Feministe Reviews Sex Trafficking

The popular Web site Feministe has just posted a review of Siddharth Kara’s Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery.

Here’s an excerpt from the review:

“Solutions are where Kara’s analysis really shines. He offers a two pronged plan for putting an end to sex trafficking: a short-term strategy to invert the risk-reward ratio for traffickers and slave owners, and a long-term proposal to address global poverty. The short-term plan is based on the economic principle of the elasticity of demand, which states that the more affordable a product is, the more people will want to buy it. When a prostitute isn’t paid—or, in many cases, fed or even housed—the cost of purchasing sex goes down, and men who wouldn’t have bought sex before become consumers. Some products, like gasoline, aren’t elastic; people will buy roughly the same amount no matter what. Sex, however, is highly elastic, and it’s this weakness that can be exploited by raising slave owners’ risk of getting caught. Right now, the profit brought by slave labor is higher than even the highest fine, and the chances of going to jail are infinitesimally small. Bribes to police and judges are factored into operating costs. But if anti-trafficking forces were better paid, conviction rates higher, and punishments formidable, brothel owners would lose much of their incentive to enslave women instead of hiring them. It’s certainly a lofty goal, especially since we’re talking about an international problem, but it’s far more sensible than any of the strategies that are currently being used.

Most striking—and gratifying—is Kara’s long term goal of addressing the poverty and desperation that traffickers pray on. In a move that will surely send conservatives and most liberals into panicked denial, he lays the blame for trafficking squarely where it belongs: capitalism and globalization. Trafficking levels rose dramatically, he explains, in the 1990s—right around the time that the International Monetary Fund forced developing nations in Eastern Europe and Asia to adopt Western-style market economies and mandated cuts in health care, education, and other social services. Fragile economies quickly collapsed and, without any safety nets to catch them, citizens went from struggling to destitute. Debt mounted as the IMF introduced bailouts and privatization policies that led to inflation. This led to a one-way flow of resources, including people, from Eastern nations to Western ones. The only way to end the systems that foster trafficking is to loosen the West’s stranglehold on the rest of the world.

Is it feasible? Well, in this climate, no. Kara doesn’t pretend to have easy answers, either. But connecting everyday luxuries to the back rooms of brothels is a welcome first step. This is an issue that goes beyond fair trade labels and anti-sweatshop campaigns. You’re not going to solve this by buying the right products.

Sex Trafficking is a tough read, but it’s worth it, and necessary. Through his mix of reportage, analysis, and personal insight, Kara gives activists the tools we need to understand slavery—and then obliterate it.

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