By Fiorella Volonnino, Safe World Student Writer
We often think that slavery is something of the past, a dark memory buried in the backs of our minds and a part of history of which we should be ashamed. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has revealed that people trafficking, the major form of enslavement in modern society, is one of the fastest growing international crimes – almost surpassing drug crimes, and has one of the highest incomes for organised crimes. In 2005, it was estimated that human trafficking generated 32 billion US dollars.
How can we say slavery is not a modern problem when we are confronted with such disturbing realities?
Although it is arguably true that some forms of slavery have been successfully eliminated, others continue to persist. Modern day slavery and sex slavery are part of these – especially involving women and children, who are most vulnerable. Sex trafficking, forced prostitution, forced marriage and bride prices are all forms of sex slavery that are often bypassed when one thinks of slavery.
According to Dosomething.org, there are 20-30 million slaves in the world today and a staggering 80% of those are sex slaves. Worryingly, 70% of those are females and children. Sex slavery is a global phenomenon and it is unquestionably gendered.
It happens in the US, where around 17,500 people are trafficked each year. It happens in the UK. According to Unseen, the UK is a major destination for women to be trafficked into for sex, and the BBC has recently reported that trafficking in the UK is rising. It also happens in India, which has the largest number of people in slavery.
Case studies In Indian Brothels
Hazel Thompson, a renowned photojournalist, has devoted 11 years of her life to investigating the red light district in India’s largest city, Mumbai. Her recent book Taken, has powerfully illustrated the heart-breaking experiences that many women have been subjected to and continue to suffer.
The Story of Lata
She presents Lata’s shattering story. Lata, a 17 year old, girl eloped with her cousin to Bangalore and was subsequently sold into sex slavery in Mumbai. She met with a woman whom her cousin had left her with and who offered her drugged tea. The next thing Lata knew, she was in a taxi in Mumbai heading to its red light district. Within a month, she was forced to entertain clients and engage in sexual intercourse with them.
Thankfully, a client of the brothel was persuaded into giving Lata his mobile phone to contact her family who was able to come rescue her and another 12 girls.
Why not the police?
Lata points out that the police cannot be trusted. According to the Bombay Teen Challenge Rescue Officer, trust in the police is broken as they only “come for money”; once they get their bribe they leave, abandoning the girls who are in need.
A snapshot of her story can be found here:
Another moving story is that of Guddi, who was dispatched to Kamathipura, one of the most infamous red light districts in Mumbai. She was only 11 years old when she was kidnapped.
Her next-door neighbour, who promised Guddi a respectable job that paid her well, was her trafficker. This is a frequent theme – young girls are frequently lured by false promises of marriage proposals or well-paid jobs, especially from Bangladesh. As soon as Guddi accepted, she was brought to a brothel and brutally raped while the brothel madam and her daughter pinned her down.
She reports being raped so violently that she was hospitalised for three months as a result. After this traumatic incident, Guddi was incarcerated in a cage to “break her” and prevent her from attempting to escape.
Hazel Thompson reports that one of the last things Guddi stated was, “I am trapped on all sides, sister: my life was taken when they brought me here”.
This is the atrocious injustice that millions of women face today. They are taken from their homes, they’re kidnapped by people they may trust and their bodies are sold like objects. Their existence is taken captive and they are no longer treated as human beings, they are objects to bring in money.
Why Does it Happen?
This abhorrent illegal trade persists due to the dehumanisation that women are subjected to which allows traffickers and madams to take their humanity away from them so callously.
Girls taken captive often come from rural areas and large families, meaning that traffickers will think it is acceptable to abduct them. Women from said backgrounds lack money and/or resources that could protect them and sadly, occasionally individuals lack love and care from their families, as they are every so often the ones to sell them to brothels.
Sex slavery’s success can be attributed to the incompetence of government institutions that fail to protect these women. As noted earlier, the police are corrupt and a money-hunting force. Monique Villa, who is CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, has pointed this out in the Huffington Post.
Villa talks about Nayantara, a young girl who was “freed” from a brothel by the police. The madam who had tortured, subjugated, and forced Nayantara to have sex for money, bribed her way out of prison. A short period after being freed, Nayantara was sent back to the very same brothel.
In other cases, it’s the police themselves who abduct victims, like in the case of Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho. The widespread bribing is contributing to the silent increase of sex slavery. If the police were not corrupt, perhaps there would be substantial progress.
What Can We Do?
Discussing disheartening issues and stories like the ones from Lata and Guddi are important because they demonstrate that voices matter. It demonstrates the detrimental effects that sex slavery can have on vulnerable women and that we ought to listen intently.
We ought to engage with their stories and advocate support groups that allow them to converse about the hideous things that have happened and fight against this violence and dehumanisation for other women; they can participate directly in groups that put pressure on governments to change this instead of turning a blind eye.