Aug 01 2008

Rape trafficking interlude with Peridot Ash

Rare is the blamer who is unfamiliar with the concept of human sex trafficking: rape-o-preneurs lure indigent overseas women to the US, lying to them about the real nature of the “work” they’ll be doing, enslaving them under repellent conditions, and pocketing the filthy lucre.

Peridot Ash, writing in 2007 at Friction, A Sex Worker’s Weblog, points out that the supply of prostituted women already here is sufficient to fulfill the demand, so why go to the trouble of importing them? Two reasons.

One [reason] is obvious, to keep all the money they make off these slaves. The other, a point which most documentaries and news reports about trafficking don’t dare touch, is that there is a demand for RAPE that needs to met.

Face it. It’s not just the rare sicko. There’s a whole market for rape that these kinds of traffickers cater to. The traffickers lie to the women about what work they’ll be doing abroad. Because the customers WANT women who aren’t willing, who will struggle against them while they force them to do things and beat them. They get off on that and they’ll pay somebody to let them do it in a place that’s safe for them.

Trafficked sex slaves, young onions, are the murky far end of the rape continuum, the one that proceeds from the pornulation of mainstream media, escalates into your boyfriend going, “Come on, just a little longer, I’m almost there,” devolves into the mainstream with the winky, nudgy, boys-will-be-boys attitude toward street harassment, and climaxes with the date assault you are reluctant to report because you didn’t say “no” loud enough. For the joyrapist who’s keepin it real, there are prostituted women he can pay to assault. This shit is all rape, but the rapists are protected by long-standing patriarchal tradition.

I allude to the tradition that women are toilets.

Nobody knows how many women are illegally trafficked into the US to be sold as rape victims. A 2007 WaPo article chronicles the “outrage” echoing throughout the land when lavishly funded anti-trafficking initiatives failed to find them in sufficiently garish numbers. The Bush administration paid out 28 million bucks to save an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 annual sex slaves, but no sex slaves were to be found. $125,000 granted to a Dallas nonprofit only turned up 3 victims, goddammit. That’s $41,000 per perma-raped woman. Unacceptable!

Given my intimacy with the creepy manifestations of patriarchy, I find it hard to believe that in the whole Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex, only 3 trafficked women existed in 2007. The more likely scenario is that, given the subterranean nature of rape culture, traffickers weren’t exactly leaping to their feet, waving tattered lingerie in the air, and yelling, “Here we are, Serpico!” One suspects that slavers might take steps to avoid detection, and that they’d keep their victims so marginalized that they’d fall resoundingly through the cracks that our misogynist social order so conveniently maintains for just that purpose.

But even if the number of victims has been, for whatever reason, exaggerated, what of it? Trafficked sex slaves, real or imagined, form a significant chunk of our mainstream pornulated domination narrative. TV crime dramas can’t keep their mitts off the idea. Just last night I watched a popular cable TV show called “Burn Notice” (advertised on the USA network as “pure and simple fun”) which featured an underground dungeonful of Russian hotties in torn underwear fleeing for their lives while the smirking rockstar hero shot a bunch of people up. DudeAmerica can’t resist hot young prostituted Russians! And clearly, they can’t resist the idea that there exists, in some bounteous, sexy netherworld, hordes of kidnaped foreign sluts just waiting to be abused in the dank subumbra of their beloved rape culture.


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  1. Jodie

    I would be so much happier if news/TV/other media referred to them as “trafficked women and/or children” instead of “sex slaves”. The latter term carries with it more than a hint of titillation. I hate it.

  2. kate

    I’d have a hard time believing that some non-profit can set up themselves to infiltrate an underground economy of trafficking in tricked women and children when they can hardly effectively infiltrate the denizens of impoverishment or the porn industry.

    I’d really love to see where all that money went. Probably into a lot of cushy retreats, flyers sitting on office desks and discussion groups amongst themselves.

    Expecting a group of middle class, well heeled recruits and their minions (most who are on their way to said path) to dig deep into areas which they know absolutely nothing about is like expecting my cat to do a paper on the finer issues of being human.

    The people who have access to the real live consequences of our society’s great social problems don’t generally hang out to chat it up with college kids and over paid staffers.

  3. Bushfire

    It’s so frustrating to not know how to help these women. I bet lots of people would want to help if they know who and where these people are.

    Why the fuck isn’t it a crime to kidnap, enslave and torture people?

  4. kate

    yes it is Bushfire, but that’s people that are protected under the law, people who are more useful free than enslaved. Being human doesn’t qualify in and of itself you know, not at least for enforcement.

    “Move on, move on folks, there’s nothing to see here, don’t step across the boundary line, that’s it, thank you, have a nice day!”

  5. keshmeshi

    “Sex slave” may be titillating, but “trafficked women and children” also sounds really benign. It allows most viewers to brush it off as no big deal. Slavery is a big deal. It’s a crime against humanity and is harder to ignore.

  6. SoJo

    I’d like to qualify all these things with ‘men’ at the beginning.
    Men’s trafficking of women
    Men’s trafficking of children
    Men’s violence against women
    And that ‘domestic abuse’ ticks me off. It’s clearly Men’s abuse of women or Men’s abuse of children, or both.

  7. Shira

    May I suggest “rape slaves” since there’s no actual sex involved?

  8. Citizen Jane

    May I ask you something? These reasons for the demand of sex trafficking make sense, except there is one thing that I don’t understand. Isn’t there enough “supply” of women in the US to kidnap and force into prostitution without going overseas? I’m sure there are plenty of predators hanging around bus stations in New York City and LA, picking up runaway teenagers who come through.

    So I still don’t understand why traffickers need to go overseas. I would really like to find a book or something where some criminal psychologist goes into the heads of traffickers. If reading it didn’t traumatize me for life, that is.

    @Shira, that’s a good suggestion. I’ll be incorporating that into my vocabulary now.

  9. Stephen


    The reason you don’t see more US citizen victims in the US is because…they’re US citizens. It’s a lot easier to enslave and abuse someone when they’re a smuggled foreigner — desperate and poor, with no identity, no rights, no protection and no support — than it is to pluck some runaway off the street with their name on a missing persons list and people asking after them.

    These people are reduced to non-persons, with a similar sleight-of-hand to that previously used by your military and intelligence agencies in the practice of ‘rendition’ and imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay.

  10. Lemur

    @Citizen Jane,
    I humbly suggest that it’s for the same reason men here have been known to bitingly compare American women with their overseas counterparts. “I sent away (with cereal box tops?) for a bride from Russia/China/South America/ad nauseum because unlike you shrill feminist bitches, they’re real women.” Meaning they’re more likely to be a subservient combination of mommy, maid and sex slave. Add to that the bonus of these women who are disoriented at being thousands of miles from everything familiar and probably unable to speak with anyone to ask for help, should they manage to leave wherever they’re being held.
    So, extra rape and terror, plus ‘exotic’ women! Don’t you love one-stop-rape-shopping?
    …God, these fucking bastards. I may have to go heave now.

  11. sarahcl

    Citizen Jane,

    I think it’s a number of things. Firstly, women from developing countries effectively recruit themselves; traffickers place ads offering decent jobs in the west and the women bring themselves to the designated collection point. Also, a woman who doesn’t speak the language or know the culture, and who would be treated as a criminal herself for being an illegal immigrant is much easier to intimidate and control; there is also the extra control of shame and stigma, these women can never go back home after what has been done to them. These gangs also operate heavily in the countries of origin, they can threaten the women’s family back home. Also poverty in developing counties of origin mean a more corrupt police force, and nobody (with any power) to see or do anything about all those missing women – who, remember, will have told their family they’re off to a better life in the west. I imagine there may be issues of territory overlap with different criminal gangs, but that’s not something I know about.

    It may simply be that demand is huge, and the enslaved women lose their ‘value’ quickly, it’s a high-profit, high-turnover operation, with an endless supply of poor women available. If we have no real idea how many women are trafficked into the west, we also have no idea at all how many are murdered by the gangs, by clients, how many over-dose or commit suicide. The horrible fact is that these women are disposable.

    Internal trafficking is beginning to be recognised more (in the UK at least, which is where I live), criminal gangs – probably different criminal gangs – target underage girls (and sometimes boys) to groom for prostitution. This is the ‘older boyfriend’ model involving emotional manipulation etc, so a different SOP to the traffickers, but often involves moving the girl to a different town or city so she loses her support network of family and friends. This form of coercion into prostitution is very difficult to prosecute; if they operated on an industrial scale like the international traffickers do, people would be forced to take notice.

    “I would really like to find a book or something where some criminal psychologist goes into the heads of traffickers.”

    To them it’s just business, no different to any other form of people smuggling, or trafficking in drugs or weapons. They don’t see the women and girls as human, and neither do the men who pay to rape them. I think it’s a mistake to see these men (but remember, they are not all men, some traffickers and pimps are women. Also, some johns; the most shocking thing I read in the chapter on prostitution in Human Traffic by Craig McGill, was that the woman being held captive had had some female ‘clients’. I can understand women justifying to themselves using ‘high class escorts’ or whatever, but paying to rape an obviously trafficked woman?) as ‘evil’, or at least as evil in a different league to any other form of exploitation. What’s going on inside the head of a CEO when he closes down a factory, or knows (but doesn’t actually have to acknowledge) that his sub-sub-sub contractors are destroying the environment and running factories in near slave conditions? It’s all business as usual. bell hooks didn’t call it ‘white supremacist patriarchal capitalism’ for no good reason.

    You might find these websites useful:

    Coalition for the Removal of Pimping:
    Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-International:

  12. Pellegrina

    Also @Citizen Jane: if you traffic women and children into the country, you can also usually get your hands on their passports, and additionally threaten them with the spectre of imprisonment and deportation should they attempt to escape. Depending on what conditions they were attempting to leave behind at home and how much money they were obliged to put up front, this may be even worse for them. Also I think I’ve read about situations where the women supposedly owe money (for their transport to the US or UK or wherever) to the traffickers, who know where the women’s families live, etc. etc.

  13. atheist woman

    The reason dude nation sends over-seas for its rape slaves is because (similar to what Lemur and others said) of the same reason that they can’t get enough of those American Apparel ads. I’m not sure if they do this anymore, but I’m pretty sure they used to have a habit of putting pornified women in the fewest number of AA garments possible, and then put down their name and ‘foreign’ signifier.

  14. lawbitch

    Thanks, Lemur, for that succinct and colorful explanation.

  15. Virago

    “I humbly suggest that it’s for the same reason men here have been known to bitingly compare American women with their overseas counterparts”

    Ain’t that the truth. When I was stationed in Japan in the military, there were a lot of men on base who “loved” Asian women because they weren’t like those “uppity American bitches”. On the other hand, I’ve seen documentaries about mail order foreign brides, and a lot of these women say they want a better life for themselves while their so-called “husbands” want some submissive woman. Basically, these women want the same thing as us “uppity American bitches”, and they end up leaving their husbands when they are abused. The scary thing is that a lot of these women end up murdered by their husbands, or they lose custody of their children to these assholes and are deported. I think it was said on Ginmar’s blog that a lot of MRAs are pissed off that laws are being passed that men who want mail order brides have to have background checks done to screen for a history of domestic violence. It figures the MRAs would be pissed about something like that. God forbid, if these women know what they are geting into before leaving home.

  16. Natalia

    As someone who writes about these issues, I’d like to point out that women participate in the trafficking industry too. Some are intimidated or forced, sure, but others are in it to make a buck.

    Furthermore, many who have suffered at the hands of traffickers themselves will say things like, “I was hurt, so what makes [insert name of potential victim here] so special?” It’s a terrible sentiment, but it does exist.

    The first time I was approached for recruitment into a brothel, I was approached by a matronly woman who was very good with flattery.

    It’s not just dudes in this business – although dudes are the majority of the big profiteers.

    And a lot of those big profiteers? Totally legitimate businessmen, and even politicians, on the surface. One of the really scary aspects of this industry is the fact that one can participate in it and remain a “legitimate” figure with relative ease, provided one pays off the right people.

    Now, I don’t think that trafficking is indistinguishable from, for example, porn. I think that while these industries do regularly overlap, they’re not the same thing.

    Having said that, the idea that people get off on trafficking is spot-on. For many, it’s a fantasy, to rape a woman who is a slave.

    For others, it’s just a “practical” matter. They go wherever it is that the girls are “cheap.” Concerns over whether or not said girls are, in fact, victims of enslavement and rape simply do not enter the picture, because the men learn to compartmentalize these experiences early on.

  17. Anastasia B.

    A simple truth is this: a woman is/perceived as the Other. A foreign woman is (an)other, an even further diminished person. The patriarchy holds the license to and beholdens both, but maintains a class difference.

  18. garlicbreath

    During the 1930s and 1940s, the Japanese imperial army instituted a system of sexual slavery (aka comfort stations) as a response to widespread rape by soldiers. In other words, random rape was codified into systematic rape. Former Imperial Army soldiers have testified to the fact that the comfort stations weren’t even effective at eliminating random rapes because “if we are supposed to be killing them on the battlefield, why aren’t we allowed to rape them in the villages?”

    To this day, survivors, now in their 80s and 90s, have had to brandish their bonafides (I was kidnapped from the rice paddies!) in order to get the patriarchy-approved sympathy (though they still are waiting for the Japanese government to take full legal and moral responsibility). The Japanese women recruited into the comfort station system have remained silent because they are presumed to be complicit and thus, somehow lacking in the pain of being raped 20, 30, 40 times a day.

    Anyway, the New Yorker had a good in-depth piece on sex trafficking today. Victim blaming is still all the rage.

    From the article: At another trafficking trial, the judge told the monitors, “These young ladies are prostitutes, they go abroad and prostitute themselves, then they are not happy with the money they get, so upon their return, they complain they were trafficked. But I know their kind, I’ve seen their pictures, they’re all smiling while dancing, and then they say that they were trafficked.”

  19. Hattie

    There is an important point being made here. There are men who want to rape women, but they do not want to go to prison for their crimes. The same with pedophiles. Hence underground pedophile rings.
    This is one of the best discussions on the topic of “sex crimes” that I have ever read.

  20. Lara

    For those of you wondering if trafficking of women and girls WITHIN the U.S. is as prevalent as international trafficking, I would suggest you take a look at the film “Very Young Girls”:


    It’s a film showing how young girls (mostly around 13 and 14 years of age) are manipulated and coerced into prostitution. It also follows around two men who are pimps (and who tried to start a reality show on BET about their pimping exploits :/ ), so in a sense you do get into the psychology/minds of these disgusting assholes.

  21. Lara

    Sorry for the double post, one last thing I want to add is that it’s very telling that most of the young women coerced/tricked into U.S. trafficking are African American and minority women. Racial discrimination and poverty go hand-in-hand in this country, and it’s no wonder that African American, Native American, and Latina women are overrepresented among most prostitutes in the U.S. You can really see that in the documentary I referred to above.

  22. TP

    Men are taught to love rape by the very idea of the girls sitting at home by the phone pining away to be called up for a date, which changes to the idea of going out and finding girls, to the idea of chasing girls, to the idea of making girls like you even if they seem to not like you back, then to the idea that you make a girl enjoy it by your insistence, and it all gets fulfilled and bolstered by actual dating experiences that are seen through this lens of active aggression.

    Hattie pointed out that these are men that pay to rape women because they don’t want to go to jail. These men think they shouldn’t ever have to go to jail for raping anyone. If the women wisely fakes
    an orgasm to get the creep off of her, he will always think of rape as a mutually beneficial experience.

    Men think women like being raped. There’s the full horror of it for you.

  23. TwissB

    Because the IMDb description of the unfortunately titled but excellent film “Very Young Girls,” cited by Lara is so perfunctory and puerile, I am presuming to quote the review from the Onion’s AV Club and to add a few more suggestions to Lara’s for those interested in taking action against human trafficking – predominantly of women and girls.

    o “Reviewed by Scott Tobias – July 3rd, 2008 – The Onion
    So is it really all that hard out there for a pimp? Late in the powerful documentary Very Young Girls, Rachel Lloyd, a former prostitute and founder of a NYC non-profit that helps young streetwalkers regain control of their lives, receives an award for her efforts shortly after Three 6 Mafia collected an Academy Award for Best Song for Hustle & Flow. It’s a sobering moment: The Three 6 Mafia song (and the movie it represents) seems harmless enough, but that harmlessness points to a softened public perception of pimps that doesn’t jibe with the real deal. And that’s one of the many obstacles Lloyd has to face as she tries to wrest these damaged girls not just from their pimps, but also from a justice system and a culture that’s rigged against them.”

    o Search You Tube for a short but terrific video by Rachel Lloyd titled: “The Making of a Girl.” that shows U.S. pimp ensnarement tactics in a nutshell.

    o See Melissa Farley’s website: http://www.prostitutionresearch.com and get her outstanding book: Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connections.”

    o Go to the website of http://www.polarisproject.org for info about Polaris’s nationwide network to train volunteers to assist victims and the Polaris Hot Line to report suspected trafficking situations or for victims to get help.

    o Write or call your senators NOW and ask others to do so as well to urge Senate passage of the strong House version (H.3881- The Wilberforce Act) of the Trafficking Victims’ Protection Reapportionment Act. There is a fierce fight going on in the Senate, led by Senators Biden and Brownback, to gut H.3881. The Biden-Brownback bill (S. 3061) would strip the TVPRA of the provisions most essential to its effective enforcement against traffickers and provide real help for victims. For more information, contact pbutler257@aol.com. S.3061 is supported very vocally by the Erotic Service Providers Union, i.e. the sexploitation nindustry. Need I say more?

  24. Frankie

    If anyone is interested, there is a report just out on access to compensation for trafficking victims which can be summed up as: zip, nada. There is money available, but enough clever loopholes in national and international law to ensure you won’t actually be able to get your hands on it, and will be forced into long, drawn out civil procedures against the trafficker (if you can find him – and let’s face it, it’s going to be a him) which, rather inconveniently, you probably won’t recieve the appropriate residence permits to actually see reach a conclusion.

    Is there anything more frustrating about a legal system that international purports to help and protect victims and then allows countries to just drop them through the massive holes in their national systems?

    Also, @ Natalia, while there are a lot of women who do enter rape slavery willingly, what many are unaware of the conditions they will be working under including the inability to say ‘no’ to a ‘client’, under the traffickers control 24/7, and let’s not forget the women who had their front teeth knocked out in Spain to make giving blowjobs more pleasant for the man. Apologies if that just made everyone heave.

    Anyway, the link for the report: http://www.osce.org/odihr/item_11_31284.html

  25. Fhiona

    I’ve just had a meeting with the police. One of my cases, a little girl of about 9/10 years, has now been missing for a year, so we were reviewing and wondering where to go next. We don’t know her real name, or her real date of birth. I hope she’s still out there, but the longer she’s missing, the more likely she is to be dead. We know that a couple in the city paid £4500 for her, but the trafficker (a woman) disappeared with her before they got their hands on her. Obviously realised she could get more elsewhere. In the UK today, you can buy a nine year old Nigerian girl for four and a half grand.

    A usual destination for Nigerian girls is Italian brothels, there’s a big demand for them there. The Italian police are wise to this, so they basically wait on the tarmac for planes from Nigerian to land. We’re less able to do this in the UK, so the girls get brought here first. They’re put into school for a few weeks to get them some sort of ‘evidence’ that they are resident in the UK, then get taken to Italy ‘for a holiday’, where they are sold on.

    We’re having a lot of problems with girls from the Eastern Bloc coming in, as they have Eurpoean passports and therefore have a right to be here. These girls and women are usually over 18 (but not always) and are often here for the sort of assault you’re talking about – ie not the usual ‘happy’ rape, where the punter gets to kid himself she’s there of her own free will because she’s smiling. (That she’s smiling because she’ll be beaten if she doesn’t is something he doesn’t have to think about). These types of brothels tend to be run by Albanians in our city, and they have an appalling reputation for the level of violence they use against the women.

    If anyone from the UK would like to know more about the relationships between gender, ethnicity and type of abuse in the UK, you can have a look at the ECPAT and CEOP websites. There’s a lot of excellent research on there, although it concentrates on children.

    You can also join ECPAT’s Thr3e Small Steps campaign. This is important, because at the moment in the UK, trafficking victims, including children, are being treated more like illegal immigrants than victims of crime. The UK has a Reservation on the UN Convention On The Rights Of The Child, which means we haven’t signed up to the bit about it not mattering where the child is from if they need services. We also won’t sign the Council of Europe convention either. At the moment, we’re really struggling with this issue. Often, the ‘usual’ signs of child abuse are absent – we know what we’re looking at if a kid is covered in bruises or is making an accusation of rape. It’s much more difficult to weigh up the risks when we come up against kids like this. After all, they could just be on the run from immigration, and we don’t want to put them at risk of being deported. If that risk was removed, we’d be able to be a lot more robust in our approach.

  26. OM


    A slide show about Eastern European women trafficked.

    Here in the US is a story of slavery, including sex, that was uncovered due to a holiday time carbon monoxide poisoning of a teenager (I love that the female judge added years onto the sentencing beyond the recommended one):

    Please note that this plea was definitely a “deal” amongst gentlemen (I use the term loosely) as many family members, including his son, were under threat of racketeering charges. I’m sure the whole thing was much bigger than the one case brought.

    Many, many victims, little concern.

  27. Kay Em

    They only found three? Here’s a suggestion where they can look:



    Hint: follow the Johns, people. Unless. . . they were the Johns.

  28. Ron Sullivan

    Just to add a note of encouragement here, a couple of details left out of that SFGate story:

    The real story was first broken by a couple of female journalism students at Berkeley High, when they read about the CO poisonings. They wondered why the young women, who were about their own age, weren’t in school—the incident happened on a school day. So they researched the story and it first ran in the highschool paper, IIRC. Then the legal storm broke. (One detail of it was that a bottle of Viagra with Reddy’s prescription label on it was found in the girls’ medicine cabinet.)

    I probably have no right to be, really, but I am so fuckin proud of those students it all gives me a fit of hope.

    Other ramifications: Reddy/his family owned/still owns a lot of apartment buildings and a restaurant and nightclub in Berkeley. Friend of ours used to live in one of those apartments, and it took raising holy hell to get even half-assed maintenance done. The general fear was that Reddy would sell off the buildings if he got deported, and the tenants would be pretty much screwed out of rent control and other protections. This is a town with a huge student population and ridiculously high real-estate prices.

    Hasn’t happened yet; no guarantee it won’t.

  29. Supersister

    I always wonder why the focus on victims. As a society we need to target rapists and force them to address their behaviour or else move on elsewhere. If we eradicated normalised violence, there would be no unwilling or exploited sex worker. Surely this is in all our interests? The emphasis on women and children to speak out is unrealistic, silence is vital for their survival.

  30. Craig McGill

    @sarahcl: I found when I was writing Human Traffic that the reason for women to use other women was a power thing mostly. For some, there were more seedy reasons, but for many it was just the fact that they could do what they wanted to these younger and prettier women.

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