Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Briefing on Sex Trafficking

At work the other day a man came to provide a training on the status of sex trafficking in India and specifically the state of AP (where I live).  This is an issue I've been eager to learn more about as I'm particularly interested in issues facing girls and women worldwide. What an eye opener this meeting was... It was packed with new information, much of which I found to be overwhelming, so I did my best to organize and write a brief review right after the meeting so that I could retain as much as possible. Below is a copy of this review and my thoughts on sharing them:


            Over the course of time in India, groups of nomadic communities that would travel from village to village where they were housed and fed for several days in exchange for dance performances, acrobatic performances, or sex. There was no shame involved in hiring prostitutes or dancers. Often times the women, most of whom were 18 or older, (sometimes as young as 16 though) would perform dance shows until about 10 or 11 PM and then the women viewers would leave and slowly the dancers would start to remove their clothing creating what we might refer to as strip clubs or strip dancing in the States.
            Early to mid-90’s the awareness around HIV started to increase and older women were seen as less valuable than younger women because they were more experienced and thus more likely to carry HIV. As a result, children started being prostituted and trafficked resulting in the typical age of 11 and 12 year old child sex slaves that exist today.

Government Involvement
            While the Central Government (referred to as the Federal Gov’t in the States) has legislation in place making prostitution and sex trafficking illegal, the problem (not at all uncommon in India) is implementation of the legislation. On one hand the government declares prostitution to be an illegal act, on the other hand government official are sent to travel to villages and hand out condoms to prostitutes and the men who hire them. In the end, the message that gets sent is that the gov’t isn’t serious about addressing this issue rather they promote practice of this crime.
            Additionally, the government has created laws entitling victims to ‘rehabilitation’ but there’s no follow-thru or resources made available by the government to provide the rehab. NGOs are relied heavily upon but they’re most often poorly funded and incapable of providing the necessary services or resources. In many cases they’re able to oversee the return of the child victim to her home village but after reintegration in her home there is no one outside the community to follow-up.

Reintegration of the Child Victim

Within the community there is a real stigma against girls and families who have been trafficked so often times the families feel a sense of shame or embarrassment and don’t provide, or know how to provide, safety and security needed for the girl when she returns. Furthermore, when the child returns to the village she often has a new look, new habits (i.e. smoking), it’s known that she spent some time away, and so the community puts it all together, figures out she was away working as a prostitute, community members gossip around, and it leads to either the girl getting raped or psychologically coerced to return to prostitution.
            Additionally, sex is often a painful and uncomfortable experience for these girls. Physically, their bodies are not capable of preparing for sex at all, let alone being made to have sex multiple times throughout the day so sex is highly painful and damaging to their bodies. To numb the pain, many women rely upon drugs and alcohol, which often leads to dependencies and addictions. Upon returning to their villages, it’s one of few coping mechanisms they know, they haven’t learned other tools for managing their physical or psychological pain, they have no resources available to them, and so the addictions go untreated and often times other villagers are introduced to these substances and abuse them and/or develop dependencies on them as well.

Challenges Facing Legal Cases

            The good news is that the numbers of reported cases and punishments for crimes related to sex trafficking are on the rise. However, there are several difficulties in managing the cases that get reported. 1) There is a high turnover rate of police officials. By the time paperwork goes through and the police affiliated with the particular case are needed they can be difficult to track down or get involved in the prosecution. 2) There is so little funding behind anti-trafficking NGOs. As mentioned earlier, these NGOs are relied upon by the government but without the funding or resources they’re not able to aggressively pursue the cases that get reported. And 3) It can be a real challenge to identify perpetrators, actually so much so that this has become a bigger issue in India than smuggling drugs or arms. There’s a grooming process that takes place with perpetrators who pay villagers or community members close to the child identified that’s wanted for prostitution to help them access the child. Over time, the child develops a relationship with their future perpetrator and is psychologically brainwashed and coerced to remove herself from her support systems and thus develop a dependency upon him. Of course this is all done subtly and through master manipulation so she loses control and cannot see what’s coming. Once this psychological abuse and alienation is secured enough, the perpetrator is able to abuse her without the threat of her leaving or contacting supportive resources because she solely identifies with him and no longer sees those resources as available to her.

            So, the issue is undoubtedly complex and convoluted. It’s an issue with which I’ve been eager to learn more about over time and yet the more I learn the more overwhelmed I feel about this tangled web. While there’s obviously no quick-fix or easily specifiable societal resolution, I know and can say with confidence that awareness and education is always the first step. Perhaps I find comfort in this notion because it’s tangible and something that provides me with hope. Perhaps, it’s actual truth that without this awareness there can be no forward motion. And, likely, it’s a combination of both.
            Needless to say, I was really moved and profoundly impacted by this presentation. As always, comments and emails are welcome as further conversation and increased awareness of the issue is the only thing that can help remedy such a societal illness.

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