5 Major Human Trafficking Controversies

peosphotoby Amanda Kloer

Abolitionists around the world may have won the moral argument that slavery and human trafficking are morally wrong and should be abolished, but there are still a number of controversies around how that goal should be accomplished.  This list outlines five of the biggest controversies in the modern-day abolitionist movement.

1. The Legalization of Prostitution

The issue of whether or not legalized or decriminalized prostitution increases or decreases sex trafficking is one of the most hotly contested issues in the field.  Proponents of legalizing or decriminalizing (which are two different policies) prostitution argue that regulating the industry will make it safer for women.  In theory, when women in commercial sex are registering and paying taxes, there is less opportunity for pimps and organized crime to exploit them.   

However, a great deal of research and interviews with women in prostitution show that (just like Communism and lycra), legalization of prostitution is a better idea in theory than in practice.  One of the best examples of this is Amsterdam, which has had a legal commercial sex industry since 2000.  The city has grown as a sex tourism destination, and entrepreneurial human traffickers have tricked, coerced and forced more women and children into the Red Light Districts in order to meet a growing demand.  For the past couple years, Amsterdam has begun to acknowledge that legal prostitution has increased crimes from human trafficking to drug use as is starting to rethink the policy.  In the end, an overwhelming amount of research shows where there is legal or decimalized prostitution, there are high rates of sex trafficking.        

2. Media Attention

Over the past few years, the mainstream media has been paying more attention to human trafficking issues than ever before.  This (like a lot of attention) is a two-edged sword. 

Pros of Media Attention

Broader awareness of human trafficking among would-be activists

– Increased donations to abolitionist groups

– Higher rates of victim identification by citizens and law enforcement

– Increased pressure on governments and businesses to improve practices

Cons of Media Attention

Issues become sensationalized

– Coverage focuses primarily on trafficking into prostitution; ignores other forms of trafficking

– Creates stereotyped images of trafficked persons 
Overall, the media has at least tried to be a good friend to the abolitionist movement, even if they occasionally stumble. 

3. Demand

Modern-day slavery, like historic slavery, is at its core an issue of money and economics.  While there are a number of factors which advance trafficking (poverty, lack of education, etc.), traffickers can make money selling people because there is a demand for their product.  There is a demand for cheap or free labor to keep down the prices of goods and services.  There is a demand for commercial sex.  If this demand went away and traffickers could not longer make money selling people, they would stop trafficking. 

So who are these nameless, faceless “demanders” out there?  Sadly, they are us.  It’s a controversial statement which many people don’t want to face, but we (and I include myself in this we) are the root cause of modern-day slavery.  We demand the cheap plastic crap from China and the Philippines.  We’re the ones who refuse to pay more than $4 for a container of strawberries.  We watch the homemade X-Tube movies and go to the strip club.  Even if we are not actually holding a slave in our homes, we are lining traffickers’ pockets.  But since we cause and control the problem, that also means we can cause and control the solution.            

4. The Immigration Issue

Human trafficking and immigration (illegal or legal) are often connected but distinct issues.  Some groups and individuals want to call trafficking an immigration problem, and believe that by creating better (and better is interpreted differently by different sides) immigration policies we can solve the trafficking problem.   


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