(Page 2 of 3)
People talk about a contemporary "feminization" of migration, but the evidence for this is shaky. There have been other waves of women migrating in numbers, as in the late 19th century from Europe to Argentina, where they were often accused of being prostitutes. Europeans didn’t want to think these white women would set out on their own like this or end up selling sex, which is where the term "white slavery" derives from. The phenomenon was similar to what we see today, only the direction has shifted.
reason: What do you make of the State Department's claim that 800,000 people are trafficked each year?
Agustín: Numbers like this are fabricated by defining trafficking in an extremely broad way to take in enormous numbers of people. The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons is using the widest possible definition, which assumes that any woman who sells sex could not really want to, and, if she crossed a national border, she was forced.
The numbers are egregious partly because the research is cross-cultural. The US, calling itself the world's moral arbiter on these issues, uses its embassies in other countries to talk to the police and other local authorities, supposedly to find out how many people were trafficked. There is a language issue —all the words involved don’t translate perfectly, and there is a confusion about what trafficking means. People don't all use it the same way. Even leaving aside language issues, we know the data aren't being collected using a standard methodology across countries. 800,000 is a fantasy number.
reason: Is there a legitimate core of abuses that need to be addressed?
Agustín: Some conscientious people talk about trafficking as applicable to men, transsexuals, or anyone you like, no matter what kind of work they do, when things go very wrong during a migration. When migrants are charged egregious amounts of money they can't possibly pay back, for example. However, we've reached the point in this cultural madness where most people mean specifically women who sell sex when they use the word "trafficking." They usually mean women working inside brothels.
reason: So there is an attempt to conflate the terms prostitution and trafficking?
Agustín: There is a definite effort to conflate the terms in a stream of feminism I call "fundamentalist feminism." These feminists believe there is a single definition of Woman, and that sexual experience is key to a woman's life, soul, self-definition. This particular group has tried to say that prostitution is not only by definition exploitation but is trafficking. It's bizarre but they are maintaining that.
reason: What about the fundamentalist fundamentalists?
Agustín: The alliance between fundamentalist feminists and some fundamentalist Christians sees its work as global. So you get the Southern Baptist Convention and some feminists writing to the government of the Czech Republic to urge against legalizing prostitution. Many kinds of fundamentalist thought share values about home, family, sex, and violence.
reason: Are anti-trafficking activists preventing the liberalization of prostitution laws?
Agustín: Probably. But I don't think the obsession with trafficking is solely about women and sex. It's become a cultural phenomenon up in the stratosphere with fears of terrorism. Governments are making it an issue of policing the borders, and I believe they are less concerned about women “victims” than male “perpetrators”. The UN protocols on trafficking and smuggling were attached to a convention on organized crime. It's the same as the terrorism story, the idea that bad guys don't respect States and will set up their own societies, go where they want and disobey all laws. The borders will not hold, the martians are invading. Everything is Falling Apart.
reason: Is there a romanticization of home at work here? The idea that it's always best to stay in the place you come from?
Agustín: Immigration procedures still assume that everyone calls some country “home”, but many people’s situations don’t easily fit this idea. They’ve got more than one home or don’t want to call anyplace home. The collective fantasy says home is always a lovely place, but many people have a contrary experience. People who actually want to leave home may feel they have failed—whether they were leaving behind their parents, partner or children.
reason: You write: "Believing Passionately that women must tell their stories is a governmental urge."