Laura Beresford works in the communications team for Restless Development UK and volunteered with us on International Citizen Service (ICS) in Zambia. As part of International Elimination of Violence Against Women Day she talks about sex trafficking and what actions we can take to help end it.
The other night I woke up in a cold sweat from a nightmare that I had been bought into the sex trafficking industry.
And the worst part? Throughout the dream I just kept thinking ‘it’s not supposed to be me, this shouldn’t be happening to someone like me’.
I was so angry at myself.
Laura. This isn’t supposed to be happening to anyone.
There are an estimated 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking worldwide and the women and girls who get caught in this vice industry are often exactly like me; young, ambitious, and eager to visit cities and countries that hold promise and opportunity.
One of the biggest problems is the way the issue is hidden, forgotten, or brushed under the carpet by governments and local authorities. A woman’s life has been sold, a price has been put on her head and will go up or down depending on her age or how much ‘use’ she’s had. And yet the retribution for those involved in trafficking is often minimal. Just one example is from Dorit Otzen, a Danish lawyer who has spent most of her life trying to help victims of sex slavery says ‘You can get up to 10 years [in prison] for selling or importing drugs into Denmark but the longest sentence anyone has ever received for importing a woman is a year’.
What is Sex Trafficking and how does it differ from prostitution?
Trafficker – someone who buys, sells, transports, enslaves, entices, promises, kidnaps, receives, assaults or coerces a person for material gain by forcing them to engage in commercial sex acts against their will. Kathryn Bolkovac was a UN International Police Force monitor from the US, who worked in Bosnia Herzegovina after the Bosnian War of the 90s. During her time there she became an investigator into the rife sex trafficking trade in and around Sarajevo and ‘brothel busting’. She distinguishes sex trafficking from prostitution:
Prostitute – someone who willingly sells their bodies for sexual services with actual material gain who is free to say ‘no’ whenever they want.
Internationally there is a significant movement of women from poorer countries to ‘destination’ countries (those with a high demand for the sex industry) or from rural areas to cities. This not only separates the victims from their families and thus potential safety, but they are often told they have to sell sex in order to pay off their ‘debt’ to the trafficker for the provision of transport and/or passport costs and for being smuggled over borders to where opportunities lie.
Sex tourism is a booming industry; people will travel to cities that have a reputation for sex work and thus it is also the case that trafficking will increase dramatically in areas that have an influx of international visitors who might use it.
In her book The War On Women, Sue Lloyd-Roberts writes a report on sex trafficking titled ‘Where There Are UN Peacekeepers, There Are Traffickers’: ‘After the Bosnian war, thousands of peacekeepers arrived, allegedly to help rebuild the country, support civic and democratic institutions and restore law and order. Ask any local and they will tell you that, as soon as the peacekeepers arrived with their fat, monthly pay cheques, the sex traffickers and their victims followed’, proving that there was suddenly a market for this and that sometimes it’s those we least expect to be involved.
How do you spot it?
The situations that sex trafficking victims face vary dramatically. Some become romantically involved with someone who then forces or manipulates them into the trade, whilst others are lured in with false promises of a job.
These ‘opportunities’ can be disguised in a number of ways; modeling, dancing, waitressing, hotel staff, nannying…the list goes on. In some cases the recruiter for these ‘jobs’ is a woman, giving the guise of safety and legitimacy.
Some are forced to sell sex by their parents or other family members out of poverty.
Victims may be involved in a trafficking situation for a few days or weeks, or may remain in the same trafficking situation for years.
What can I do to help stop it? Here are some actions you can take:
Volunteer your time with local projects. If you live in the UK, Beyond the Streets works in partnership with over 55 local projects across the nation carrying out a wide variety of work, from nightly on-street outreach to drop-in centres to running safe houses. Email email@example.com with your name and geographical location and they’ll try to match you up with projects in your area, if there is one.
Further training is essential to consider if you are serious about wanting to get involved with this work. Particular skills that will equip you for volunteering/future work with with vulnerable people are: counselling, listening skills, social work, drug awareness, domestic violence, boundaries and safety, nursing, and skills in legal proceedings.
Buy ethically from traffick free supply chains. Global Seesaw are a good example of this; they’re a social enterprise for women have survived prostitution/trafficking.
Organise awareness raising events in your community. Want a fun and interactive way to get involved that also informs about issues such as trafficking? You could host a party selling products such as Freeset, which is a fair-trade company which seeks to bring freedom through dignity-giving employment opportunities for women exiting brothels in Kolkata, India. Each bag produced tells the story of a woman’s journey to freedom.
Give to anti Sex Trafficking projects or organise fundraising events. Do not underestimate the value of your contribution if it is a financial one – this funds the work your chosen charity does.
Stay up-to-date with news on this topic. Sign up to Women’s Weekly News (WWN) Newsletter. It provides media coverage on violence against women and is a helpful resource to stay in touch with international cases of violence against women. Sign-up to their newsletter by emailing Weekly_News@eaveshousing.co.uk and ask to be added to their mailing list.
Write to your Member of Parliament. MPs have the power to change the legislative framework within which to tackle sexual exploitation and you can write them a letter to encourage them to visit local projects and to work towards legislation which effectively protects the vulnerable. If you live in the UK you can find out who your local MP is at www.theyworkforyou.com. For more information on how you can engage with your MP go to www.care.org.uk/prostitution.
‘The War On Women’ – Sue Lloyd Roberts ‘Girls Like Us’ – Rachel Lloyd ‘Prostitution, trafficking and Traumatic Stress’ – Melissa Farley
Trafficked: The Terrifying True Story of a British Girl Forced into the Sex Trade – Sophie Hayes