, asserting assumptions that antiquated moral ideologies are greatly going to the actual creation of sex trafficking, in that these ideologies construct the practices as morally wrong and criminal.  Such opinions insist on the lack of empirical data as reason to assume that many girls and women are not victims:  “Instead of viewing themselves as ‘prostituted,’ they may embrace more neutral work identities, such as ‘working women’ or ‘sex workers’”  (Weitzer, 2007,  p. 453).

The other prevalent assumption, not unexpectedly, goes to demanding governmental and societal response to what is irrefutably a criminal act, in the form of any deception or coercion used to place women in sex markets.  The  United States’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act  (TVPA) of 2000 was and is a measure reflecting this assumption, in that it goes to decriminalizing the prostitution and pursuing those responsible for acquiring the women involved.  Nonetheless, it is also widely felt that the TVPA and measures like it are intrinsically restrained.  They offer civil rights protections to women coerced or sold into sex markets, but the record of “rescues” is not impressive (Dalrymple,  2005, p. 454).  Not surprisingly, it is believed these enactments fail for the same reason statutes in place to protect battered women fail; they do not address the extremity of the circumstances, which typically inhibit the victim from seeking aid.  Ultimately, then, this is the assumption that views sex trafficking at its most insidious and dangerous, which translates all the more to women being completely victimized by, not only the “employment” forced upon them, but by the forces compelling them into it.

Implications and Consequences

While it may appear that the modern presence of human slavery in sex trafficking defies modern conceptions of universally agreed-upon standards of human rights, the reality of the trade points to it as something of a consequence of modernity itself.  Sex trafficking globally has consistently increased since industrialization began occurring in developed or developing nations, and this is hardly coincidental.  With industrialization comes urbanization, and massive displacements of people from rural regions into tightly-packed environments where there are few ties of kinship, which translates to a form of protection.  Added to this are the elements of a vast population rise internationally, which limits ordinary resources for working people, and modern technology and transport that enables more covert transfers of human beings (Dalrymple, 2005, p. 458).  Essentially, a consequence of sex trafficking is how it is perpetually sustained by the complex societies that, indirectly or otherwise, enable it.  As seemingly removed from ordinary culture as the practice is, it nonetheless reflects a variety of societal concerns, which in turn may abet it.  For example, the increase in restrictions on immigration policies, in the U.S. and elsewhere, actually appears to expand the market for sex trafficking, in that those victimized by it view it as their only recourse in escaping unlivable conditions (Zheng, 2010,  p. 7).

All of this presents a distinct implication, and one not particularly elevating the state of modern humanity or conceptions of civilization.  No matter the moral view taken of the subject, the inescapable reality remains that it is, first and foremost, a commercial enterprise.  No girl or woman would be forced or persuaded into selling sex by anyone if there were no profit to be made.  Consequently, as all societies exist on some platform of commerce, and as sex is a desirable commodity to many, a market exists and, as with other illicit markets, there will always be those willing, if not eager, to exploit its profit potentials.  The implication, then, creates another, and one equally irrefutable.  Given these pragmatic factors, only the intervention of the authorities of societies may lessen or eliminate the traffic.  This may be achieved through criminal justice resources, through gradual cultural shifts eviscerating the profit factor by means of changing the inherent status of girls and women, or both.   However it may occur, the reality remains that it can only do so through an immense focus on the parts of societies and governments themselves, and only when those societies deem it essential to do so.

Point of View

It is inevitable that some degree of morality influence any examination of sex trafficking, if only because sex as a merchandised commodity is, in most cultures, something of an issue.  As has been noted, this moral influence may be employed to lessen ideas of actual criminality, as there is also evidence that some women are not forced into sex markets.  Certainly, there have always been women and men who have elected to sell sex, just as there have always been issues within nations regarding unwanted levels of immigration.  It is all the more critical, however, that all such considerations be seen as what they are: removed from the subject of sex trafficking itself.  On one level, it is specious to argue that many women “choose” prostitution because it empowers them; the far more likely reality is that the work, when chosen, is done so because it is perceived as an only avenue to survival, and it is ethically and intellectually irresponsible to ignore this likelihood.  Then, there remains the most crucial element of all, in that attaching a price to a human being based upon the exploitation of that human being’s body, attained through any level of manipulation or coercion, is universally abhorrent to all civilized societies.  The horrors of the realities of such victimization aside, this is as gross a breach of human decency as may be imagined.  In no uncertain terms, the trafficking of human beings in sex markets is a savage and barbaric practice, and no culture that deems itself humane may refrain from doing its utmost to end what is a vile mode of human slavery, and an ultimate degradation of human rights.

References

Breuil, B. C. O., Siegel, D., Van Reenen, P., Baier, A., & Roos, L. (2011).  “Human Trafficking      Revisited: :Legal, Enforcement and Ethnographic Narratives on Sex Trafficking to Western Europe.”  Trends in Organized Crime, 14 (1).  30-46.

Dalrymple, J. K.  (2005). “Human Trafficking: Protecting Human Rights in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.” Boston College Third World Law Journal, 25 (2).  451-473.

McCabe, K. A., & Manian, S. (2010).  Sex Trafficking: A Global Perspective.  Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Territo, L., & Kirkham, G.  (2009).  International Sex Trafficking of Women and Children:Understanding the Global Epidemic.  New York: Looseleaf Law Publications, Inc.

Weitzer, R.  (2007). “The Social Construction of Sex Trafficking: Ideology and Institutionalization of a Moral Crusade.”  Politics and Society, 35 (3).  447-475.

Zheng, T.  (2010).  Sex Trafficking, Human Rights and Social Justice.  New York: Taylor & Francis.

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