Prostitute? or Sex Slave?
January 23, 2004 6:33 PM   Subscribe

The Making of a Sex Slave (NY Times; reg. req) The next time you seek comfort in the arms of a working girl, ask yourself if she's lying down with you because she likes the money or sex, of if she's doing it because she's been kidnapped, beaten, raped, taken to a foreign country where she doesn't speak the language, and told that the corrupt local police will murder a member of her family if she tries to escape. Prostitution might be victimless crime, but the horrors described here certainly aren't; the problem is, how's a john with a conscience going to tell the difference? A (much) longer report, terrifying in its thoroughness, on a topic lightly touched on here.
posted by hhc5 (46 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Wow. I had to force myself to finish the article, just because it made me so uncomfortable. That is really, really disturbing. I'm stunned by it, I think.
posted by dejah420 at 6:59 PM on January 23, 2004

they were sex slaves. The distinction is important: these girls weren't working for profit or a paycheck.

I think this is a horrible atrocity against humanity worldwide. However what is described in this article is not prostitution anymore than slavery in the South was about people wanting to buy cotton and tobacco. This is outright slavery, it is and will always be slavery.
posted by aaronscool at 7:09 PM on January 23, 2004

Nothing devastated me quite so much as the web site described in the last page of the article, the auction site. I like to think that I'm a world-hardened realist, but the prospect that this is happening right now, somewhere on the same Web on which you're writing and I'm reading, chilled me to the core.

Chilled me to the core, nearly made me lose my dinner, and broke my heart.

My research into ways I can contribute to the fight against this sort of trafficking begins now.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:19 PM on January 23, 2004

''I consider myself hardened..."

Unfortunate choice of words, eh?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:22 PM on January 23, 2004

I believe legalization and regulation would mitigate some of this. None of the brothels mentioned were in NV, which I suspect is because they can legally exist, and therefore be somewhat policed. Big caveat though, it wouldn't help in the least with the underage cases, they'd still get abused. Perhaps making sex in general a bit less taboo would help on that front.
posted by ehintz at 8:52 PM on January 23, 2004

Yeah for an idea of how to have sex workers without the problems of violence and abuse just take a look at The Netherlands. Criminalization only adds to the exploitation by disenfranchising blocks of the population and thus making them easy targets for those who like to prey on the vulnerable.
posted by severed at 9:23 PM on January 23, 2004

ehintz, severed: There may well be truth in what you write, but your points seemr ather tangential to me. This is not about sex workers, the sex industry, or harm mitigation. This is about the crime of rape, the crime of selling another human being as property, the crime of corruption and (apparently, frequently enough) the crime of murder.

In this context, your sterile talk of legalization leaves me cold, and frankly, angry. Again, we're talking about the collusion of power in the serial rape of children. Aren't *you* just a little bit angry, after reading that article? If you'll accept my sincere and humble advice as it's intended, I wish you'd think and/or feel a little bit more deeply about this.
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:25 PM on January 23, 2004

The next time I what?
posted by uosuaq at 10:32 PM on January 23, 2004

One of the most disturbing sentences in an article full of them is this:
Her cell of sex traffickers offered three age ranges of sex partners -- toddler to age 4, 5 to 12 and teens
Now how exactly is legalization going to have any effect on the animals that are interested in any of those groups?
posted by Schnauzer at 10:56 PM on January 23, 2004

Now how exactly is legalization going to have any effect on the animals that are interested in any of those groups?

None whatsoever and that's not the point really either. That is pedophilia, slavery and rape all of which will remain illegal with or without legalized prostitution.

As emotional as this article and this subject are it is not prostitution that is described in this article. I doubt these girls and women consider themselves prostitutes either. They are enslaved and forced against their will the crime here is slavery and rape.
posted by aaronscool at 11:39 PM on January 23, 2004

I think just as despicable as the traffickers in this case are the users of this system. If there are 10k-50k sex slaves, then there are at least an order of magnitude more (if not two orders) of users. IF you go to a sex slave, you have to know she is a slave and not a prostitute.

Prostitution is one thing, fine, both parties agree to the transaction. But slavery? How can anyone reason this out?
posted by nads at 11:53 PM on January 23, 2004

Watch Lilya 4-Ever, people.
posted by riviera at 12:52 AM on January 24, 2004

Now how exactly is legalization going to have any effect on the animals that are interested in any of those groups?

It's simple really. Sex traffickers bring do what they do because there is a market in this country for illegal, underground prostitution.

Make prostituion a legal, regulated proffession and the market for illegal, underground prostitution would dry up to the point where there was no more incentive to force someone into enslavement for sex as there would be to force someone into enslavement for a retail or factory job.
posted by 4easypayments at 3:42 AM on January 24, 2004

What surprises me the most is that the comments posted thus far are so shocked by this. This has been going on for a very long time. To my recollection, very young girls from Eastern Europe and Russia were being enslaved and entrapped since the end of WWII. In passing note that so many now enter via Mexico, the border that our president now seemingly wants to make even more porous.
posted by Postroad at 4:40 AM on January 24, 2004

Make prostitution a legal, regulated profession and the market for illegal, underground prostitution would dry up to the point where there was no more incentive to force someone into enslavement for sex as there would be to force someone into enslavement for a retail or factory job.

Just as an aside a few years ago there was a case of immigrants imprisoned in a factory in Southern California and forced to work. So you see the minute you think that there's something that common sense and common decency would prevent anyone from doing some assholes go and proves you wrong.
posted by rdr at 6:29 AM on January 24, 2004

There's something grotesque about the notion that legalizing and regulating prostitution will somehow make this better for present and future victims. For all men out there who think this might be a good idea: ask of your wives, and girlfriends, ask of your mothers and sisters, and daughters, all of your female relations. Ask them how much they hate their present job. Tell them there is another career for them quenching a thirst unquenchable, It's a career with a guaranteed future demand. There's good money it, even honor. Tell them it'll be okay, of course it'll be rough at first, but they'll get used to it. Tell them it's dirty work, but necessary and important. They don't have to like it, just hate it less than the alternatives. See what they say to this offer. What conditions do they require to accept?

You can even ask this of yourself for you share half of your genes with your mother, and the miserable story of slavery and rape is written there also.
posted by wobh at 7:16 AM on January 24, 2004

I'm curious- do places like Australia (which has legal brothels) have problems with sex slaves?
posted by drstrangelove at 7:21 AM on January 24, 2004

This is neither prostitution nor slavery; this is outright savagery. Putting the prostitution label on this (as in the FPP) only serves to mislabel these acts and malign prostitution (if such a thing is possible).

This is not about sex for money; this is about paying to beat the hell out of kids (the 'damage group'), and sometimes paying for the 'privilege' of killing one. Sexual activity is more of an afterthought.

Further, this activity has been occurring for centuries, if not millennia. We have many monsters living among us, and as the article indicates, some of them are cops and child psychologists, and I wouldn't be surprised if we found more than a few teachers as well.
posted by mischief at 7:59 AM on January 24, 2004

adamgreenfield: In this context, your sterile talk of legalization leaves me cold, and frankly, angry.

The article was written to make you angry. From the regretful, "why isn't anybody doing anything about this?" tone to its juxtaposition of all-american imagery with the lovingly described squalor of Our Subjects' lives, it is geared to draw from you exactly the emotional response you're displaying. Don't you feel a little bit manipulated?

Rumor and innuendo; it reads like the accounts of alien abduction victims. The last page, where the author is walking in the river bottom with Deputy Castro, tells us "how it works" and sort of brushes past the fact that Deputy Castro heard this from someone else. He says "It was 8 in the morning, but the girls could begin arriving any minute." But clearly he didn't wait around to see for himself; or maybe he did, and nobody really showed up.
Laura Lederer, a senior State Department adviser on trafficking, told me, ''We're not finding victims in the United States because we're not looking for them.''
And yet he interviewed so many people who seem to be tasked with finding them and who know where they are. There's nothing in this story. Victimized girls spinning tales of vast networks from undisclosed locations. Secret web sites where you can pay $300,000 for your very own sex slave (do they FedEx? Enquiring minds want to know). This reads like a Victorian white slavery thriller.

I'm not disputing that trafficking in young women happens, I believe that it does, but I am a little disgusted with this particular piece of sensationalist journalism. This is the kind of story that leads to stupid laws and witch hunts. War on Trafficking, anyone?
posted by hob at 9:28 AM on January 24, 2004

Hob, granted it does read like The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon, and that the New York Times has been stung recently by fictitious reporting. But I do suspect that something very much like this goes on. My late landlady from San Francisco, who would have been a young woman in the very early years of the 20th century, told me how she and the other "church ladies" would go down to the waterfront and intercept ships in from China; all those nice white Methodist ladies would confront the captains and liberate the young Chinese girls who had been brought over for the brothels of Chinatown. I have no doubt that the girls were not volunteers. I do wonder sometimes where they ended up.
posted by SealWyf at 10:05 AM on January 24, 2004

'A recent U.S. Government estimate indicates that approximately 800,000-900,000 people are trafficked across international borders worldwide annually, and between 18,000 and 20,000 of those victims are trafficked into the United States.'

- Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State, June 2003

This is an emotive issue, but also a serious problem for the global disenfrachised poor. Human tafficking is becoming one of the most profitable businesses in the black economy. Drugs and weapons smugglers are finding they can make more money with human cargo. The involvement of well financed and organised gangs is inevitable. Some get caught, but many more do not.

What is driving this disturbing trend? It seems to be a global issue.
"disturbing" link .pdf

Also, what rdr said.
posted by asok at 10:18 AM on January 24, 2004

Mischief, the savagery described in the article might not fit into your definition of prostitution, but the end result -- a man pays money to have sex with a female -- certainly does. I phrased the FPP not b/c I intended this thread to be read by johns, but to ask whether, since the end result of prostitution and sex slavery is largely the same -- or in any case, any differences might not be apparent to the john -- some adjustment in our attitudes about prostitution, such as greater moral approbation or legalization, might be in order.
posted by hhc5 at 10:30 AM on January 24, 2004

Andrea told me she was transported to Juarez dozens of times. During one visit, when she was about 7 years old, the trafficker took her to the Radisson Casa Grande Hotel, where there was a john waiting in a room. The john was an older American man, and he read Bible passages to her before and after having sex with her.

Far out.
posted by alumshubby at 10:49 AM on January 24, 2004

This is the sort of situation that demands the likes of a Zorro or Batman or other kick-ass do-gooder who operates on the wrong side of the law to make good.

Sure, blowing the brains out of the trafficker is illegal. But in comparison to the greater crime of selling out children to perverts, is it wrong?
posted by five fresh fish at 12:02 PM on January 24, 2004

hh: Most johns know the difference between a massage parlor staffed by women in their mid-20s and older as well as a big-ass bouncer, and a muddy cane field where no one will say anything if you slap a little girl around.

You can abstract both activities to 'sex for money', but in doing so, you lose a lot of difference in the details.
posted by mischief at 12:05 PM on January 24, 2004

I've read through a bunch of statements above such as "Doesn't that make you angry," and "talk to every woman you know and ask them if they want to be a prostitute."

First off, problems aren't solved by getting angry and rushing in to a solution with guns blazing. Regardless of what you've been lead to believe, this rarely solves anything. Emotion is often used to circumvent reason.

As far as the implication that no woman would ever want to be a prostitute, perhaps you should talk to more women. That's like saying nobody wants to smoke a joint, and pointing to a group of 75 year old southern baptists as proof. Sample population is everything.

So back to the matter at hand.

If you have draconian laws that equate a woman CHOOSING to participate in the sex industry and a group of thugs importing women, holding them in slavery, and doing acts of violence against their will, then you're going to make it difficult to solve the problem.

One such way this will occur is by increasing the target population of lawbreakers to be policed. If 99 percent of the population of lawbreakers are participants operating of their own free will and 1 percent are sex slaves, the police who are often understaffed and under resources are going to have a much harder time.

In Phoenix, as of October there were 216 homicides, and it was estimated that it would reach 241 for the year (I haven't collected that statistic yet). Yet two out of three killers in Phoenix get away with it. This is blamed on three factors, not enough homicide detectives, an increase in immigrant smuggling and an increase in drug smuggling.
("Source, AZ Republic, Nov 9, 2003 Murder goes unsolved as smuggling grows)

It doesn't take a whole lot of thought to realize that if you have a relatively small population of murders, all of which are "bad crimes", and the police don't have the resources or the will or the ability, or whatever to catch more than a third, that if you have a larger population of lawbreakers where some are the "bad guys" and others aren't "bad guys" but just happen to be doing something illegal, that the police are going to have a much harder time.

Additionally, if everyone is classified as doing illegal activity, then you're going to get a lot less cooperation from the community that would have the most access to information.
Ethical sex workers who hear about unethical activity (slavery would fall under this classification), would report it to the authorities because they would find this to be as abhorrent as any other reasonable person would. However, if they're going to get busted for doing the right thing, they will be more likely to keep their mouth shut.

By criminalizing and alienating what is normally a relatively peaceful community on the grounds of "morality," you often introduce criminal elements into that community and impede their ability to participate in society, including but not limited to turning in the really bad guys.

If the sex industry were not illegal, and every city had a lawful redlight district, that was safe, and clean, where would people go to market the illegal sex? The moment anyone popped up "doing that sick shit," they would be reported and dealt with. Given the choice, most people will do the right thing. If someone can walk down the street, and take their pick of 100 chicks, all ready to provide their service for a relatively minor fee, and it were legal, the incentive and the market for the sex slavery would dry up by a significant degree.

Once again, I site Amsterdam. They have a safe and reasonably clean red light district where generally you see nothing more serious than petty pickpocketing offenses. I've seen families walk thought there without fear. People live and work there. Sex slavery of children wouldn't last for two seconds there.

... but I forgot. I'm supposed to be angry. I'm supposed to be acting out of some hormonal fight or flight response.
posted by severed at 12:59 PM on January 24, 2004

Once again, I cite Amsterdam. They have a safe and reasonably clean red light district where generally you see nothing more serious than petty pickpocketing offenses. I've seen families walk thought there without fear. People live and work there. Sex slavery of children wouldn't last for two seconds there.

Can you back this up with any studies? I would be surprised if there wasn't any sex slave industry in any of the major European capitals, or in New York as someone suggested earlier in the thread. Of course they're illegal - it doesn't mean it doesn't happen.
posted by biffa at 2:06 PM on January 24, 2004

...john with a conscience...

John with a conscience? Then don't be a john. Even if the woman wasn't forced into prostitution by slavery or economic survival, there is a good chance she has psychological circumstances, beginning with childhood abuse, that predispose her to the profession. Low (no) self-esteem, and perhaps a repressed trauma that is trying to work its way loose as she puts herself in similar circumstance... I'm sure there are some pefectly willing prostitutes, but I think quite often it is not a "victimless crime."
posted by Shane at 2:10 PM on January 24, 2004

(By the way, I know this from a counselling class I took: when case workers and counsellors and teachers watch for signs of sexual abuse in young children, acting out as a prostitute is considered a sure-tell sign.)
posted by Shane at 2:17 PM on January 24, 2004

I worked at a library administrative bldg. for several years that was right in the middle of a high prostitution activity area. I saw the same prostitutes day after day--most were clearly addicts, two were disabled(one mentally, one had something like mild cerebral palsy). I saw the pimps--bullying thugs as you'd imagine. And I saw the johns(family men, men driving their company vehicles) morning, noon, and evening circling the block over and over and over. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving was the busiest day--there were swarms of men driving around waiting for a girl to get back from a job and even though there were extra girls out, they couldn't keep up with demand. Out of all the girls I saw over the years, only one looked like she might have chosen to do that work. I'm not sure if people can make real choices out of desperation. Want to learn more about research on prostitution check out Prostitution Research and Education and
posted by lobakgo at 2:26 PM on January 24, 2004

case workers and counsellors and teachers
Talk about people with a high need to justify the existence of their jobs!
posted by mischief at 2:54 PM on January 24, 2004

case workers and counsellors and teachers

Talk about people with a high need to justify the existence of their jobs!

Whereas you, mischief, justify your behavior with your username. Like wearing a billboard sign, it is ;-)

posted by Shane at 3:14 PM on January 24, 2004

Want to learn more about research on prostitution check out Prostitution Research and Education...

Christ, that's a great link, lobakgo! Everything I know has been pieced together from the odd counselling class, from friends I've known who prostituted themselves at some point... and from the odd interview with Traci Lords. But that's got it all in one place. And the other link, whoa:

Estimates of the prevalence of incest among prostitutes range from 65% to 90%. The Council for Prostitution Alternatives, Portland, Oregon Annual Report in 1991 stated that: 85% of prostitute/clients reported history of sexual abuse in childhood; 70% reported incest. The higher percentages (80%-90%) of reports of incest and childhood sexual assaults of prostitutes come from anecdotal reports and from clinicians working with prostitutes (interviews with Nevada psychologists cited by Patricia Murphy, Making the Connections: women, work, and abuse, 1993, Paul M. Deutsch Press, Orlando, Florida; see also Rita Belton, "Prostitution as Traumatic Reenactment," 1992, International Society for Traumatic Stress Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, CA M.H. Silbert and A.M. Pines, 1982, "Victimization of street prostitutes," Victimology: An International Journal, 7: 122-133; C. Bagley and L Young, 1987, "Juvenile Prostitution and child sexual abuse: a controlled study," Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health, Vol 6: 5-26.)

Kinda leaves mischief's comment in the dust.

Thank you, my dim-sum friend.
posted by Shane at 3:26 PM on January 24, 2004

The illegal street prostitute case is a straw man argument against a legalized and regulated sex worker industry.

In many places in the United States, Phoenix for example, one woman working as a prositute from inside her own home will be charged with a fellony while one woman working as a prostitue on a street corner will only be charged with a misdemenor. Recently in Phoenix there was a large police action against prostitutes operating in their own homes. ( Prostitution sting nabs 72; The Arizona Republic; Nov. 14, 2003 )

By placing higher criminal penalties upon the segment of the sex worker industry that is more likley to be comprised of independent workers, acting of their own free will, in a manner that is consistent with their own sense of dignity, law enforcement goes after those who provide an example of a successful and responsible way of running such a business. In other words, those most likely to organize in to an actual industry.

Comparing a person on the street to a peson operating freely out of their home is like comparing apples and oranges.

If I pointed to someone on the street who was homeless and said: "Look at him, he's homeless. He doesn't choose to live on the street and eat out of garbage cans and be victimized by street gangs, therefore we shouldn't have homless shelters, because then more abused children would become homeless," it should be clear that there's no logic in that statement. That's what I'm hearing when you site street prostitution of junkies (which leads us to the whole drug discussion, and how it frequently ties in to numerous social problems - another thing which has been addressed rather intelligently in The Netherlands).

I would place in to serious doubt studies on prostitution done in America, by Americans, on account of the criminality aspect of the activity. If someone is doing something that they think is not wrong, in a place where it is criminal, and where the criminal penalties seem to get higher in direct proportion with how responsible you are in your practice, you'd be insane to admit it.

But that's okay, we just need to throw everyone in jail, and preach abstinance, that will make things better.
posted by severed at 3:45 PM on January 24, 2004

Well, if W does win a second term (as seems depressingly likely at this point) maybe starting to get serious about fixing this problem will be the one good thing that comes out of it. Like the issue of religious persecution abroad, the right seems far more organized and energized on this issue than the left. Which is kind of depressing, really.

As for the somewhat emotional tone of the article, I thought it was perfectly appropriate. If the problem is even half as bad as the article describes, its a national scandal that we've been so slow to do anything about it. The sad fact is that there is no natural constitutiency in the US to push the government to get tough on this problem. The victims are, by and large, not Americans, the families and communties affected are not in America. The only voters that are affected by this problem are the monsters that actually use these "services." Thus, the only way to fix the problem is to have strong leadership at the top, pushing law enforcement to get serious about cracking down on both the ringleaders and the users. As much as I hate to say it, Ashcroft might be just the man for the job.
posted by boltman at 4:29 PM on January 24, 2004

I thought this was an interesting statistic also.

In 1993, 42% of women arrested in Seattle on prostitution-related charges were convicted.

In 1993, 8% of men arrested in Seattle on prostitution-related charges were convicted. (Seattle Women's Commission, 1995, "Project to Address the Legal, Political, and Service Barriers Facing Women in the Sex Industry" Seattle, Washington.

posted by lobakgo at 4:51 PM on January 24, 2004

But that's okay, we just need to throw everyone in jail, and preach abstinance, that will make things better.

No, severed, I think what we as a society need is a little more self-control. As Shane said, John with a conscience? Then don't be a john. And if in fact studies show that a majority of prostitutes do have issues such as incest in their background, the mere act of patronizing them digs their hole a little deeper, doesn't it? It stands to reason that anyone with anything resembling a conscience would not do so, regardless of how horned up they be.

Beating off may make you blind, but for chrissakes it never hurt anyone else.
posted by kgasmart at 4:58 PM on January 24, 2004

But that's okay, we just need to throw everyone in jail, and preach abstinance, that will make things better.
I know that's a logical fallacy, but I can't decide which one it is.

posted by Shane at 5:02 PM on January 24, 2004

severed, what the hell is your problem? I take issue with the implication that someone angry about this issue (a) must have been manipulated into that anger by cheap reportage and (b) would endorse an indiscriminate "War On X" crackdown as a valid response.

Nobody's talking about comparing streetwalkers to free agents operating out of their home. Again, since the point seems to be eluding you, the relevant comparison is between prostitution, on the one hand, and the kidnapping of children and transborder transportation of them for the purposes of rape on the other.

Your weak "points" are debate tactics, not real responses, and they are shoddy excuses for not facing up to the human reality of what has been described. As, frankly, are your increasingly odd "citations" of Amsterdam. (I'm sure all those Indonesian girls wound up working in the red light district because they made a free choice to do so, from among all the copious options available to them.)

Just what is it that you believe? That there is no problem here at all, that this was all cobbled up by a NYT reporter to sell papers? That there is no problem here, because nonconsensual sex with children doesn't quite meet your definition of crime, and free adults should be able to avail themselves of it as the desire strikes them? These are both logically sound positions, if you wish to adopt them, although the one is cheap and fatuous and the other is morally appalling. But adopt one I wish you would, so I could better understand your motivation in continuing to speak in the driest of abstractions - not to mention total irrelevancies - about something that, yes, should make you angry.
posted by adamgreenfield at 5:11 PM on January 24, 2004

A quick search shows there's plenty of human trafficking going on where women are being forced into legal prostitution in the Netherlands. Google is just a click away. For info. on human trafficking and efforts to stop it check out and
posted by lobakgo at 5:23 PM on January 24, 2004

But that's okay, we just need to throw everyone in jail, and preach abstinence, that will make things better.
I know that's a logical fallacy, but I can't decide which one it is.

I still can't quite figure out which fallacy it is, although it must be some kind of exaggerated conclusion type thingy, like, ya know:
-Old Farmer:
Whaaat? We're not dippin the sheep this Friday? Well, we may as well spread 'em with butter an' jam an' let the bugs eat 'em alive!
-Sensible Son:
Look, Da, just 'cuz we're dippin' em Sunday 'stead o' Friday, don't mean the blowflies'll strip the meat offa their bones in-between...
Okay, I'm feverish, I'm off to read and go to sleep...

posted by Shane at 5:38 PM on January 24, 2004

Large passages in [small] type are really annoying.

And humans suck. No new tales to tell.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:40 PM on January 24, 2004

justify your behavior with your username : Well, du-uh! ;-P
posted by mischief at 8:59 PM on January 24, 2004

Slate provides the first hints of the major media turning a skeptical eye toward this article:
Landesman's supporting evidence is vague. Where it is not vague, it is anecdotal. Where it is anecdotal, it is often anonymous, too. And where it is not anecdotal or vague it is suspicious and slippery.
posted by NortonDC at 6:50 AM on January 27, 2004

And more doubts.
posted by NortonDC at 11:07 PM on January 27, 2004

Really interesting. Almost worth its own new front page post...
posted by vacapinta at 1:13 PM on January 28, 2004

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