From our colleague:
The Justice Project
How do we address the “demand” side of sex trafficking? At a recent presentation during meetings of the UN on the status of women, Kris Wade spoke as a self-described “survivor of many crimes against women” and the director/founder of the Justice Project in Kansas City. She knows from experience how difficult and traumatic it can be for women in poverty (challenged by homelessness, mental illness, domestic violence, sexual exploitation etc.) to navigate various social systems and created the Justice Project to help.
Following are the key points from the presentation, which was organized by the Non-Governmental Organization Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons.
1. Human trafficking of all sorts is alive and well in the heartland of the United States. Americans are trafficking Americans to other Americans. Kansas City is the 4th hottest spot in the nation for trafficking of human beings. Much of this is due to geography, where 2 major highways intersect, as well as being within a day’s drive of the Mexican border. Many rural persons seek refuge in the city and can fall victim to very tricky and persuasive traffickers and buyers.
2. We are dealing with a very ill culture that de-sensitizes people to violence, particularly sexual violence against women and girls. Young men receive these cultural messages that are fraught with distorted sexuality and exaggerated emphasis on material wealth. Human trafficking is driven by greed, the money to be made makes it appealing to potential traffickers, particularly those who see it as a way out of poverty themselves. On the flip side, poverty also makes it easier for victims to be lured into trafficking situations, falling prey to the deceptions and coercions practiced by traffickers to capture their prey. Trafficking is perpetuated by the buyers, the “demand side” who continue to pay for those who are enslaved through trafficking.
3. The demand includes not only buyers, but facilitators as well- taxi drivers, hotel
personnel, strip club owners, landlords who rent to traffickers, even police and others in authority who turn a blind eye or who participate in the facilitation of trafficking.
4. While it is commonly said “victims are hiding in plain sight” the same can be said for the demand side. The perpetrators (buyers) are also hiding in plain sight. Teachers, doctors, pastors, lawyers, blue collar workers, all have been found to be willing participants in the buying of human beings for sexual and labor purposes.
5. Current trafficking laws, while a good beginning, particularly in the prosecution of traffickers and the rescue of minor aged victims, are not punitive enough or complete. We need stronger punishment for buyers, including facilitators, and requirements for them to also provide restitution to victims. Current lawmakers, while doing a good job of legislating on certain trafficking issues, still do not understand that no victim should have to prove the “force fraud and coercion” conditions that are already INHERENT in any form of trafficking. Older victims (over 18) , if American, must always prove the aforementioned. Minors are automatically assumed to be victims due to their age and thankfully have no
6. System change is sorely needed, as well as prevention. Prevention and education about trafficking must start in childhood, with age-appropriate education. Education of system actors is critical, to educate them about the demand, and to teach them better ways to screen for, identify and assist victims. Peer survivor involvement is critical. “John schools” MAY be effective for SOME first time offenders.
7. Legalization is not a valid option. Research shows it can increase trafficking of
children as well as foreign trafficking.
8. Demand must be addressed as a human rights offense. Not only is it a human rights crime to sell people, but is equally as heinous to be a facilitator or buyer contributing to vast networks that perpetuate slavery and suffering.
9. The demand not only pads the pockets of criminal traffickers and facilitators, it also provides danger to victims. Many victims have not survived their demand
encounters. Torture, rape, sexual assaults, beatings, kidnapping, and death are just some of the criminal acts perpetrated on victims by the buyers.