Modern day slavery

The Way I See It

Michelle Kim/File

In light of my upcoming trip to Cambodia, I have been reading a lot of Southeast Asian news so as not to seem completely oblivious when I arrive. Of the many things that I have read, one societal ill that continuously appears as a dominating issue is the exponential growth of the sex trafficking industry.

When it comes to the issue of sex trafficking, almost everyone recognizes its immorality and burden on its victims. But why, then, is it that the sex trafficking industry rakes in roughly $87 million a day worldwide, and is second of criminal industries to only the drug trade? Oakland itself is one of the largest centers of sex trafficking in America. While Oakland infamously houses many societal problems, it’s nauseating to think that just a couple minutes drive away from our campus is a hub of struggling young women beaten and forced into having sex.

Some claim that prostitution is a choice, and undoubtedly for many women, it is. Desperate times calls for desperate measures, and selling sex brings money without any trade skills. While the argument that prostitution is a free choice and that laws preventing such an industry are limiting women from using their bodies for financial gains does carry some weight, it’s curious that only women with the smallest number of choices are often caught in this industry. When polled, a staggering majority of women caught in prostitution would not want it to be legalized and would not want any loved ones to be involved in it.

“Choice,” after all, is a limited word. While we have the choice to do relatively anything if the opportunity arises, we cannot forget that when our choices are so few, it’s not really a choice as much as it is an act of desperation.

I realized that the sex trafficking industry, to my unending horror, is a lot more demoralizing than I had known. There are endless testimonies of liberated prostitutes on the Internet. Children as young as age four are sold to brothels; girls who get molested at home run away only to be forced into prostitution on the streets. A common method of discipline and torture is delivered in the form of electric shocks, which are incredibly painful but don’t ruin the aesthetic and physical beauty of the girls, which would lower their price. One testimony was of a girl who begged for rest after a painful abortion, only to get her eye gouged out by the brothel owner with a piece of metal.

In Southeast Asian countries, where a vast majority of the international sex trafficking industry exists, women who have virtually no education easily slip into the lies of sex traffickers, who claim that they can give the women steady jobs in the cities — a seemingly perfect way to get themselves out of the economic slump of villages.

What seems to surprise people, though, are statistics of how rampant the sex trade is in cities close to us. In San Francisco, nail salons, massage parlors and other seemingly innocent businesses serve as cover-ups for brothels.

And yet the question of whether prostitution should be legalized must be swept aside. People will remain forever divided on the issue, but while authorities argue, girls are still getting abused and beaten. Our real focus should be on the question of why people are flocking to these brothels and paying for sex from young abused girls.

Chester Brown’s novel “Paying For It” is an honest depiction of himself employing prostitutes for sex to replace romantic love. Controversial as it is, it provides a window of insight into the minds of those that keep the sex slave industry thriving. Whether it is a desire for sex, or the replacement of love after a heartbreaking split from his ex–girlfriend, his motivations reveal a narcissistic approach to life. To him, the girls are merely objects of paid sex and fake romance. This has to come from a mindset that his comfort and pleasure are of more importance than the safety and life of the girls he exploits.

One BBC article interviewed a couple of men who paid for prostitutes; many of them were surprisingly nonchalant and remorseless about it. One man said that he didn’t think it was shameful even if he was doing it behind the back of his actual girlfriend because he could demand sexual favors from prostitutes that he otherwise felt bad about demanding. To him it was a win-win situation … for everyone excluding the prostitute, that is.

Society’s mindset towards prostitutes remains surprisingly taboo. It was only in 2000 — a mere decade ago — that the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was passed, which made it illegal to provide, obtain or recruit those under the age of 18 for sex. Is it because people are too ashamed to face the problems that prostitution causes?

Our approach to dealing with prostitution must change. Our society still has a stronger focus on arresting the prostitutes instead of the pimps. There are more slaves now worldwide than at any other point in history, and we cannot forget this industry and those enslaved by it.