Sunday, February 3, 2013
The scale of the trafficking of women---often girls---into sexual slavery and other forms of exploitation in the United States is unknown to most Americans. Many people are aware that human trafficking is a reality, but have no idea how many women and girls are victims. They imagine that it is a handful. In truth, it is a massive number, probably about 200,000 annually. Some are runaway teenagers; some are women from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and parts of Latin America who have been lured here by promises of respectable and remunerative labor; many are addicted to drugs--often by design of the pimps who, for all intents and purposes "own" them; they live in fear of beatings or abandonment in a land where they have no connections and cannot even speak the language.
I was recruited into the fight against trafficking more than a decade ago by my friends Bill Saunders, Michael Horowitz, and Nina Shea. I am filled with admiration for the courageous and dedicated men and women with whom I have had the privilege of working in the movement---especially University of Rhode Island Women's Studies Professor Donna Hughes and her extraordinary young colleague Melanie Shapiro. They fight at the "macro" level to improve policies and achieve greater and more effective law enforcement, and at the "micro" level to help individual victims to escape and rebuild their lives.
Unfortunately, some people think that the way to help victims of trafficking is to legalize prostitution and even make it respectable (using non-pejorative terms like "sex workers"). Anyone who is tempted to think such a thing should talk to people like Donna and Melanie and to women who have had the experience of being lured or forced into prostitution, but who have escaped from it.
Donna led the fight to recriminalize prostitution in Rhode Island after the state had several years of experience with de facto legalization. In addition to having to fight the shadowy criminal interests who were very happy indeed with the status quo, she and those of us supporting her efforts had to fight "civil libertarian" organizations who think that laws against prostitution violate people's human rights, and even "women's organizations" who suppose that having the right to sell sex "empowers women." The opposition of the "civil libertarian" organizations did not surprise me--they are drunk on the ideology of radical expressive individualism and sexual liberationism; the opposition of he "women's organizations" did. Still, Donna is a force of nature, and she prevailed.
Well, do enjoy the Super Bowl, but please pause for a moment to remember that, to our national shame, there will be many victims trafficked by evildoers to New Orleans to meet the demand for prostitutes. Some women will be forced, as the article reports, to "go through" 25 or even 50 men per day. These women are our sisters. They need our help. To begin with, they need us to recognize their plight, and to care about the issue. If you want to learn more about what can be done to fight human trafficking, please check out the website of "Citizens Against Trafficking," the excellent organization founded by Donna and Melanie (http://www.citizensagainsttrafficking.com); and the website of the Renewal Forum, whcih I helped to found with my pal Steve Wagner (http://renewalforum.org/).