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The stereotype that "the exotic is the erotic" has fueled the demand for foreign women to enter prostitution, further inflating the demand for trafficked women. This has been a traditional marketing angle in the sex industry, dating back to Roman times when the hetaerae, or foreign women, commanded the highest prices for sexual services. Today, there is an even broader selection of source countries for recruitment.
War or a military conflict has fueled the demand for women to be brought to places of conflict so they can provide sexual services for troops. Where a permanent military presence is established, there are always brothels and prostitutes in the vicinity and places for the troops to rest, relax, and be entertained.
Restrictive immigration policies do not offer working opportunities with legitimate travel documents for those who want to work in non-professional jobs (Cwikel & Hoban, 2005).
Furthermore, because of the enormous amounts of money involved, it is not surprising that organized crime has become a major player in many countries where sex trafficking is taking place today (Matthews, 2005). According to this Matthews, convoluted crime syndicates manage to conduct their business without any interference throughout the various stages of the sex trafficking process. The United Nations defines organized criminal groups as "associations of three or more people, existing for some time with the goal of committing a serious crime for financial or material gain"; because of the enormous sums of money involved in sex trafficking, it has become the third-largest source of income for organized crime groups today (Matthews, 2005). Organized crime syndicates are active in originating as well as destination countries for sex trafficking, and operators in these situations have been compared to drug cartels in their ability to smuggle their goods across borders and utilize advanced communications to their benefit (Matthews, 2005). In addition, the increase in sex trafficking among children has also increased partially because of porous borders and increasing technological capacities; further, billions of dollars are involved in the trafficking industry in countries where there is a relatively low risk of being arrested (Matthews, 2005). Even in countries that have laws against trafficking, the prosecution of traffickers is often non-existent due to corruption in law enforcement or the victims' fear of testifying. Moreover, in some countries the victims are charged and prosecuted for illegal sex acts rather than being treated as victims of a crime (Matthews, 2005).
Finally, although there is a high incidence of HIV / AIDS infection within the community of trafficked children, misconception about the disease actually leads some people to feel safer sexually abusing young children. Some tourists believe children are less likely to be infected with AIDS and are therefore safe sex partners. A number of cultures believe a myth that sex with a virgin will cure the disease and therefore seek young virgins through the trafficking industry (Matthews, 2005). Nevertheless, simply because a given culture embraces a casual attitude that trafficking in children is fine and dandy does not necessarily make it morally acceptable to the rest of the international community. Indeed, Article 34 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly stipulates that children around the world have the right to be protected from sexual exploitation (O'Grady, 2005). Unfortunately, there are some powerful forces at play in the sex trafficking marketplace that make is comparable to the Latin American drug cartels that have terrorized their countries into submitting to their organizational goals at any cost in terms of human lives and misery.
According to Edwards and Harder (2000), "The profits from a growing global sex trade in women and children soon will be the world's most lucrative illegal activity if a new U.S. law doesn't change the situation. Human trafficking is the third-highest illegal-income source in America today behind drug -- and gunrunning. The dark side of human trafficking is that, unlike drugs, [sexually enslaved] human beings can be resold and reused, thus making them a more profitable commodity" (p. 14). Clearly, then, the only difference between these purveyors of human misery and those involved in the sex trafficking industry are the products and services provided, and many who seek out such products and services today naturally turn to the historic leader in child prostitution - Thailand - and these issues are discussed further below as they relate to the incidence and contributing factors relating to the practice today.
Incidence and Factors Contributing to Sex Trafficking in Thailand Today.
According to O'Grady, a modest consultative effort was launched in 1990 in an effort to raise awareness of the issue of child prostitution: "A little-known non-governmental organization in Thailand initiated research into rumors that children were being kept in brothels in many parts of Asia. The Ecumenical Coalition on Third World Tourism, a small church organization based in Thailand that was set up to monitor tourism in Asia, contracted social workers in Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Taiwan, as well as Thailand, to investigate the situation" (O'Grady, 2001, p. 123). The results of this investigation indicated that approximately one million children under the age of 16 were being kept as child prostitutes in brothels throughout Asia; while the majority of the children had been used by local customers, there was a large and growing demand by foreign tourists for sex with children (O'Grady, 2001). In this regard, Hall and Ryan (2001) report that, "The capitalist system and the classifications of 'other' that are created by fragmentations based on hegemonies of European-American male-based cultures are important in explaining the emergence of sex tourism in Thailand" (p. 11). There is, they maintain, a standard "objective" narrative about the Thai sex industry that commences with, "[T]he decay of local communities leading to large-scale migration of rural girls (and later, also boys) to work in prostitution for the U.S. soldiers, for an increasingly prosperous urban market, later for the tourist trade, and finally as an export commodity" (Hall & Ryan, 2001, p. 11). Unfortunately, the "rest and recreation" aspect of the sex industry in Thailand that was previously provided solely for American soldiers has been expanded to a global basis. Today, Kuo (2000) suggests that, "The clientele base reaches far beyond soldiers seeking refuge from the military aggression of the war. Economic progress cannot eradicate the existence of trafficking and prostitution. It merely increases the standards of 'service' to accommodate higher living standards. For instance, Malaysia and Thailand, both of which are experiencing rapid economic growth, are moving away from brothels and massage parlors and instead are developing private clubs with more luxurious environments better suited to the growing middle class" (p. 42). According to Kuo (2000), around 20% of prostitutes in Thailand begin their work between the age of 13 and 15 years. This author adds that, "The increases in prostitution and trafficking also partially explain the dramatic rise in sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HJV infections. In Thailand, approximately over 1.5 million women are afflicted with HIV" (Kuo, 2000, p. 42).
Although some developing countries are enjoy more natural resources of one type or another that provides them with some competitive advantage in the international marketplace, it would seem that all such developing countries have plenty of disposable women and children available that can be sold time and again until they are used up at which point they can simply be discarded. Morality aside, this is an outstanding business model that has historically attracted its fair share of operators. For instance, according to Cwikel and Hoban (2005), "Moving women between countries for the purposes of work in prostitution dates back to Roman and Biblical times and was a major concern among social reformers of the late 19th century who fought against the 'White slave trade.' However, the nature of contemporary trafficking enterprises has changed both in volume and method" (p. 306). Likewise, in their essay, "Sex Slave Trade Enters the U.S.," Edwards and Harder (2000) report that, "While there is nothing new about what once was called white slavery, the last two decades have seen sex trafficking turned into a well-organized international criminal enterprise corrupting whole countries. Such traffic began to flourish in the Philippines and Thailand after the Vietnam War -- first catering to soldiers and then to sexual holidays for Japanese, American, Canadian and European men frequenting brothels in Southeast Asia" (p. 14). Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian women were also targeted by these criminal enterprises (Edwards & Harder, 2000).
In this context, sexual trafficking has been defined as a "situation where women or girls cannot change the immediate conditions of their existence; where, regardless of how they got into those conditions, they cannot get out; and where they are subject to sexual violence and exploitation" (Toepfer & Wells, 1994, p. 83). Approximately 45,000 to 50,000 women and children are even smuggled into the United States each year, with about 30,000 of these sex trafficked women and children being from countries in Southeast Asia (Nelson, 2002). As more and more women from abroad are forced…[continue]
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