Women resist rescue by anti-trafficking police, who admit it

Headlines read Hookers rescued against their will and Rescued cybersex girls bolt DSWD office. The stories are from the Philippines, but they are not the first of their kind to reach mainstream news outlets. And they are not amazing exceptions to the rule, as everyone who works in helping projects knows.

The argument against raiding sex venues is not that all the workers are happy because sex work and free markets are just grand. The argument is that US policy, which threatens countries with losing aid if they don’t do enough to stop trafficking, promotes ham-fisted policing – cowboy raids that rush to pick up women selling sex and arrest their exploiters. Threatened countries use well-publicised raids to say to the US, See? We are doing what you want. We are stopping human trafficking and rescuing victims, so don’t cut off our aid. Which works, if you look at how the Philippines’ ranking improved in this year’s lame TIP Report.

So why aren’t more campaigners against prostitution and slavery concerned when women resist rescue? Is it so hard to understand that resistance doesn’t mean they love their jobs or are not being exploited by anyone or were not treated badly by their parents? All we really know it means is that they don’t want to be rescued like this. Over and over, researchers have documented how such women simply prefer their present situations in these brothels to other optionsforceable internment in rescue homes being at the top of the list. Similar stories have come from other countries: Chinese women in the Congo, Bangladeshis in India.

Details of the cybersex-girls’ escape include:

Fifteen girls, rescued by police and National Bureau of Agency men from a cybersex den operated by two Swedish nationals have escaped from the Department of Social Welfare Development office in Cagayan de Oro City. . .  after mauling the duty security guard. The girls then flagged down a passenger jeepney and forced its driver to bring them away from the DSWD office. . . – ABS.CBNnews.com, the Philippines, 5 July 2011

Details from hookers rescued against their will include:

A hundred female sex workers . . . and five foreigners were arrested in raids on three night clubs in Angeles City Tuesday night. . . “The women don’t really consider it a rescue,” said CIDG Women and Children’s Protection Desk head . . .  “They kept cursing us, and tried their best to escape.” . . . Chief Supt. Samuel Pagdilao Jr., said the successive raids in Angeles City’s red light district bolstered the US government’s recognition of the Philippines’ commitment to combating human trafficking. The Philippines has been taken off a watch list of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report and elevated to Tier 2, a category of countries that do not fully comply with anti-trafficking standards but are making efforts to do so. Philippine Daily Inquirer, 29 June 2011

That should be a clear enough cause-and-effect relationship for anyone to understand!

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

20 thoughts on “Women resist rescue by anti-trafficking police, who admit it

  1. William Thirteen

    reminds me of the old missionaries game. ‘sometimes you have to sacrifice their bodies to save their souls.’

    how far we’ve come when we now have to ‘free’ women by imprisoning them…

    1. Laura Agustín

      locking women and children up to protect them is, of course, one of the world’s oldest stories. no matter how modern we think we are, on this point we are in the dark ages.

  2. Jo Weldon

    “Is it so hard to understand that resistance doesn’t mean they love their jobs or are not being exploited by anyone or were not treated badly by their parents? All we really know it means is that they don’t want to be rescued like this.”

    This is so important, Laura.

  3. DK

    I remember hearing about two Swedes getting life sentences for human trafficking in the Philippines. I take it those “Cybersex Girls” are the ones who worked for them?

    From what I remember, none of them were underaged, or forced to work through violence, and that made it seem like an exceptionally harsh punishment to me.

    That was a good few months ago. Would these women have been held in custody by the authorities since the raid?

  4. Laura Agustín

    i believe the men referred to here are the same heard about in late april-early may. the ‘cybersex’ girls apparently picked up at the same time are here escaping from an office not a home, but we don’t know where they have been between times – presumably not in the office. although, now that i think about it, the date on the cybersex story is written 05/07/2009, which could mean 7 may.

    in the world of detention, a couple of months is not so long, though, alas.

  5. Kris

    Lately some Hungarian prostitutes in the Netherlands said they were exploited by their pimps and that they were threatened. The female pimps were arrested. A male pimp was not. The women were brought by the police to a shelter for battered women. But they didn’t like it there (because for instance they had to hand over their mobile phones), so they returned to the male pimp. They liked it better with him.

    I think these stories are not strange. I think the women just need better escape routes.

    You can read it in this report:

    It is called “Mensenhandel in de Amsterdamse raamprostitutie – een onderzoek naar de aard en opsporing van mensenhandel” published by the WODC, written by Verhoeven, M.A., Gestel, B. van, Jong, D. de (2011).

  6. Maggie McNeill

    Yesterday I reread Christina Hoff Sommers’ essay on the rape hysteria of the early ’90s and I was struck by the parallels between it and trafficking hysteria – bad “studies”, inflated statistics, critics attacked as “facilitating” the problem, omnipresent propaganda, bad legislation, money flowing to NGOs while real victims got none…but the one thing that struck me most was the way in which both “crises” were built on the backs of women who disagreed that they were “victimized”. The one difference is that in the early ’90s, women whom the hysterics said were “raped” but themselves said otherwise were not forcibly abducted from their homes and confined to “rape treatment centers”.

    1. laura agustin Post author

      the shape of this present phenomenon is classic in more than one way. if you read my chapter on the 19th century someday you will see references to historical studies of the rescue homes saved prostitutes were placed in to learn to be domestic servants (in the uk). escapes and attempted escapes were quite common. they are also common in orphanages, children’s homes and the like.

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  8. Waldemar Smith, PhD

    DK, yes the “rescued” cybersex girls worked for the now-imprisoned Swedes.

    As Laura points out, the girls’ reaction dramatizes how much they fear and despise the police and the anti-trafficking policy they enforce. All the resulting harm–oppression of working women, erosion of community-police relations in Philippine cities, imprisoning people for life–can be laid at the feet of the activist rescue industry that pushes this policy.

    The rescue industry very effectively frames the sex work problem and drives its ideas even into the public consciousness. Less than two weeks ago the New York Times, of all publications, printed an editorial advocating more trafficking prosecutions, based on the TIP report, of all reports. We take issue with this in the News section of our blog (www.flameblue.net).

    As a small clarification, I wouldn’t classify the Angeles City bars as “brothels,” strictly speaking. They are places men go to meet women, not places to have sex with them.

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