The Crime, Motivations and Causes of Human Trafficking

I have a guest blogger today, my dear friend Rachel M. I so appreciate the way that she has turned her anger at the injustices that she observes into action. So many times we see things and are horrified by them, but then we decide that it’s too big for us to tackle and that someone else more capable will eventually come along and remedy the situation. More than her passion for social justice and her positive action, I appreciate her love for the cross and the way that she is motivated by the gospel. I’m going to let her speak for herself now!

The Crime, Motivations, and Causes of Human Trafficking

By: Rachel M

Thirteen year old Summer got invited to a party by a man and a pretty girl in Oklahoma City. The party turned out to be a truck stop where she was required to sell her body for money that went directly to her trafficker, or pimp (Tresniowski, Atlas, and Saprio 2006). When Moon turned thirteen, her virginity was sold to a Thai businessman (Jewell 2007). Twelve year old Srey Neang was sold into the sex trade from a camp for “internally displaced Cambodians” to lessen the financial burden on her parents. The female buyer promised a job as a house worker in the midst of the economic freeze that had overcome the area (Batstone 2007).The reality of this slavery is an old problem with a new name: human trafficking. The pattern of this crime is not uncommon, but growing at an enormous rate. The United States Department of Health and Human Services reports that human trafficking is the second largest crime in the world, only second to drugs trafficking (2009). This $32 billion industry claims 27 million victims worldwide (US Department of Health and Human Services 2009). The statistics reveal the staggering demand for purchased sex as the humanity of these victims is reduced to a commodity intended for temporary purchase. Human trafficking is a multi-faceted problem that must be evaluated by examining the problem, the cost and rewards of this crime, and the conditions that enable and perpetuate it.

First, to understand the motives of pimps and conditions that maintain this crime, one must explore the scope of the problem of human trafficking. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines Human Trafficking. It is broken down into three parts: criminal acts, means, and purpose of exploitation. Criminal acts include recruitment, harboring, transportation, and provision or obtaining. Human trafficking is committed by means of force, fraud, or coercion. This is for the purpose of commercial sex acts, involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, and/or slavery (Trafficking Victims Protection Act 2000: Section 103).

There are two forms of human trafficking, sex trafficking and labor trafficking, sex trafficking being the most common form, comprising 80% of human trafficking. No country is immune to this industry; America is climbing the charts of destination and production countries as it continues to feed its fetish for instant sexual pleasure, no matter the source. According to the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, 150,000 American children are forced into prostitution annually (National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Throwaway Children 2009). The average age for entering this industry in America is twelve years old. These statistics are overwhelming and they only begin to scratch the surface of the amount and extent of human beings who are held in slavery; this is only a general overview of the staggering scope of the crime of human trafficking.

Secondly, human trafficking must be examined by looking at the rewards and risks of the crime for the traffickers, or pimps. One must begin by looking at the rewards that pimps can gain from this crime. The financial rewards are obvious. With a $32 billion industry in sex trafficking, any pimp is going to gain from selling the body of a woman or child for sex. This slavery is ownership, so the victim keeps little to none of the money while the pimp accumulates all of it. One organization reveals that on average, minors are sold 10-15 times per day, six days a week, adding up to between 9,360 and 14,040 sex acts per year (Shared Hope International 2008). This many sex acts can bring in a colossal amount of tax free money. Additionally, pimps often require the women in their stall, or in their possession, to pay for expenses that they have somehow accumulated. For example, if a pimp brings a girl across a border, he will require that she pay for her transportation, if he had to provide her with false identification, she must pay for that, she must also pay for her clothing, her food, and her shelter. This task becomes impossible, however, because all the money that the victim makes is automatically handed over to the pimp. In this way, she is bound not only physically, psychologically, and emotionally, but also financially (Woolman and Bishop 2006).

Additionally, the majority of cultures that this industry thrives in values virginity. A virgin is cherished for a variety of reasons depending on the culture, such as good fortune, religious or spiritual reasons, or simply because STDs are avoided with virginity. David Batstone, in his book, Not For Sale, says that a john, or buyer, may pay $750 to spend the night with that girl, and a week later that same girl is being sold for $2.50 per session, for ten sessions a night (Batstone 2007). Therefore, virginity is a significant reward to the crime.

Conklin, in his analysis of the rewards and risks of crime, says that offenders are not only motivated by financial rewards, but also non-economic rewards. He says that offenders are motivated by a sort of high that criminal acts provoke and by the way that criminal behavior affects self concept and identity (2007). Another reward that pimps seek is the non-economic reward of power and control. Harvey Washington, a pimp from Arizona comments on his powerful ability to manipulate, saying, “With the young girls, you promise them heaven, they’ll follow you to hell.” He continues to relish in his power over his victims, “It all depends on her being so love-drunk off of me that she will do anything for me” (Urbina 2009:3).

Besides these rewards to the crime of human trafficking, one must also examine the risks of human trafficking. When the risks of a crime are low, the rewards become greater. In the case of human trafficking, the risks are sickeningly low. Law enforcement is lagging far behind in its understanding of human trafficking. Because prostituting oneself is illegal in America (except Nevada), police often arrest prostitutes without realizing that most are controlled by pimps who wait in hiding for the cash that their stall produces. 98% of women in the sex industry want to get out. Police must target the source, the pimps, and the demand, the johns, if they want prostitution to stop. This misunderstanding by law enforcement presents a very low risk to this crime. After a two year period (2001 and 2002), Chicago police gathered some discouraging statistics: 89% of the arrests were the female victims of the sex industry, 9.6% were the johns, and only a tiny 0.6% of arrests were pimps (Hughes 2005). Boston Police Department’s Sgt. Kelly O’Connell reiterates these findings, “Gangs used to sell drugs, now many of them have shifted to selling girls because it’s just as lucrative but far less risky,” (Urbina 2009:1). According to another article concerning sex trafficking at truck stops, when law enforcement or security attempt to shut down prostitution at a particular truck stop, “the pimps simply move down the interstate,” (Tresniowski et al. 2006). Additionally, in 2001, just eight years ago, pimping in Georgia was a $50 misdemeanor (Spears 2006). This fine is less than that of a parking ticket. The risks for pimps are glaringly low making the rewards great. Their profits skyrocket while they pay little to no price.

While pimps balance rewards and risks of crime, victims are sometimes forced to balance rewards and risks of involvement. The most convincing example of this occurs in countries in Eastern Europe such as Russia. The collapse of the Berlin Wall was followed by great “social dislocation and uncertainty,” (Orlova 2004:15). As the economy was forced to function on its own and people were freed from what protection they had under the Soviet Union, the country began to crumble internally. Jobs and opportunities for even the smallest amount of success became nonexistent. Therefore, women have been forced to travel outside of the walls of their cities and even countries to find work to feed their families. Outside of these protective walls, they face a world of isolation without support of family or previous social structures as they attempt to brave new cities and countries. Even when local government and NGOs attempt to alert women of the danger of being sex trafficked when traveling under the guise of work, “the poor conditions at home frequently lead even the better informed to decide to take their chances abroad,” (Orlova 2004:16). In cases such as these, women face risks in attempt to gain rewards.

Finally, human trafficking must be evaluated on the basis of causes, or “enabling conditions” (2006:387) as authors Woolman and Bishop coined. What are the circumstances that feed this crime? There are innumerable enabling conditions that contribute to the perpetuation of human trafficking, however, this paper will attempt to go over a few primary causes.

On a social level, there are many enabling conditions responsible for this crime include, but are not limited to, economic conditions, poverty, government policies, the rape culture, social dislocation, industrialization, population growth, and military conflicts, among so many others (Batstone 2007; Orlova 2004). The most prominent seem to be economic conditions, poverty, government policies, and the rape culture.

Economic conditions and poverty, as mentioned above, can be employed by pimps seeking to lure women into the sex trade. Alexandra Orlova agrees saying, “They [pimps] exploit these vulnerabilities in their recruitment methods, often by promising exactly what is most appealing to those they dupe: economic opportunity and a better life,” (2004:16). These conditions don’t just make potential victims susceptible to trafficking, but actually “propel them toward the traffickers,” (Orlova 2004:15).

Government policies also seem to be problematic in perpetuating, rather than fighting, sex trafficking. Also mentioned above, most law enforcement perceives these victims to be intruders, prostitutes, and problems. When these women are caught in prostitution, they are blamed. If they are brought from another country, they won’t have “valid immigration papers” to prove their rights, and are “constantly threatened with arrest or deportation,” (Orlova 2004:17). Because of this detrimental misunderstanding, victims avoid law enforcement and even NGOs for fear of being arrested or deported. If they do encounter law enforcement, they are hesitant to mention pimps or johns as that could continue their trouble with the law, their exploiters, and even put their family at home in danger.

The rape culture that glorifies objectification, dismembering of women, and devaluing women, notably maintains and feeds the insatiable monster of sex trafficking. For example, although John Conklin, author of Criminology, asserts that there is not a huge link between aggression and pornography (2007), many agree that the pornography significantly perpetuates the problem of sex trafficking. One study linked the aggression and pornography after a study in which 60% of men “claimed they would rape a woman ‘if there were no chance of getting caught’” (Shared Hope International 2008). In another study done focusing on the abuse of street prostitutes, 24% out of 194 women studied referred to, without solicitation, the rapists’ mention of pornographic materials. “The comments followed the same pattern: the assailant referred to pornographic materials he had seen or read and then insisted that the victims not only enjoyed rape but also extreme violence” (Silbert 1984). Even while women’s magazines such as Cosmopolitan boasts a vast knowledge of sex tips—how to know what he’s thinking during sex, how to please your man in bed, how to make him want more of you—this culture refuses to acknowledge its hand in changing sex from a gift to a commodity, and one that can be bought and sold through the bodies of human beings.

The Thirteenth Amendment in the Unites States Constitution states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude…shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction,” (United States Constitution 1865). Slavery was not abolished with the North’s Civil War victory and it is not neatly contained in third world countries. It is insatiable greed prepared to claim the lives of generations of women and children being sold as commodities, as disposable and temporal pleasures, as cheap merchandise. It is forcing itself into every country, every city, and every corner of the world. Although many criminologists classify prostitution as a victimless crime (Conklin 2007), abolitionists everywhere beg that the eyes of the world would be opened to the mass of forgotten victims left in the wake of sexual demand. As the world begins to acknowledge this tragedy, they must recognize the inconceivable scope of the human trafficking, the rewards and pleasures motivating traffickers, and the enabling conditions perpetuating this crime.

Only Jesus Christ can pull these women and children from darkness to light. Only Jesus Christ can begin to rebuild the lives that have been ripped, torn, and shredded apart. These people bear the image of the Creator. I will never be as passionate for justice as God is. I will never love these women as God can. He has given us hope because He has given us the Son, who has born every rape and every sin and resurrected, proving His sacrifice worthy. To Him we turn for hope, for rescue, for justice, and for redemption. Let us obey the call to “loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to beak every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6).

“So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the Trade’s wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for Abolition. Let the consequences be what they would, I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition.” William Wilberfoce