Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Factors Contributing to the Problem of Exploiting Trafficked Women

Understanding the factors that contribute to local trafficking problems can help frame local analysis, identify effective remedial measures, recognize key intervention points, and select appropriate responses.

The Market for Commercial Sex

Supply. The international proliferation of trafficking has created a supply of trafficked women that is so large that it drives the market. Countries
that make no attempt to control human trafficking† use the trade as a means of importing foreign currency, especially U.S. dollars and Euros. This is
achieved both by encouraging sex tourism in the originating country and by tacitly approving the exportation of women to wealthy countries. [31]
Globalization has facilitated the movement of cheap labor from one country to another. Thus, even those women who are not trafficked into the sex trade
add to the plentiful supply of undocumented migrant labor at best, sweatshop and forced labor at worst.

† The TVPA established a set of standards for countries to combat trafficking. Countries are rated annually according to these standards and allocated to one of three tiers: (1) full compliance; (2) some compliance; and (3) no compliance or no effort to comply. As of 2005, all countries are required by U.S. law to collect and publish prosecution and conviction statistics on human trafficking. Countries making no effort to combat trafficking are subject to various U.S. sanctions (U.S. Department of State 2004, 2005).

Demand. The demand issues surrounding trafficking for forced labor are simple enough: because illegal or quasi-legal businesses can gain considerable advantage by employing cheap labor, there will always be demand for such labor. The demand issues involved in trafficking for the sex trade are much more complicated and subject to considerable debate. Some argue that human trafficking for the sex trade is simply a response to a natural need; that is, men will be men. Others argue that this is a misconception, that rather than men's sexual needs being such that prostitution must exist to fulfill them, the truth is that men's sexual appetites respond to the opportunities offered them by the purveyors of prostitution.† (See also Response No. 9 for an elaboration of this point). In other words, it is the market- the trafficking in women-that creates the demand, not the customers. If there is a plentiful supply of vulnerable women and girls, a profitable business plan follows: offer the services of young women that cater to any customer preference at a competitive price and pay the women little or nothing.††

† This is the rationale that underlies the Swedish legislation outlawing the purchase of sexual services. As its advocate says: “It is the market that is the driving force. Demand is defined by the services produced, not vice versa, which contradicts certain popular traditional market theories” (Sven-Axel Mansson, interviewed by Maria Jacobson 2002).

†† There is some evidence of a growing demand by purchasers of sex for foreign women of various ethnic backgrounds. There is considerable evidence that men’s sexual expectations are driven by ethnic stereotypes and myths (Hughes 2004a).

Customer and Trafficker Attitudes

The sex trade. The customers of the sex trade reveal callous attitudes towards the trafficked women they rent.† In the case of prostitution-whether the prostitute is trafficked or not-men adopt the view that they "own" the prostitute for the period for which they have paid and believe that they have a right to do whatever they please, including physical and psychological abuse.[32] The purveyors of prostitution, whether pimp or madam, do not demand compensation if the customer damages the woman. Indeed, they routinely abuse prostitutes themselves. [33] Here again, profit is the key. Trafficked women in the sex trade quickly depreciate in value-particularly, where beauty and youthfulness are important to the customer. Youth and beauty are cheap to replace where there is a plentiful supply of trafficked women.

Domestic servitude. Employers of domestic servants who are trafficked women display attitudes not so much indifferent as paternalistic. Interviews show that employers often treat the trafficked women in their service as children without rights, sometimes subjecting them to physical and mental abuse, and placing considerable restrictions on their movements, including low pay and little or no time off. In many cases, employers feel that they are doing the trafficked woman a favor by providing employment that would otherwise be unavailable to an illegal alien. [34] In short, because the conditions of employment within households are invisible to the authorities, working conditions that would be important outside the household are seen as irrelevant. [35]

Forced labor. Debt bondage is the most frequent type of coercion employed against women in labor trafficking situations. Rape and sexual assault are also frequently used by traffickers to “maintain” women in labor trafficking situations. Whatever the technique used to maintain debt bondage, —whether on a rural farm or in an urban sweatshop—the obvious advantage to employing trafficked women is that they are cheap, thus increasing profit and competitive pricing. Money is saved in many ways. Because these businesses are operated on premises that are hidden from public view, they can dispense with health and safety compliance. Of course wages—if any—never match the minimum wage.†† And in fact, wages are garnished to pay the “loans” that financed the trafficked individual’s transportation to the country of destination. [36]

† Sex trade customers commonly report that it is none of their concern if prostitutes are trafficked or even imprisoned in the brothel. While some feel sorry for the prostitute’s situation and may even offer help, they nevertheless continue to purchase her services and expect the same services from trafficked as from non-trafficked prostitutes (Seabrook 2001).

†† “Every floor is a rabbit warren of corridors and numbered doorways, a labyrinth of iron grilles and black wire mesh reminiscent of a reform school, or a prison. Behind every one of these forbidding doors is a garment shop, where mostly undocumented immigrant workers toil away with scissors, sewing machines and industrial irons for poverty-level wages for up to 12 hours a day.” Description of a sweat shop in the south end of downtown Los Angeles (Gumbel 2001).

Divided Public Attitudes

Prostitution. Sex trafficking of women involves commercial sex where the victim's ability to legally consent to the sex act is negated through some form of force, fraud or coercion that is employed against her. There are widely differing views of prostitution and in general who is responsible for it. [37] These often conflicting opinions affect community responses and the extent of police intervention. Public ambivalence is reflected in the incredible patchwork of state and local prostitution laws and ordinances, some punishing the purchase of sexual services, some punishing its sale, some targeting pimps and brothel owners, and still others criminalizing all of the above. The result is inconsistent enforcement by local police, who carry out well-publicized crackdowns from time to time. There is growing evidence that women who are trafficked into prostitution do not differ greatly from domestic prostitutes who have not been trafficked: neither group has chosen the profession voluntarily. Many report that they do not want to work as prostitutes, would leave the profession if they could, and that they were recruited into prostitution as girls or teenagers [38]† Of course, those women who entered into the sex trade as minors, could not have done so voluntarily from a legal standpoint.

† The focus on the victimization of trafficked women has put the spotlight on all prostitutes, making it clear that the trafficked prostitutes are victims, not offenders. Thus, many now advocate that enforcement attention should be shifted to the purchasers of sex. The recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Defense that military personnel purchasing sex will face court martial is the first significant indication of this shift (Jelinek 2004).

Immigration. There are widely differing public views of immigrants, both legal and illegal. During economically difficult times, immigrants are often blamed for stealing jobs and committing crimes, even though there is no definitive evidence to prove either accusation. [39] There is good reason, therefore, for trafficked women to perceive that they are not welcome in their country of destination. In contrast, there is a tradition in some parts of the United States of public support for illegal aliens, stemming from the aid given to political refugees from Central and South America during the 1980s. There continue to be a number of "sanctuary" states and cities that have policies-and in some cases (e.g., Oregon) even laws-that prohibit state and local police agencies from using money or equipment to apprehend suspected violators of federal immigration law. [40] Even many states and cities that are not designated sanctuaries do not report illegal immigrants to the authorities simply because immigration is seen as a matter for federal rather than local law enforcement. All these conflicting views result in one thing: they make it easier for traffickers to keep their victims isolated and out of sight of the authorities.

Organized Crime

Europol [41] classifies trafficking networks into three groups:

(1) Large scale mafia-like networks such as the Russian and Albanian syndicates that control about 60 percent of prostitution in Western Europe. These networks also traffic in drugs,† but more recently have turned to trafficking in women because the profit margins are higher. Highly organized from the recruitment to the exploitation stages, these groups are well connected financially and politically and are typically cruel and brutal in doing business.

(2) Medium scale networks that specialize in trafficking women from a particular recruitment country to a particular destination country. These networks usually arrange transportation and also own their own brothels in the destination country.

(3) Informal "family" networks of individuals who have come together to reap the financial benefits of the opportunities provided by trafficking. These individuals usually have legitimate jobs in other fields and operate trafficking businesses on the side. Much of the buying, selling, and delivery arrangements take place via the Internet.

In general, these observations of the organizational aspects of trafficking have been confirmed for the United States. [42] However, the degree to which trafficking is part of well established organized criminal organizations is unknown.[43]

† Drug use is common in prostitution, serving as another weapon to keep trafficked women dependent on their pimps or managers and isolated from the outside world (Raymond and Hughes 2001).

Attractive Locations

Locations that provide cover for the deployment of trafficked women include the following.

  • Communities that tolerate red light districts, strip clubs, and late night bars and clubs. Where
    domestic prostitutes are plentiful, internationally trafficked women can blend in without
    drawing much attention.
  • Areas around military bases, where there is a constant supply of men willing to purchase
    sexual services, frequently from foreign women.†
  • Old warehouse and manufacturing districts, where sweatshops can flourish out of sight of
    local communities.
  • Well-off suburbs, where residents employ domestic servants who may be trafficked.
  • Isolated rural areas, where trafficked women may be employed as seasonal farm laborers or
    be used to provide sexual services to male seasonal laborers.
  • Locations close to poorly patrolled border entry points or in immigrant communities that are
    neglected by local government.[44]
  • Areas with large immigrant or foreign-born populations that may frequent establishments set
    up in culturally familiar styles.

† Military bases are magnets for trafficked women. For example, as a result of the presence of 16,000 U. N. soldiers in Cambodia between February, 1992 and September, 1993, the number of prostitutes in Phnom Penh reportedly increased from 6000 to 20,000 (Ekberg 2004: 1197). This pattern is repeated around military bases within the United States (Raymond and Hughes. 2001).