By Amanda Kloer
Well, duh. “Sex beats cleaning” is not an assertion most people would disagree with (unless, perhaps, you have one of the mops featured here). It’s also the motto that both the U.S. government and the main-stream media go by in terms of addressing human trafficking: focus on trafficking into prostitution first, and then move on to trafficking in other industries if there is time and resources. Why do we hear so much more about “sex slaves” in brothels, strip clubs and pornography and so much less about slaves who clean houses, pick cucumbers or sew blue jeans? Are there really that many more people trafficked into sex-related industries? Or is there some sort of bias in the information that is being presented to us by the government and media? The Feds Focus on Sex The Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children issued a recent reportwhich found that the U.S. government bodies who seek to identify trafficking victims and prosecute traffickers have focused heavily on raids of brothels and other commercial sex locations in order to identify victims. The consequences of this bias are negative a number of for trafficking victims. “Additionally, U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors confirm that the Administration has directed their office to make sex trafficking prosecutions a priority. Over the past five years, 75 percent of the trafficking prosecutions have been sex trafficking. The striking result is that service providers are hesitant to advise persons trafficked for labor to report to law enforcement; if law enforcement is not interested in the case, the trafficked person receives no benefits and may be put into removal proceedings. The risks of reporting outweigh the potential benefits. Persons trafficked for labor are left unprotected and the phenomenon is underreported, making sex trafficking appear to be more prevalent.” When law enforcement becomes so focused on rooting out slavery in the sex industry they become unresponsive to slavery in other industustries, trafficking is allowed to thrive. While I support law enforcement efforts to identify and rescue trafficking victims in prostiution, they need to expend more energy and resources in other sectors. Sex Sells The media bias towards sex trafficking is perhaps even more obvious: sex sells. Think of this choice for a story: a pretty young girl held in sexual bondage and forced to sleep with dozens of men a day or a 40-something undocumented immigrant man paid pennies to pick cucumbers and threatened with violence and deportation if he fails to make his quota. Most media outlets would choose the former, knowing that audiences will be drawn toward the attractive young girl, even though the sex is violent sex. Sarah Karnasiewicz explains it beautifully on Salon.com “Certainly, stories about field laborers and housekeepers rarely come prepackaged with images of pouty-lipped teens. Like child abduction — that other favorite American ‘epidemic,’ symbolized by the shining faces of Natalee Holloway and Amber Hagerman — the sex slave ‘epidemic’ arrives as a ready-made cause for the American media, offering a never-ending pipeline of girls to mourn for innocence lost. Sex slavery in America is an epidemic. So is trafficking of maids, factory workers and farmworkers, in the U.S. and around the world. The woman in the field who is abused and can’t leave is no less a slave than the one in the brothel. One of the many reasons I try not spend a lot of time dividing victims into “sex trafficking victims” and “labor trafficking victims” (divisions you will see elsewhere), is that this division is in part what drives law enforcement and the media to focus specifically on cases that have a commercial sexual component. Victims trafficked into labor industries, however, often suffer sexual abuse and other abuses as horrific or worse than those in prostitution. The anti-trafficking movement is in part responsible for making these divisions which direct resources unequally. We must learn to look beyond these divisions in order to address the full breadth of modern-day slavery. The traffickers don’t think in such narrow terms. Why should we?