A Little About the Business of For-Profit Rape…

I’ve formulated two decisive thoughts about sex-trafficking since being in Nepal.

First, I am convinced after my time with Tiny Hands, reading the “digging deeper” books listed below, and seeing the injustice with my own eyes, that sex trafficking—or rape for profit—is the absolute worst social injustice in the world, incorporating several other injustices in its operation.  I argued with myself that maybe genocide was at the top—we’ve seen the heartbreaking results of this a lot recently—but in the end, I realized that from the beginning of time until now and far into the future, sex-trafficking will end up crushing more lives than any of the worldwide genocides.

(Also, I’m wondering how I found myself in a coffee shop on the other side of the world weighing out worst-ness of sex-trafficking and genocide. People have asked if my year with World Next Door has been life-changing. I always say, No, not in the dramatic day-do-day or emotional functioning sense, but in subtle ways. This is a classic example.)

Second, is the language we all use. Simply put, another name for sex-trafficking—described by International Justice Mission as the collision of the man-made disasters of slavery, illegal detention, and sexual violence—is the lucrative business of rape for profit.

Don’t blow past that one: Sex-trafficking is really just a for-profit rape business.

There are owners, managers, distributors, supply chains and operation centers. The business owners function in the same cost/benefit models as all other businesses, and right now, in many places, sex-trafficking is a low-risk, high-reward business.  It’s not just a few outlying mean guys. It’s an organized criminal business enterprise.

Although I stand awed and stumped and paralyzed as I follow the organizational chart from one trafficked girl all the way to the top of command, many organizations—despite the enormity of the problem—are shaking themselves of fear and paralysis and are attacking different links in the sex-trafficking using their own niche of skills and expertise.

Organizations like Center for Global Impact (as described in our last two issues of World Next Door) are working tirelessly to reduce economic and social vulnerability in communities where sex-trafficking is rampant by providing alternative skills and incomes.   They are addressing poverty as a form of prevention, and understand that when the standard of living is raised and poverty is reduced, risk levels for trafficking decline.  In this case, community development and prevention efforts at the source are effectively combating one piece of the injustice.

International Justice Mission is all about the rescuing of the one. “While there are millions of girls and women victimized every day, our work will always be about the one. The one girl deceived. The one girl kidnapped. The one girl raped. The one girl infected with AIDS. The one girl needing a rescuer. To succumb to the enormity of the problem is to fail the one. And more is required of us.”  While they fulfill their intent to rescue the one, they are also highly focused on justice and prosecution using intelligence-led investigations (as opposed to reactive-led investigations). They are combating a different piece of the injustice—rescue and conviction.

The organization we are embedded with now, Tiny Hands, is using the same model of intelligence-led undercover operations, working in the field with local informants and collecting evidence (with hidden spy gadgets!) to both attack the supply chain and make sex-trafficking a high risk, low-reward industry.

All the intelligence they gather is funneling into a fusion center that will map out the entire network, source to destination—including points of origin for both the trafficker and the victim, transit routes, relationships, opportunistic trafficking vs. sophisticated systems, and destinations.  They are at the borders intercepting individual girls on a daily basis, which has been awe-inspiring to see in itself, but through the interception, they’re able to gather information about the trafficker and manage the trafficked girl’s case for prosecution.  Ultimately, they purpose to free those captive, arrest and convict the traffickers, and de-incentivise the trafficking business so it’s no longer profitable.

“Every successful intervention costs the criminals involved in trafficking a huge amount of money. Every successful prosecution costs them even more time and valuable resources. Every criminal sentenced to jail changes a community’s and a culture’s understanding of what is and is not acceptable.” (God in a Brothel by Daniel Walker)

More? No? Sorry, it’s coming anyway.

Jeff (not Jeff Hartman, Jeff the Director of Freedom Operations at Tiny Hands) described it to me like this:

If you wanted to shut down Wal-mart, you wouldn’t just clear the shelves.
(This would be simply rescuing individual girls)

If you did that, Wal-mart would just restock tomorrow morning.
(This could potentially draw more girls into the sex trade than there were today in order to restock the shelves)

You would not even shut down the individual store.
(Bust a local brothel)

Wal-mart would just open another store next door tomorrow.
(A new brothel pops-up down the street every time one is busted)

Instead, you would most effectively follow the distribution chain to the ones in charge: the management and owners. To shut down the entire operation, you would dis-empower the source. (The traffickers, not Wal-mart.)

And this is the ginormous approach by which Tiny Hands is attempting to attack Global Sex Trafficking—a pretty massive undertaking.

But, like Gary Haugen said, “Perhaps the greatest challenge in confronting evil is simply getting started.”

Books to read if you want to “dig deeper” into understanding the injustice and its interventions:

  • Terrify No More by Gary Haugen
  • God in a Brothel by Daniel Walker
  • Jeff Blom’s Blog (Jeff is the Director of Freedom Operations at Tiny Hands and former VP of Investigations at International Justice Mission): http://global-sentry.org/blog/
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