Sexual Violence and Human Trafficking

Presenter/Author Information

Lonya M. Humphrey, Wayne State University

Location

University of Dayton

Start Date

10-2-2015 2:15 PM

End Date

10-2-2015 3:45 PM

Abstract

In 2014, a Newsweek exposé of Somaly Mam, one of Cambodia’s most highly prominent anti-sex trafficking activists, detailed how Mam fabricated her own background and experiences as a sex-trafficked Cambodian prostitute forced into sexual slavery. The Somaly Mam affair not only exposed the problematic and often hysterical victim narratives presented by the anti-trafficking communities; it also calls into question the influence those narratives have on increasingly harsh U.S. government legal initiatives directed at combatting global sex trafficking. Growing research suggest the implementation of more punitive anti-trafficking laws that focus on the rehabilitation of sex workers and the abolition of commercial sex has proven largely counterproductive and potentially dangerous to the very victims the anti-trafficking movement seeks to help.

The analysis in this paper does not deny the reality of the women’s exploitation, forced sex work, or the inherent violence, rape and degradation of sex trafficking which represent the worst forms of gender-based violence against women. This paper is primarily concerned with how current anti-sex trafficking legal schemes, often driven by exaggerated or false narratives of female victimhood, have failed to deter the problems of illegal sex trafficking; and in many cases appear to have worsened the state of women involved in consensual sex work. Finally, this paper considers evidence for the consideration of a legalized, pragmatic rights-based approach towards prostitution, grounded in the concern for the health, security, and the human rights of sex workers. Although the decriminalization or legalization of prostitution has so far only taken effect in a few countries (i.e. New Zealand and Australia), their alternative legal approaches to sex work have led to lower levels of associated criminality and greater safety, security, and free agency for women. These novel and more realistic legal approaches to prostitution might offer lessons to other nations currently grappling with the sex trafficking issue.

Comments

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Oct 2nd, 2:15 PM Oct 2nd, 3:45 PM

Anti-Sex Trafficking Hysteria, False Narratives and the Rights of Sex Workers (abstract)

University of Dayton

In 2014, a Newsweek exposé of Somaly Mam, one of Cambodia’s most highly prominent anti-sex trafficking activists, detailed how Mam fabricated her own background and experiences as a sex-trafficked Cambodian prostitute forced into sexual slavery. The Somaly Mam affair not only exposed the problematic and often hysterical victim narratives presented by the anti-trafficking communities; it also calls into question the influence those narratives have on increasingly harsh U.S. government legal initiatives directed at combatting global sex trafficking. Growing research suggest the implementation of more punitive anti-trafficking laws that focus on the rehabilitation of sex workers and the abolition of commercial sex has proven largely counterproductive and potentially dangerous to the very victims the anti-trafficking movement seeks to help.

The analysis in this paper does not deny the reality of the women’s exploitation, forced sex work, or the inherent violence, rape and degradation of sex trafficking which represent the worst forms of gender-based violence against women. This paper is primarily concerned with how current anti-sex trafficking legal schemes, often driven by exaggerated or false narratives of female victimhood, have failed to deter the problems of illegal sex trafficking; and in many cases appear to have worsened the state of women involved in consensual sex work. Finally, this paper considers evidence for the consideration of a legalized, pragmatic rights-based approach towards prostitution, grounded in the concern for the health, security, and the human rights of sex workers. Although the decriminalization or legalization of prostitution has so far only taken effect in a few countries (i.e. New Zealand and Australia), their alternative legal approaches to sex work have led to lower levels of associated criminality and greater safety, security, and free agency for women. These novel and more realistic legal approaches to prostitution might offer lessons to other nations currently grappling with the sex trafficking issue.