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Archive for April 11th, 2013

If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.  –  William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night (III,iv)

The moral panic over human trafficking has grown more aggressively than most; in its earlier form, the Satanic Panic, it only barely got out of the United States.  But once the cultists metamorphosed into “criminal gangs”, two powerful and wealthy types of organizations recognized that the hysteria provided the perfect plot for media theatrics designed to disguise sleazy agendas which might have mobilized considerable resistance had they been openly revealed.  The anti-sex cabal of neofeminists and evangelical Christians use “trafficking” as camouflage for an anti-whore crusade, while governments use it as an excuse for tighter controls on immigration; the net result is an awful lot of money being invested into dramatic displays, and an awful lot of disinformation being spread through official channels, while real victims of exploitation are ignored.

Dudley Do-RightIn the US, “human trafficking” is practically synonymous with “sex trafficking”; though lip-service is paid to the existence of other forms of exploitation, virtually all of the money, manpower and press coverage is devoted to “sex trafficking”, which bogus statistics declare to be the most common form (with claims ranging from 60% to “almost all”, despite the insistence of other reports that it’s more like 10%).  This is due partly to the fact that most of the money either comes from or flows through prohibitionist organizations, and partly because sex sells in the media.  But there’s another, more sinister and far dirtier reason why so much attention is paid to whores who are not “enslaved” in any reasonable sense of the word, and so little to people who are clearly coerced and exploited:  modern Western economies depend upon dirt-cheap labor, so by harassing harlots they can make a great and entertaining show of “doing something” about exploitation while yet ensuring that the vegetables get picked and the garments get made.  Americans in particular leer over lurid accounts of “child sex trafficking” which is so rare as to be almost nonexistent, while ignoring widespread and pervasive sexual abuse among women who, if they were sex workers, would be called “trafficking victims”:

The majority of women farmworkers interviewed…by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Human Rights Watch had experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault, which ranged from verbal abuse to rape.  One…study…estimated that as many as 80 percent…have been sexually harassed or assaulted on the job…Women make up slightly more than 20 percent of U.S. farmworkers, and of these, the majority are immigrants from Mexico.  Women become migratory workers for the same reasons men do—in many cases, to escape rural poverty…“Generally, [the perpetrator] will have some kind of legal immigration status,” says Liz Maria Chacko, a supervising attorney at Friends of Farmworkers in Philadelphia.  “This gives them power over their victims”…lack of fluency in English makes the women even more vulnerable.  Their immediate supervisors, who tend to be their harassers, also tend to be bilingual.  If a woman complains, the perpetrator can directly present his case to the farm owner in English.  The woman who’s been victimized cannot…Chacko says owners often react defensively to accusations of harassment.  “The response we get is usually denial”…Women who are the victims of serious crimes, including rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment, are eligible to apply for a U-Visa.  But in order to qualify, they must cooperate with law enforcement—and thus risk deportation…

And when the US government itself is the “trafficker”, it’s even worse:

Alleging unpaid wages and repeated retaliation, McDonald’s workers in central Pennsylvania launched a surprise strike [on March 6th]…The strikers are student guest workers from Latin America and Asia, brought to the United States under the controversial J-1 cultural exchange visa program…[which] is officially intended to promote educational and cultural exchange.  But advocates allege that J-1, like the other guest worker programs that collectively bring hundreds of thousands of workers in and out of the United States each year, is rife with abuse…According to [National Guestworker Alliance (NGA)] the visiting students each paid $3,000 or more for the chance to come and work, and were promised full-time employment; most received only a handful of hours a week, while others worked shifts as long as twenty-five hours straight, without being paid overtime.  “Their employer is also their landlord,” said [NGA Director Saket] Soni.  “They’re earning sub-minimum wages, and then paying it back in rent” to share a room with up to seven co-workers.  “Their weekly net pay is actually sometimes…as low as zero”…management required [them] to be on call twenty-four hours a day, ready to show up for work at thirty minutes’ notice, and…workers have been subject to threats and retaliation for speaking up or turning down work.  [Striker Jorge] Rios said that…“they actually threatened one of our roommates by saying that they’re just a call away from sending him back to his home country”…

McDonald's BeijingLet’s see now; we’ve got people being misled about the conditions under which they’ll work, then paid starvation wages that are docked for “fees” so they can never get clear, and threatened with deportation if they complain…sound familiar?  Yet Nicholas Kristof, Polaris Project and the other “rescuers” who purport to care so much about victims are mysteriously silent on the issue, probably because they’re too busy trying to get sex workers and our clients arrested and our faces splashed across TV screens from coast to coast.  This is hypocrisy on an epic scale; either governments need to start paying attention to real labor exploitation (most of which doesn’t involve sex work) and cease harassing those who neither want nor need their “help”, or else drop the whole pretense and admit their real and ugly motives for funding “anti-trafficking” theater instead of simply ensuring the rights of all people, whether native or migrant.

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