Is sex trafficking sexier?

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 ***



  1. Christine Goffredo said,

    February 28, 2007 at 12:19 am

    I enjoyed reading this post because it really got to the crux of an issue that not many people readily address or even realize. I think that your line, “Apparently, all the hype about the need to stop trafficking is a media myth, not a grass roots reality,” is also important because despite all of the attention drawn to the issue of sex trafficking, the action stops at mere interest and goes no further. I admire that you are drawing attention to the gruesomeness of all forms of trafficking, and even to the lack of accurate, reliable research surrounding the issue. These are all difficult topics, both politically and socially, and it’s refreshing to hear you address them. I hope you’re well. Keep writing!


  2. Clare said,

    February 28, 2007 at 11:12 am

    Thanks. Glad you enjoyed. This is one of the two points about human trafficking that really always gets to me. The other is the lack understanding of how racism plays into trafficking and the counter-trafficking movement. Still have a post about this brewing in my head.

    Thanks for reading. Hope that it might give you additional things to think about while working with and researching and studying about Latin American indigenous groups– as anywhere indigenous groups are at huge risk of trafficking and in Latin America, although trafficking continues, there is less of a focus on it.

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