Sunday, November 2, 2008

Human Trafficking is Not Always a Crime

"In the first place, a persistent problem in combating trafficking is the lack of willingness of victims to report the crime. One of the reasons is the fear to be prosecuted themselves for prostitution."
(Wijers, M.,

As we come to the eves of election day, there have been more and more discussions within the online sex worker activist community regarding sex trafficking. Perhaps it is the accumulated frustrations I feel towards problematic patterns of discourse that I've noticed in this movement. Perhaps I'm just extra grumpy today.

But today, I am offended by this statement.

Now, I am not denying the fact that huge numbers of trafficked people have fallen victim to horrible violence, rape, extortion, coersion, and worse. And somethings needs to be done. Decriminalizing prostitution will remove another invasive law legislating the choices we make with our bodies, and provide another avenue of empowerment for women in trafficked situations. Hooray for that! But let's be real here - decriminalizing prostitution will not save trafficked individuals.

And anyway, who said that they all wanted to be "saved"? What if the reason human trafficking is so hard to pin down is because some of the so-called "victims" *want* to be there?

Does anyone else find this sentence offensive? The word "victim" makes me cringe in its self-righteousness. And the predictable "blame the victim" explanation to defend years of ineffective, non-productive scapegoat legislations and wasted tax dollars. Maybe the author is right - maybe it is a "lack of willingness".

And maybe that shouldn't be the problem.

The truth of the matter is that human trafficking is not always directly violent contract between trafficker and traffickee, but the fact that it is illegal makes it harder to consistently maintain a standard of safety, just like one of our arguments for Proposition K.

If you think about it, a person making the choice to be trafficked is also a person engaging in sex work. And a comrade to this struggle.

Thus, I am wary of the language we use to discuss human trafficking, for fear that it could perpetuate more stereotypical generalizations about an issue layered within the complexities of poverty, need, immigration, and consent. I feel it is especially important for sex worker activists to be conscious of these issues - as well as be able to acknowledge that our perspectives on trafficking come from a much more privileged place - when speaking about human trafficking. Because this community is, in some ways, seen as an authority at the forefront of sex workers' rights, and each of our perspectives can hold powerful influence.

With the Prop K campaign, we are experiencing first hand how difficult it is to re-differentiate the various definitions - (ie. voluntary sex work vs. coerced sex trafficking) - once they have been misguidedly clumped into one broadly overgeneralized wad of moral turpitude - Prostitution! And just like not all prostitution is bad, not all human trafficking is bad either.

And it is important to make this distinction in order to prevent the further marginalization of people (usually poor and from the 'global south'..) who choose to engage themselves in a trafficking trade when all other options for survival are no longer available to them.

Vote YES on Proposition K!

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