Another Victory for the War on Trafficking

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In its 2005 human trafficking report, the State Department deemed the United Arab Emirates a "tier 3" country. That designation carries with it the threat of sanctions. How did 2006 work out?

Police arrested and deported 4,300 prostitutes from the United Arab Emirates last year, a police colonel said in remarks published yesterday about a normally taboo subject in the region.

Mohammed Al-Mir, who heads Dubai police human rights department, gave the figure to a seminar on people trafficking, the newspaper 7 Days reported.

Regular raids were being carried out in places thought to be frequented by prostitutes, deported women were blacklisted to prevent their return, and tourist companies bringing women into the country were checked to make sure their clients were not prostitutes.

To recap: The head of Dubai's "police human rights department," speaking at a trafficking seminar, feels that it's a good time to brag about those 4,300 working immigrants he helped boot from the country.

Two years back, I suggested that the war on trafficking had morphed into a crackdown on human mobility. Tracy Quan, speaking with rather more authority, comes to a similar conclusion here.

NEXT: Is Barney Frank a Betting Man?

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  1. It seems to me that the libertarian position on whether this crackdown is a good thing or not turns on the question of just what kind of arrangement these prostitutes had.

    If they were the equivalent of slaves or were in the hands of criminal organizations, the crackdown would be a good thing, no?

    If, on the other hand, they were free-wheeling entrepeneurs, the crackdown would be a bad thing.

    Given what little I know about the international trade in prostitutes, I suspect it was more the former than the latter.

  2. To further RC Dean’s comment, it would have been advisable for Karry Howley to include the following paragraphs from the story posted…

    But Mir told the seminar that there had to be discrimination between those caught working willingly as prostitutes and those forced into it.

    “The woman that practices prostitution without pressure from anybody must be punished and deported. But if somebody has forced her into prostitution and takes advantage of her body to make a financial profit then she is a victim and the person who forced her into prostitution will be punished,” he said.

    Most of the women were from Eastern Europe according to the story…so go figure.

  3. Given that we’re talking about Dubai, if those women weren’t making $200,000 a year (at least), then we can probably assume they weren’t there by choice.

  4. Gaijin,
    The fact that those grafs are irrelevant is precisely the point of the linked piece. In practice, it is almost impossible to distinguish between trafficked women and sex workers.

  5. In practice, it is almost impossible to distinguish between trafficked women and sex workers.

    I would suspect checking to see if the women in question were in possession of their own passports would go some way in distinguishing between the two groups. Of course, many probably are trafficked and / or voluntarily enter countries other than through border checkpoints. Presumably, also, many who are in fact being trafficked will not acknowledge as much to authorities for fear of reprisal, but unless Ms Howley’s contention is that there is no difference in fact between trafficked women and voluntary sex worker, the fact that the difference may be hard to substantiate on a case by case basis hardly justifies doing nothing to sort them out.

  6. And I wonder how the customer can clearly distinguish? If I walk into a bar and a woman approaches me, suggests I pay the bar to take her to my hotel, how am I to know what sort of arrangement she has with said bar? She could be in some sort of indentured relationship with the bar owner or perhaps the bar is simply acting as a middle man and getting a cut for providing a locale for the sex worker to operate.

  7. And I wonder how the customer can clearly distinguish?

    Perhaps, if the customer cares at all about the possibility that he might be funding quasi-slavery and international criminal gangs, he should refrain from hiring strange women in bars?

  8. A good point, R.C., but then one might also be depriving a woman of her best option out of a short life of back breaking labor on a farm. Sex work can actually be empowering for women. Especially poor women with few skills, whose other options are the above or possibly malnutrition, or a marriage to an abusive and dominating husband. Sex work can give them control over their future. That is when they are truly free agents.

  9. Here’s another point: suppose a woman is working for a brothel where she’s basically been sold into it and must essentially ‘work’ until she’s paid off her ‘debt’ to the brothel owner. Of course the ideal option would be to bust the brothel owner, make sure everyone is set free, and set them up in job training programs. But in some countries, this is just not happening or fast enough. Short of the ideal option, a high paying customer, who tips the sex worker well under the table, can offer a faster route for the sex worker out of her debt. You might then ask, ‘well, wouldn’t the most noble thing to do would be to not have the sex, but then pay the owner and tip the sex worker handsomely’? Sure, but except for certain cultural considerations. One, some of these women appear to like the power they have over men as well as to like the fact they are providing a pleasure. They can take a certain pride in their beauty, allure, and skills. To turn around and refuse sex would be insulting to some of them – suggesting they are unattractive, or that you are taking pity, or that what they are doing is dirty; in short, it can cause a loss of face, adding shame to what they were doing. Also, remember that not all cultures view sex the way we do. And in some cultures, the women take pride in the fact they are supporting their families back home. That they are the main breadwinners. They might even consider what they are doing as honorable, as helping mom and dad survive, get health treatments, etc. is the best and noblest thing they can do. It’s not as simple as you might think to decide what is the moral high ground here.

  10. Elmer seems to be working hard to justify things here.

    It is clear that there is an important distinction between 1) slavery and 2) voluntary sex work. There is not a libertarian issue involved here. One is clearly a problem that the state has a duty to be involved in (since a person’s liberty is being taken by another) the second is clearly not (although a pragmatic argument for licensing to distinguish between 1 and 2 might be made).

    For a nicely done examination of the complexities…

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/slaves/

  11. Maybe I’m justifying. At least for past behavior – well in the past. But I’m also offering a dose of reality. The two are not necessarily in opposition. Perhaps exploring some of the poorer countries where sex work takes place would open your eyes to their contexts – rather than just project your own first world, western reality onto theirs.

    Like, I said, I think the best option for the involuntary sex work is arresting the traffickers and setting up of the workers in job training. But if that option is not available or enough, then wouldn’t it be better to offer the next best option (even if it also satisfies one’s own personal vice) for the worker? By the way, if it does seem like I’m just trying to rationalize my own behavior, I will admit that I have visited bars and brothels several times in my travels. Yet, I actually haven’t made a habit of it. In twenty years of travel, my visits have come to only about a half a dozen. And the last time was several years ago. That doesn’t make me squeaky clean obviously. Yet, I’m trying to actually raise issues here that go beyond what my personal interests are, as this is not currently, nor has it been frequently, one of my vices.

  12. Sex is immoral and should therefore be illegal, period, end of discussion.

  13. There is no such thing as a “sex worker”. That term is disgusting, all women who are prostitutes are sex slaves, even if the “work” of their own choosing, they are still imprisoned by the evil hierarchical male patriarchy. All sex between men and women is rape. I learned this in college in women studies, they wouldn’t teach it if it wasn’t true. The best way to prevent traficing is to pass strict laws against all prostitutes and make sure everone involved is arested. If Jesus were alive today he would want prostitutes to be arested and imprisoned. We have got to do it to stop Aids.

    J

  14. Sex is immoral and should therefore be illegal, period, end of discussion.

    Hooray! No joe jr.

    If Jesus were alive today he would want prostitutes to be arrested and imprisoned.

    1. He is.
    2. That isn’t what He told the folks who caught the woman in adultry. Nor is it what He said to her. And adultry’s one of the Big Ten.

  15. This “joe”, despite using the lower case, is not our beloved urban planner turned consultant. Just take a look at the email address.

  16. Here’s another point: countries have laws, and people who enter that country intending to break those laws should be deported. No one’s “mobility rights” include the right to enter a country to break their laws.

    Oh, and it’s refreshing to see at least one site having the guts to support human trafficking and modern-day slavery. I don’t *agree* with you, but it’s good to know that someone is willing to do that, if only for an absolute reference point.

    —-
    Bonus! Read about Washington Monthly editing comments without noting that they had been edited.

  17. Also seems that deciding who gets punished the way Mir suggests sounds like a good way to inflate the statistics on how many are coerced

  18. Elmer,

    Sorry but,

    “Short of the ideal option, a high paying customer, who tips the sex worker well under the table, can offer a faster route for the sex worker out of her debt.”

    Doesn’t really pass the reality test. You would have to be naive to think that there is any way for the “sex worker” to work off her debt in these situations.

    As for this…

    “Perhaps exploring some of the poorer countries where sex work takes place would open your eyes to their contexts – rather than just project your own first world, western reality onto theirs.”

    You make a lot of assumptions here.

    First off, I live in NM, which hasn’t been accepted into the first world yet ;^)

    …Ur Uhm… seriously though. This isn’t about projecting my reality into the situation. People who are placed into violent coercive situations have a culturally independent right to be given a way out of that situation and have their oppressors dealt with. Making the distinction between class 1 cases and class 2 cases may be difficult, but you’re the one being naive if you think that cultural differences provide a moral sanctioning of slavery.

  19. Perhaps, if the customer cares at all about the possibility that he might be funding quasi-slavery and international criminal gangs, he should refrain from hiring strange women in bars?

    Now you’re talking silly talk, RC. Next you’re going to tell us that we don’t have a right to download copyrighted music without permission.

  20. My experience with sex therapists (my preferred term) has mostly been in Asia. Like Elmer, it’s in the past for me though I had about 5 times more interactions than he did.

    Unlike some of the stereo-types generally presented, most of the therapists I had involvement with were energetic, confident, and assertive. They set the rules for the bedroom and I followed them as while I was the paying customer I believe in only full consensuality in any form of sex. One woman that I met in a disco told me some of her own rules for herself – one was to work only every other day. She also liked to be pleasured and guided me in that…endeavor.

    About half the women I was with seemed to enjoy the experience or they were really good at faking not only orgasm but all the signs, physical and vocal, of sexual excitement leading up to orgasm. About one third were not so good at faking it but nevertheless seemed to take pride and pleasure in their performance. I’d also agree that they seemed to like the power their attractiveness held over me. Only a few seemed not so comfortable with it or seemed bored. With those women I didn’t insist on having sex – we just watched tv or chatted – but I paid the money anyway and even more, as I wasn’t sure what sorts of arrangements they might have been in and I wanted to help them out if I could. Just because I liked sex with pros didn’t mean I was heartless. I always acted fully consensually and was careful to pay attention to any signs of not being comfortable on their part. My ethic is that it doesn’t matter so much what you do, or who you do it with, but “how” you treat the people you are with. I still follow the golden rule, even in my vices.

    (btw, Neu Mexican, in some cases, some prostitutes are actually in something of a contractual relationship, though it was a process begun by their parents. Nevertheless, it is possible to buy out and many do. This is of course still quasi-slavery but is not quite as bad as those horror stories you read about of prostitutes bound to beds or not allowed to leave their boss for life. In my own case, my own engagements were in discos 90 percent of the time so I didn’t have much contact with brothels though I did visit a few. I preferred the former though the latter was not unpleasant – not like the news stories. Having said all that, considering the unclear circustamces around which they operated, I decided, after a few times, not to visit a brothel again).

    I’m not saying they don’t exist, but I never ran into the more horrific stories that people talk about or you find in news features, movies, or various other media. I’m sure these stories do happen but I’m guessing they really aren’t the norm for the industry, and they are more hidden. You only find out about them because it’s always the extemist elements of something that make biggger splashes – it’s like having libertarians portrayed as militia members. Secondly, when you drive something underground, the seedier sides became more apparent, and more dangerous. Just look at drug laws in America and how much safer those drugs would be if they were legalized.

    Bottome line though, I’m sure as libertarians, whether socially conservative like Neu Mexican, or more libertine like myself, we can agree that prostitution should be legalized or decriminalized at the very least. That would improve health and safety for all, but especially the therapists.

  21. “but you’re the one being naive if you think that cultural differences provide a moral sanctioning of slavery.”

    Careful, at the rate you’re using up this essential resource we may end up in a peak straw crisis.

  22. “Here’s another point: countries have laws, and people who enter that country intending to break those laws should be deported. No one’s “mobility rights” include the right to enter a country to break their laws.”

    Since slavery had been mentioned earlier, let’s apply it here. Up until 1980 slavery was legal in Mauritania. Would you say I don’t or shouldn’t have had the moral right to enter Mauritania (or the old South) and free a slave there?

    Psshaw, be gone, authoritarian.

  23. “whether socially conservative like Neu Mexican”

    Where’d that come from?

    “Neu Mexican, in some cases, some prostitutes are actually in something of a contractual relationship,”

    Yes there is a wide variety of relationships and contracts that can be involved in the industry. However, I was addressing the cases where the sex worker was involuntarily deprived of her freedom. Those bosses don’t usually give the “pay out early” option. As long as the worker is profitable, she’ll be in debt.

    “straw crisis”

    I guess you missed the part where I made a distinction between case 1 (coercive bondage) and 2) what harp calls “therapist” or you refer to as proud women supporting their families. I don’t have any problems with case two, and have not tried to impose my “western” morality into the discussion.

    See Garrison’s comment. Cultural differences are irrelevent to the morality involved in case 1.

  24. How about this: no one should enter into a trade relationship with anyone operating in a illiberal government with illiberal societal arrangements to boot. South Africa comes to mind to support both conditions. Yet, some would argue that in abstaining, you are just as likely to entrench the conditions already present – Cuba, Korea, Burma anyone? By involving oneself, you are part of the effort to weaken the conditions over the long haul, to offer alternatives to what is present. It may be the small crack in the window that is needed to break things open.

    Similarly, a kindly individual customer from a liberal society might be one way to help individual prostitutes ease out of their arrangments, whether they are in coercive settings or no.

    It is of course right and proper to make careful moral distinctions. But then what you *do* with that knowledge, and what is the most useful way to help is another thing. The first might not be a grey area. But the second surely is, at least in some cases.

    Of course when someone visits a prostitute his own interest is chief. But that’s true of every form of trade. However, there’s nothing preventing someone from commingling his interest with compassionate action.

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