Anatomy of Global Sex Industry

Linked with our publication of Kinhide Mushakoji – Japan.

Kinhide Mushakoji is Secretary-General of IMADR, Internat. Mouvement against all forms of Discrimination and Rascisme, Geneva and Tokyo.

1. The Global Sex Industry

The Global Sex Industry (hereafter abridged as GSI) is defined as the sum-total of the activities of the transnational commercial activities of the various institutions providing sexual services and of the networks providing women and children to work in these institutions. The globalization of the world economy has developed a global competition which commodifies everything; It has not left out the leisure economy sector, including the sex industry which competes in the commodification of women and children.

This “industry” combines all forms of sexual services, to mainly male customers. This includes both legally and illegally performed services including prostitution but not limited to it. The globalization of the economy has developed a global market commodifying women and children of the poorer regions and countries for the competitive satisfaction of the customers in the wealthier regions and countries.

The GSI is different from the traditional local sex industry institutionalizing prostitution in different ways, but always based on the exploitation of local women and children, already based on the exploitation of poverty but not on a global scale. The GSI organizes the trafficking of women and children on a global scale, orienting the flow of human commodity according to the shifts in risks and benefits in different parts of the global, regional, and national markets.

The GSI is a complex system of well-defined roles performed by a chain of well-connected groups of actors and supporters who support and sustain the GSI, and guarantee the replenishment of the victims it exploits. Among the different categories of actors, we generally find the recruiters who “recruit” the women and children through various means including forced abduction, delusion, as well as seduction by the profit to be made.

Support from village dignitaries or influential family members are often decisive. There are also the transporters from the home village or town to the national center of sex industry, and those who accompany the victims across national borders. The latter act sometimes as husband to the victim to pass through the immigration. Immigration procedures sometimes profit from the support of bribed immigration officers. Some of the women and children are distributed locally in the national sex industry centers; others are directed to richer countries by transnational connectors with good access to the criminal networks in the receiving/exploiting countries. They sometimes use the support of forgerers who produce faked documents, and sometimes also officials of immigration or of the visa section of consulates.

On the side of the exploiting countries, another group of criminal gangs receives the women and children, sees that their bondage is guaranteed, and distributes them into the different sex industry centers where they enter under the control of local exploiters; mama-sans, pimps, owners, and the criminal gangs who supervise them, and receive margins in exchange with protection. The local exploiters, depending on the mix of legal and illegal means are used locally, often receive the support of local authorities in different forms. Even uncorrupted, the police need the support of the criminal gangs to get various information on more serious crimes. In exchange, they leak information on the dates and time of the roundups so that the sex industry can avoid being demolished.

The survivors, after having paid their “debts”, are often encouraged to join the GSI network as mama-sans, transnational transporters, or supporters to the recruiters. Thus there is a chain of well-linked roles which operates in a cyclical manner, replenishing the ranks of the exploited women and children.

The GSI has a specific way to exploit its victims so that it can receive maximum profit from the customers. The clients are ready to pay an exorbitant sum in return for sexual “services” provided by women and children from their own country as well as from different “exotic” countries. Wealthier customers generally pay more for women and children from their own country, and the less affluent clients pay less for the women and children trafficked from the poorer countries. To obtain more profit from the trafficked victims, the GSI minimizes expenses by exploiting them under bondage, avoiding paying them on the grounds that they have to repay their debts.

A racist hierarchy of women and children is formed, on top of which are the nationals who are not generally under bondage. The bottom layer is composed of the bonded women and children coming from poor countries, who are often “illegal” immigrants. The bonded women and children, after having paid all their “debts”, receive remuneration that is considerable in terms of the standard of their country of origin, but represents only a small proportion of the money received from the customer. This permits the GSI to distribute to all the actors and supporters constituting the chain of replenishment, a part of the money received from the clients as well as keep an enormous surplus for themselves. This money, after having been laundered, serves to further develop the GSI, as well as other transnational criminal activities including drug trafficking, arms trafficking, and bribery.

2. The Violation of the Rights of the Victims of the GSI

The international community has long been concerned about the human rights violations accompanying trafficking in women and children and the exploitation of prostitution of others. The concern gave birth to an anti-trafficking regime which tries to define the acts which violate the rights and dignities of the trafficked women and children, and to establish international standards according to which States are expected to take preventive and/or punitive actions.

The emergence of the GSI and the underlying transnational networks of criminal organizations pose a serious question as to the effectiveness of the individual-act centered approach, which can not develop an effective system of surveillance, prevention, and control of the GSI chain of actors. A recent trend which has emerged following the growing awareness of the international community about the need to cope with the globalizing tendencies of transnational organized crime gave birth to a different trend which focused on the control of the GSI as part of global organized crimes. This approach tries to build an effective system to fight against transnational organized crime including the exploitation of women and children by the GSI.

Their concern is to strengthen law and order on the national level through an improved international cooperation. Consequently, they do not pay enough attention to the rights and dignity of the victims of the criminal chain of the GSI. It is feared that the general tendency to accept sex industry as a mainly masculine leisure industry while stigmatizing and penalizing the women exploited by this industry may be further developed by this new effort to fight the organized crimes supporting the GSI, unless a regime combining the criminalization of the global criminals with a decriminalization of their victims is established in full respect of the rights and dignity of the women and children concerned.

It is, under these circumstances, extremely important to propose a general strategy to fight against the GSI from a human rights point of view, putting before other concern the respect of the rights and dignity of the women and children exploited by the GSI and their empowerment. In this attempt to propose a strategy to fight the human rights violations of the GSI, we need to take into consideration the following three aspects of this global industry:

First, the GSI is a robust industry which is capable of surviving under different regimes of prohibition, abolition and regulation. It is necessary to study concrete cases comparing the three approaches in order to arrive at a definite conclusion, but it is at least necessary to recognize the fact that the GSI profit from the clandestinity of sexual services to increase their price, under regulationist regimes they profit from the widening of the market. Under abolitionism, a judicious mix of legality and illegality can permit the GSI to optimize its price and number of clients. The hierarchy of the women and children differently priced and exploited give to the GSI to survive under different regimes.

For example, under a regulatory regime, the existence of a bottom layer of “illegal” and unregulated women and children makes it possible for the GSI to continue to exploit its victims under bondage, and maintain a price hierarchy high enough to guarantee its profits.This is why in practically all countries, irrespective of the anti-trafficking regime, the GSI continues to prosper, and prove its robustness by reorganizing its market after all the police round-ups, however successful they may have appeared to be for a short while. This is why, it is crucial to find the weak points of the GSI under each regime and develop regulatory mechanisms appropriate in each of them.

Second, the GSI has developed a skillful technique to survive by using the women and children as a shield. They let the immigration authorities and the police arrest the victims in their place. Many campaigns against organized crime, national or transnational end up arresting the victims or at best some of the lesser actors and supporters like pimps and mama-sans. The technique is simple. It consists of erasing any evidence linking what is happening on the site of operation/exploitation and the GSI bosses operating behind the scenes.

The GSI involves, as we have already seen, different actors who should all be the object of surveillance and punishment. Surveillance can often be an effective tool to identify the agents of the GSI who commit the same criminal act repeatedly. Such agents include the recruiters and his supporters who convince the victims to agree to bondage or other forms of exploitation, they often return to the same village where they succeeded in their recruitment. The transporters inside the country of origin or across national borders victims should be identified and punished. The immigration authorities, often, know the transporters who take the same rout across borders, or the same air route.

In all these circumstances, the investigation should not treat the victims as if they were the criminals. The investigation should not be satisfied to arrest the recruiters and transporters, but should seek to get to the bosses of the criminal organizations who hire them. This involves on the one hand an increase in the capacity of surveillance and investigation of the transnational police and of the immigration authorities, but also a process of interrogation and testimony of the victims themselves which, for the moment, tend to be conducted without any concern for the basic rights and dignity of the victims, who are treated more as criminals or accomplices and as “illegal” migrants. This double problem, i.e. the need to strengthen surveillance and investigation reaching the criminal bosses behind the scene and the need to respect the rights and dignity of the victims, is even more delicate on the site of exploitation where the evidence of sexual exploitation is not the object of police inquiry, but rather illegal acts of sexual services which are performed by the victims and not by the exploiters.

The victims, even when not criminalized for their acts, are often arrested as “illegal” migrants, and, as we have said already, the police does not bother to investigate the terms of bondage, and the true identity of those who receive the margin of profit of the services provided by the women and children. This is where the domestic legislation and the international conventions should focus their legislative efforts, irrespective of the regime of prohibition, abolition, or regulation. In all cases there is always a legal and an illegal aspect to any of the services, and a surplus of the profit obtained which transfer is based on bondage or other terms of excessive exploitation which needs to be the central object of surveillance, investigation and criminalization.

The legal efforts to control the GSI should have this objective clearly in mind to avoid violating the rights and dignity to the women and children concerned. On the administrative level, all the government officials have to be instructed and trained accordingly.

Third, the GSI is based on a very simple demand and supply structure. If there were no rich customers ready to pay an exorbitant sum of money in return for sexual services, and if there were no poor women and children who are forced or incited to be trafficked to affluent centers of the GSI where they offer these services to the rich clients, no GSI could survive. The root of the problem lies in this combination of a political/economic factor, i.e. the wide gap between rich and poor regions. and a psychological/cultural factor, i.e. the customer’s psychological readiness to buy sexual services and the cultural background motivating to accept the terms of the recruiter by the community and/or the family or the women and children themselves. This poses another set of issues of an extra-legal nature.

The GSI must not profit from the masculine psychology which sees no problem in commodifying women and children of poorer regions as part of the leisure industry. It should neither be permitted to traffic women and children because of a political/economic situation which creates a strong aspiration to migrate which is obstructed by the immigration regulations leaving to the women and children’s relatives only one alternative, i.e. accepting to be trafficked. These issues need to be tackled legally by the revision of immigration laws. they should also lead to the modification of the development cooperation policies of the affluent countries exploiting the women and children of the developing countries in their GSI sector. The problems of education, health (including the HIV/AIDS question, mass media, tourist industry and leisure industry have to be mobilized in order at least to reduce, if not eliminate, the clients and victims of the GSI exploitation of women and children.)

It is important that the concerned States and Inter-State Bodies including the United Nations realize that these conditions, whether political economic, psychological or cultural, constitute the most serious form of institutional sexism and racism. The States should realize their responsibility in eliminating such sexism and racism, since it is only them that can create an institutional change sufficiently broad and coordinated to cope with the problem of the demands and supplies of the criminal exploitation of women and children by the GSI.

3. Practical Conclusions

In opposing systematically the human rights violation committed by the various agents of the GSI, and in protecting the rights of the victims, the states, IGOs and the United Nations have to develop a systematic approach to the surveillance and control of the agents of the GSI at each points in the chain of agents linking the place of origin and of exploitation of the victims of the GSI. Such systematic efforts should combine legal measures with different administrative policies of the states concerned. This should address not only the control of the GSI, but also the empowerment and the building of the capacity of the victims and potential victims, as well as survivors, to protect their own rights and denounce the agents of the GSI.

This would include preventive measures, economic and educational, as well as “rehabilitation” or better empowerment of survivors. The intervention points to be the target of coordinated actions by the states, IGOs and the United Nations are:

Recruitment at the home village/town of the victims.
Transportation within country of origin of the victims.
Emigration and transportation of the victims across borders.
Immigration and transportation of the victims within the country of exploitation.
Site of exploitation of the victims.
Repatriation or prolonged stay in the country of exploitation of the victims. ( This includes forced repatriation, repatriation or prolonged stay where the victim’s intention is to break with the GSI and denounce its agents, or repatriation with the victims’ intend to continue their connection with the GSI.)

A legal discussion on individual cases of trafficking and exploitation is necessary but not sufficient in protecting the rights and guaranteeing the dignity of the victims of the GSI. Some may be deceived and other induced to accept bondage by the GSI. The diverse forms of recruitment and exploitation are judiciously combined, as we saw, by the GSI to maximize profit and minimize surveillance and control by the different authorities which may hamper the free deployment of its different activities.

It is essential to focus on the different concrete situations where the victims are caught between the agents of the GSI and the public authorities fighting against the illegal activities of the GSI. It is essential to develop a system of surveillance and control of the GSI which copes with its combined use of legal and illegal means to exploit its victims, and to make the public authorities to respect the rights and the dignity of the victims in all their activities of surveillance and control of the GSI. The attempts of the GSI to penalize its victims and stay unhurt by the legal measures taken by the public authorities need to be expressly recognized and counteracted efficiently by the concerned states, IGOs and the United Nations.

The discussion on the victims’ freedom of choice needs to be put into the actual context where the GSI traffics and exploits its victims. It is a fact that there is a considerable number of the victims of the GSI who accept bondage “freely” in view of the lack of alternative ways to gain a comparable money as what they are told they may earn after their bondage has been removed. A number of the agents working for the GSI are survivors.

This is a fact, again, which demands a special concern of the governments, especially of the country of exploitation, who should recognize its responsibility to remove, or reduce the incentives created by their restrictive immigration policy which gives no alternatives to the victims than to rely on the traffickers to obtain a “job” in the rich country.

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