Recently, say, in the past 10 years, people have suddenly become very interested in human trafficking. The counter-trafficking movement has been getting major funding around the world; in fact, some friends in the humanitarian community complain that it is the only thing besides war that the current US administration will fund. It has also been highlighted in such shows such as CSI, Law and Order, Law and order SVU, and others. Plus, of course, the made for TV movies. There are all kinds of racialized theories that I have about why this upsurge in popularity and visibility is so—and I am sure that someday I will write about these as well. But for today, my question is:
Why is it that people find sex trafficking so sexy?
Human trafficking, just like slavery, is a horrendous phenomenon. And, like a car wreck, people are drawn to it. More and more, I realized, people are only drawn to learning about sex trafficking. Research also is mainly focused on sex trafficking. Funders ask how many of the girls were sold to brothels; people lose interest when I say I work with men or with children forced into begging. Most of the TV shows that show human trafficking depict scenes of children forced into pornography or sexual exploitation.
Why do we forget about women in sweatshops? Why are the children begging on the street not quite as important? Why are men so often left out of all programs, and even in some countries, the laws on human trafficking? What about people whose organs are sold? Are these crimes not just a gruesome?
At the time I write this, however, I am torn. At the same time that I revolt against the general population making a hierarchy out of pain, I am appalled at how little is done to combat sex trafficking. Perhaps, it’s because there is more at stake when a child is taken from a brothel, then when they are taken from begging on the street. For destination countries, the sex industry is a big money maker; those who have kids begging on the street do not pay taxes, buy permits, or attract rich tourists. On the other side, the health costs associated with treating victims of the sex trade may be higher if they come home infected with disease. Apparently, all the hype about the need to stop trafficking is a media myth, not a grass roots reality.
*** For the record, my organization works with child victims of all types and laments the fact that we cannot reach the Cambodian children trapped and exploited inside Vietnam and Thailand’s brothels. This is more just a reaction to the reactions I get from people around me, funding sources, and, of course, the media ***