25 October 2013

Prostitution and human trafficking (4)

An unexpected comment on my last post about prostitution and human trafficking helped me see that I hadn't expressed myself on this subject as clearly or as fully as I had wanted to. That is perhaps not so surprising. It is hard to communicate well the evil of human trafficking while also proclaiming the value of the women working in prostitution. Mixed in with that is my own sadness about the reality of prostitution - about the assumptions we as a society have made about sex and prostitution - and an even deeper sadness that people have been pushed into prostitution, some more forcefully than others.

Human (sex) trafficking is most simply defined as participating in exploiting another person through (threat of) force, fraud, deception, or abduction (see wikipedia). The trafficker usually makes a lot of money doing so, but can also participate in trafficking in order to receive special services or gain power.

There are those working in prostitution who have been trafficked, even in a place as highly regulated as the Red Light District in Amsterdam. No one knows the numbers: they range from a few women to 90 percent of them. People can't even agree on what it means to have been forced. Because of this, it often becomes an all or nothing conversation: prostitution is pretty much the same as human trafficking, or prostitution is only incidentally related to human trafficking. I reject both views because they do not take seriously either the evil of human trafficking or the messiness of prostitution.

If you equate prostitution with human trafficking, you run into problems whenever any prostitutes claim that they are doing this out of their own free will. Either you have to believe these prostitutes are all lying or you run the risk of thinking that human trafficking can't be really as bad as people make it out to be. Thinking that prostitution has nothing to do with human trafficking makes you ignore the reality that prostitution is one of the most ideal forms of trafficking: there's money to be made as a woman can be "sold" over and over again, those renting the windows can make a lot of money and thus can potentially be influenced (and a woman forced into prostitution is ideal in that she's not going to cause difficulties about whether she gets receipts for the rent or enough days off), people look down on prostitutes, and prostitution is private (so the clients can often get away with doing harm to the women). Add to this that it's very difficult to prove human trafficking, partly because of the risks and traumas involved in testifying. And the punishment in the Netherlands is still shockingly low.

In light of this, I pray and hope that (legalised) prostitution stops being such an ideal breeding ground for human trafficking. The best way I know how to help is to pray. I am also thankful for the work of the many organisations who do their best to encourage and support the women behind the windows here in Amsterdam (e.g., the vrouwenpastoraat of the Salvation Army). Alongside of this I want to raise questions about how prostitution, as it is now set up, makes the women more likely to be taken advantage of by others. I hope and pray that others will join me in asking about questions of justice and praying for the women involved in prostitution, especially those who feel helpless and/or have been trafficked.

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