Lost Boys and the disclaimer about sex-trafficked ‘foreigners’

Those who want to save women and children from sex trafficking have a ready-made excuse every time research shows people have taken up selling sex for their own reasons: Whatever methodology was used for the study could have missed the really enslaved people, the ones in chains in a back bedroom or cellar.

This idea is not informed by quantities of research carried out with migrants who sell sex, including my own, and fails to see how difficult it would be to hide people for long who, by definition, are meeting and interacting with members of the public (as clients) every day, and who cannot provide sexual services while chained up or tied down. Moral crusaders promote the idea that all possible customers are monsters who don’t mind violating slaves, but the majority of those buying sex are not demons and are likely to be disturbed by miserable-looking women and sometimes willing to carry distress messages to the world outside.

The Rescue Industry always transfers the conversation to a discussion of the Worst Cases, avoiding the ambiguous, ambivalent, everyday majority who sell sex – which is the large group of people I insist need more attention. It’s not a question of who’s happy or whether life is fair but of what kinds of proposals are useful to those selling sex, or, if Rescuers are not interested in them, what interventions have a chance of ameliorating injustice and social conflict.

The study discussed by the Village Voice last week is not new but was published in 2008; these are the relevant excerpts commenting on the research methodology.

Lost Boys
Kristen Hinman, The Village Voice, 2 November 2011

. . . Finkelhor’s single caveat: While RDS is efficient in circulating through a broad range of social networks, certain scenarios might elude detection—specifically, foreign children who might be held captive and forbidden to socialize.

. . . “It turns out that the boys were the more effective recruiter of pimped girls than anybody else,” Curtis says. “It’s interesting, because this myth that the pimps have such tight control over the girls, that no one can talk to them, is destroyed by the fact that these boys can talk to them and recruit them and bring them to us. Obviously the pimps couldn’t have that much of a stranglehold on them.”

The same, of course, might be true of the elusive foreign-born contingent Finkelhor mentions.

Curtis and Dank believe there is indeed a foreign subpopulation RDS could not reach. But with no data to draw on, it’s impossible to gauge whether it’s statistically significant or yet another overblown stereotype. . .

So, no evidence means the possibility is still open, but how likely is it that this possibility will involve large numbers of people after years and years now of Rescuers and researchers trying diligently to find them? Not very likely, is the answer. The old cliche about hidden populations is abused easily.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

One thought on “Lost Boys and the disclaimer about sex-trafficked ‘foreigners’

  1. kris

    Not a long time ago in the Doubletstraat in the Hague in the Netherlands, hundreds of cops came and brought the prostitutes who worked in the window brothels to the town hall. The police interviewed the women to ask if they were forced. There were many Latin American, Bulgarian and Hungarian women among the prostitutes. All the women said that they worked voluntarily. This is a total surprise to me, because it is generally assumed that many Bulgarian and Hungarian prostitutes are coerced (Latin American prostitutes are generally known to be very independent). I think the only explanation is that the women don’t tell the truth for some reason. If I read through all those human trafficking stories I notice that often the pimps threaten to kill the family members of the prostitutes. Perhaps it makes these women so afraid that they tell policemen and researchers that they work voluntarily. What you also often read is that the prostitutes are so in love with their pimp that they deny to outsiders that they are forced, despite the fact that all the evidence indicates (eyewitness reports, wiretapped telephone conversation) that they are forced.

    But obviously I hope that indeed none of these women are forced, because I have met some Eastern European prostitutes, and they are really nice people. It would make me feel less guilty.


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