A debate is brewing over human trafficking, reports Women’s eNews. It’s not a question of whether trafficking is right or wrong. There is universal agreement among advocates, activists and politicians that smuggling people across borders for use as sex slaves or forced labor is criminal. Instead, the debate involves prostitution. Some anti-trafficking activists say routing out prostitution will close the market for sex slaves, who make up most trafficking victims worldwide. Others contend that efforts to end trafficking should focus on the economic, social, and political reasons people end up falling in the hands of traffickers.
Traffickers prey largely on people in poor countries, promising them decent jobs oversees and then enslaving them as sex workers, factory laborers, or domestic help by stripping them of their passports and cutting off contact with the outside world. “People tend to conflate prostitution and trafficking as if they are one and the same,” said one social service provider. “For me, it’s about what drives someone to leave behind their country and take such a risk. We can’t get to all of that if we get hung up on an argument about prostitution.”
The debate has become heated that the federal government has said that it will use the $50 million it has earmarked for anti-trafficking efforts this year to enforce its anti-prostitution position.
Trafficking became a hot button topic during the 1990s, but it was not until 2000 that United States passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the first major legislation intended to curb international trafficking. Since then, the U.S. government has begun rating other countries’ records on human trafficking and can impose economic sanctions on any country that does not move to end the practice.
The State Department reports that, of the estimated 800,000 to 900,000 men, women and children who are trafficked around the world, most are trafficked for sexual exploitation. An estimated 18,000 to 20,000 people are trafficked into the United States yearly.