The Trafficking in Persons Report, sometimes simply known as the TIP Report, is a fascinating document. At first glance it is merely a governmental report. In practise it is much more. It goes far beyond the limitations of most other such reports. The purpose of this report is not to catalogue the human trafficking in each of the world's states, a task its authors nonetheless achieve admirably, but rather to influence the world's countries to do something about their human trafficking situation. The U.S. Department of State acknowledges this is so when it declares it to be a tool. "The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking", it discloses. What then is this Trafficking in Persons Report?
What is the Trafficking in Persons Report?
The report has its origins in the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. This law is sometimes more loosely referred to as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act or the TVPA. It requires the publication of a report outlining the "description of the nature and extent of severe forms of trafficking in persons ... in each foreign country." (Nowadays the United States is also scrutinised in the report). It also describes a framework for assessing the situation. The law compels the report's authors to consider whether, for example, "government authorities ... participate in, facilitate, or condone such trafficking" and to consider too the steps each government has taken to prohibit individuals "from participating in such trafficking, including the investigation, prosecution, and conviction of individuals involved." Among the measures of the law's framework are ones aimed at protecting victims of human trafficking. To this end the TVPA requires the report to consider the steps being taken by each country to assist victims and to prevent these victims from further exploitation. It also mandates that victimhood be recognised by governments and that victims be protected from the possibility of being wrongly prosecuted.
The report is authored by personnel of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP), an agency within the U.S. Department of State, and it is published annually, usually in June, by the department. Going through the report one gets a sense of the enormity of the undertaking needed to make its publication possible. Before any of this work can commence the department issues, using its global network of embassies, a series of invitations to partners around the world to make submissions on the contemporary situation in their area. These submissions are then collated and analysed. The results of this process play a role in informing the final narrative.
The publication is a significant milestone in the calendar of the department, one that is marked by a public launch. The presence of the Secretary of State at successive launches underlines the importance of the issue of human trafficking to recent U.S. administrations. It also serves to draw the attention of the world's media to the issue and to promote the matter abroad.
Credit: U.S. Department of State
The situation in each country is described in meticulous detail using country-specific narratives. There is a science behind how the report's authors construct these narratives. They begin by providing information on the profile of the human trafficking situation in the country over the past few years. They then provide a summary of government efforts to combat human trafficking, before making recommendations on how the country's government can improve upon those efforts. Thereafter the narratives address measures in terms of a 3P paradigm: prosecution, protection, and prevention. There is one other element, a very important one, to these narratives and it sits right at their beginning. The country-specific narrative discloses the score awarded to the country for the past year's performance.
Source: Trafficking in Persons Report 2016, p.64.
Section 108 of the TVPA establishes yet another framework, this time in the form of a set of minimum standards. These minimum standards are ones it asserts are needed for a country to be on the right path towards eliminating human trafficking. The Department of State uses these minimum standards to allocate the scoring, in the form of a tier ranking, to countries annually. While a country can achieve the top Tier 1 ranking one year it might achieve a lower ranking the next. This is potentially a source of embarrassment for governments, one which may highlight systematic failure to tackle the issue. It is also problematic for persistently poor performers as it carries with it the risk of international financial aid to the country being withdrawn.
The TVPA has been amended several times since it was first introduced in 2000. One important thing to note that the tiers do not describe the trafficking situation in a country, but rather the conformance of that country to the minimum standards. The Department of State says: "While Tier 1 is the highest ranking, it does not mean that a country has no human trafficking problem. On the contrary, a Tier 1 ranking indicates that a government has acknowledged the existence of human trafficking, made efforts to address the problem, and complies with the TVPA’s minimum standards." There is no room for complacency then. Even when a country has scored highly one year there is no guarantee it will be scored as highly the next year. In this way the system of ranking countries, and renewing those rankings annually, serves to encourage those who have not done well one year to improve the next, and to encourage those who have performed well not to slip down the rankings.
Where to find the Trafficking in Persons Report.
Credit: U.S. Department of State
The current edition of the Trafficking in Persons Report and earlier versions are available from the section addressing human trafficking on the U.S. Department of State's website. You can find that section here.
One interesting area of research is the relationship between slavery and slave. One might think that in some way the two should be one-and-the-same, that they are somehow interchangeable. What is clear from research however is how slavery is comprised of several parts. Consequently slavery is a system of sorts, with its own prerequisites, components, and interfaces, and the slave is a component of this system. That being said the slave is its most important part, if for no other reason than the violation slavery perpetuates upon the person of the slave.
What does it mean to be a slave?
The term slave is used so widely nowadays, often emotively so, that it appears to apply to a great many situations. Often it is said, for example, how individuals can be "a slave to the system". The term can be applied to so many situations it can appear to accommodate a great many of them and in doing so, it can lose any tangible meaning. Often too it is claimed when talking about low wages, or some other issue of labour rights, that the affected parties themselves claim to have been reduced to status of slaves. Is the plight of the slave best described then purely as an issue of labour rights? Or is that plight something even more serious, something that goes beyond labour rights, and something that is much more fundamental? Is the condition of a slave one that goes to the very heart of human rights themselves and human dignity itself? To answer these questions there must, first of all, be some way of fixing what it means, in reality, to be a slave. What does it mean to be a slave?
The pathway to enslavement.
One of the most striking elements about sifting through contemporary reports, be they long or even very brief, on modern slavery is how certain themes begin to make themselves apparent. Particular words jump out. Given time these words describe something more adequately than an entire paragraph every could. So repetitive can these words, and particular themes, become it would be easy to put some reports of victimisation aside thinking they had already been reviewed. Even when the researcher is confident that this is his or her first time reading a report the direction it takes can appear not only familiar, but predictable. The reason for this of course is that through the telling of many victim narratives the objective reality, the reality of what it means to be a slave, begins to emerge. When this happens it becomes apparent how the condition of the slave is indeed tangible and how the word slave has tangible meaning.
One narrative on this condition has become particularly popular, and that is the narrative around the use of kidnappings. Certainly kidnappings do occur in modern slavery, but they are no way reflect the reality of the vast majority most who experience it. The mistakes the narrative supports are compounded through its suggestion that movement of the person, or their transportation, must be somehow significant. Neither of these are required. It is best then to reject the narrative of kidnapping and the notion it gives an adequate insight into enslavement.
Many reports, though not necessarily all of them, on cases of modern slavery will make some reference to some pre-existing vulnerability on the part of the victim. Vulnerability manifests itself in many forms. The individual in question might be poor and desperately looking for opportunities for meaningful employment. The individual might be a migrant who, far from home and far from a community they know, finds themselves isolated in unfamiliar surroundings. Trauma may have played a role earlier in life. For some this could be the death of a close family member, or even a number of family members. For others persecutions such as wars, discrimination, and societal upheaval can play a role. Natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes can too. Of course, the vulnerability of the individual may originate in nothing more than their youthfulness. Whatever its source, vulnerability is preyed upon by human traffickers to enslave.
Vulnerability does not make one a slave, but it does open one up to being manipulated into enslavement. Victims often talk about being their being deceived. An offer, one that was just too good to turn down, may have been made. It could simply have been the offer of a job, perhaps in a place nearby or as far away as another country. It could have been the promise of escape from a place where political upheaval, war, famine or disease was prevalent. Quite often one finds that when natural disasters, such as earthquakes, strike that within months of them occurring there are reports of persons in the afflicted country being exploited by human traffickers. Victims often talk about indebtedness. Sometimes the human trafficker (who clearly does not reveal the fact she or he is a human trafficker) will offer to pay some expense, allowing the victim to pursue the opportunity promised. An arrangement is made which allows the indebted victim to repay their debt through their work. The arrangement seems straightforward enough, one might think, except this is already a situation of bonded labour, a common form of slavery. In some parts of the world traffickers use bonds of an altogether source, in the form of African witchcraft (ie. Juju or Voodoo). Shortly after this point, about the time when the anticipated opportunity was due to be delivered, events usually take an unexpected turn. It becomes apparent how the opportunity never existed, or it may be reported that it had existed but is no longer available. There is another turn too, for the relationship between the victim and the human trafficker now begins to sour to the point of violence, and sour it must because violence is the pathway to enslavement.
Slavery's array of violence.
In recounting the tale of their enslavement victims will often disclose how it was at this point that they were first abused by their trafficker. This abuse can take many forms. It can be very subtle. It can come in the form of verbal abuse. The individual is ridiculed and demeaned. Their indebtedness to the trafficker gives an opportunity to ridicule further and to attack the victim's sense of self-worth. In fact human traffickers deliberately lure their prospective victims into a situation of indebtedness so that they can use it as an opportunity to attack their victim's dignity.
Other elements of the abuse are less subtle. Threats can be made, and they most usually are made, against the individual themselves and against their loved ones. This serves to create a profound sense of fear in the victim. If the victim is a migrant the status of their residency might be leveraged to compound this fear. More overt forms of abuse are commonly experienced: physical abuse, sexual abuse, forced intoxication with drugs and/or alcohol, starvation, and social isolation. If the victim has sworn an oath as part of ritual rites this is leveraged to induce terror. All of these things are forms of violence and they all serve a definite purpose, for there is such a purpose to slavery's array of violence. Human traffickers today understand something that some human beings have known for a long time. It was certainly understood by the slaveholders of old. Human traffickers understand how slaves are made. They understand how slaves are made using violence, and through violence how they are controlled. Every violation and form of abuse, serves the same purpose. These are not different things, but the same thing repeated over and over to achieve a single goal. That goal is the deliberate intention to break the human being, to shatter their spirit, to deprive them of the capacity for independent thought, and to rob them of their very selves. Those who understand these things, see how one cannot understand enslavement without understanding the role of violence. More importantly, they comprehend the true condition of the slave and what the term truly means.
The eyes, it is said, are the gateway to the soul. Yet our eyes can deceive us. When it comes to slavery (or human trafficking) nothing should ever be taken at face value. Many arguments about it are premised on what is immediately apparent. Delay a while longer. Delve a little deeper. Brush aside what was first presented. There is much more to be seen. Beyond the facade there is the truth that lies behind the eyes.
This may not have been part of the message the short film below was intended to deliver. Only its producers know for sure. Certainly it was intended to deliver a potent message about the reality of human trafficking in the Netherlands. What is clear is how, in regard to the message it intended and in regard to the message that human trafficking cannot be taken at face value, it succeeded in making both points at once.
The word witchcraft conjures an assortment of images. Most, if not all of them, are ones associated with an understanding of witchcraft as it applies to Europe or to the West. Mention Voodoo or Juju however and now a very different set of images emerges. Africa has its own distinctive narrative on the subject of witchcraft. For victims of the continent's modern slave trade this narrative is a living, breathing reality and one of great significance for those trying to understand the plight of Africa's trafficking victims. Its importance cannot be overstated. Lest any think it is overplayed, the U.S. State Department's 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report noted how in France "[s]ex trafficking networks controlled by Bulgarians, Nigerians, Romanians, Chinese, and French citizens force women into prostitution through debt bondage, physical force, and psychological coercion, including the invocation of voodoo". Of Italy, it reported how some African "women and girls are subjected to sex and labor trafficking through debt bondage and coercion through voodoo rituals". Of South Africa, it reported how "NGOs in Western Cape have reported an increased number of ... sex trafficking victims, many coerced through voodoo rituals". A multitude of references to witchcraft have been made by the U.S. State Department in its reports over the years. In the section of its 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report addressing human trafficking in Germany it noted how, among the steps taken to counter human trafficking, "federal criminal police provided a series of seminars on labor trafficking, Nigerian voodoo rituals, and NGO cooperation". Other agencies, such as NGOs and newspapers, have contributed extensively to reports on the phenomenon over the years.
At the outset caution is needed in dealing with these matters. Victims are extremely reluctant to acknowledge, let alone to mention, the role played by African witchcraft in their victimhood. A judgemental society is often quickly dismissive, foolishly so. At the very least dismissiveness serves only to reinforce the victim's reluctance of speak of the matter. At the very most, dismissiveness proves to be an irreparable violation of trust. What matters is not whether those supporting victims of human trafficking subscribe to these beliefs, but whether the victim subscribes to them. Witchcraft is such a potent source of control that it often has an inescapable hold on the individual, particularly on one who cannot countenance violating his oath under any circumstance. Caution is needed then when dealing with victims of human trafficking who have originated from Africa. Traditionally it has been understood that these practises are employed in the western part of the continent. In reality however there are undertones throughout the entire continent. Increasingly, it seems, researchers are becoming aware of its presence in places where it was thought not to exist. One might bear in mind then, when dealing with African victims, the possibility that witchcraft has been employed even if it is case that the individual has not acknowledged its presence. Such is the commonality of its use that one could almost take it for granted it has been used when dealing with victims from particular west African countries. A simple question, one which the victim will immediately understand, though one which they may be surprised to be asked, is to enquire as to whether the victim has sworn an oath. An affirmative answer discloses much about the victim's plight and the nature of the powers keeping him in slavery.
How does it work? Let's begin by first understanding some of the differences in how we perceive the world. Here in Europe, and in much of the West, spirituality is often associated with religion. Through the lens of religion one views the spiritual world as defined by ones religion. Among Africans the perspective can be very different. The world is a spiritual place and a spiritual lens with a wider field-of-view is often applied to it. Religion is only part of what is seen through this lens. Standing alongside religion there can be other elements. Voodoo and Juju can also exist in this realm. Unexpectedly perhaps, these practises have sometimes played a role in facilitating social justice. Historically when two parties had a dispute, the defendant in the case could swear an oath proclaiming his innocence in the matter. The plaintiff could be satisfied that the defendant was either entirely innocent of the charge laid against him or satisfied the defendant would pay a dreadful price as a result of swearing his oath dishonestly. Whatever the role it once played, among those who deal with victims of human trafficking witchcraft has now become synonymous with exploitation. So synonymous has it become in fact that some government agencies actively seek out places where these oaths are sworn and act to prevent the swearing of them.
One should not confuse these practises with the persecution of individuals, often children, in the belief that they are a witch or with the murder of individuals as part of sacrificial rites (something that is a form of human trafficking of itself).
The process usually resembles the following pattern. The prospective victim is offered a job in the West by a recruiter. This is welcome news as the individual is quite poor and the opportunities for meaningful employment are sparse. There is an obvious problem of course. Owing to the individual's poverty he or she cannot afford the expense of travel abroad. The recruiter, really a trader in human beings (a human trafficker) who has not revealed his true motive, has anticipated this problem. He offers to cover all of the expense. Often he will hyper-inflate the figure, telling his prospective victim it will run into the tens of thousands. This sounds like a lot of money, but everybody knows just how rich people are in the West, how few are their problems, and how readily money is made there! Needless to say the recruiter wants some assurance that this hyper-inflated sum will be paid back to him. He suggests the swearing of an oath at a Voodoo or Juju shrine in the presence of a witchdoctor. It appears to be a reasonable enough request. After all, how could any person benefit from the non-payment of monies due to them? The ritual itself can be quite elaborate. Once it is done the person is now bound to repay their debt. Violating one's oath is unthinkable. It is clearly understood how any who break their bond suffer some form of calamity including death or the death of some close family member. The reality of course is that they will never be able to repay it. This will soon become apparent to the individual themselves shortly after they arrive in the West. There they will learn how life is not so good as was promised, how job opportunities are often limited, and how none of the opportunities allow for the repayment of the debt. By then their recruiter, having collected his reward, will have passed them on to other people in their destination country. These new people now control the slave's fate. Far from home he or she is nonetheless bound by their oath. There is a sense of something reaching out to them, something that transcends both time and distance, something that holds them eternally within its grasp. There is no escape, not from their oath, from their debt, or from their obligation to repay it. Eventually those who have been entrusted with the victim's fate will obligate them to repay their debt by other means. Many women and children from Africa are coerced into the sex trade in this way.
Human trafficking is a complex phenomenon. Often, arguments around approaches that might be used to combat it are impoverished in their understanding. Witchcraft is an important element. Witchcraft in human trafficking serves as a form of violence, one used repeatedly in the modern enslavement of men, women and children. Its presence illustrates how violence is used in human trafficking and, as importantly, how invisible can be the forces controlling the fate of today's slaves. Its presence also illustrates the sheer complexity and variety of issues one encounters in trying to make sense of modern slavery.
Credit: Al Jazeera
What is human trafficking? With so many mentions in the media nowadays one would think the meaning of the human trafficking should be clear. This is not the case however. The term is often used even when it is apparent that what is being described is not human trafficking at all. Indeed the term has led to so much confusion that there is sometimes a tendency among those advocating for the rights of its victims not to use it. Knowing the confusion caused by the term many have reverted to calling it by its older name. Quite simply human trafficking is slavery.
To distinguish it from its historical form today’s slavery is more often referred to as modern-day slavery. This raises the obvious question about just how different the slavery of the past is to the slavery of the present. Surprisingly it is not all that different, with the most marked difference being how historical slavery was often a state-sanctioned activity, something modern-day slavery could never be in today’s world.
Violence is a critical part of human trafficking. This violence takes many forms, but for the purposes of a simple informal definition one could understand human trafficking or modern-day slavery as: the use of force, deception or coercion to exploit human beings as commodities. This exploitation is sometimes motivated by greed for money, and at other times it is motivated by greed of a different variety. A much more elaborate definition is given in international law, under what is known as the Palermo Protocol. What is conspicuous by its absence from the simple informal definition provided is any reference to movement. This is because trafficking does not mean movement. It means trade, and historically when the term was used, as in the traffic in human beings, it meant the trade in human beings and not their movement. That trade can be domestic or trans-national.
Amidst the many reports on the current tragedy of the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean are references to human traffickers and human trafficking. Interspersed with these references are others referring to human smugglers and to human smuggling. These reports are often inaccurate for several reasons. Human trafficking is not human smuggling, and the smuggling of human beings does not make one a human trafficker. Smuggling is often exploitative, while human trafficking is always exploitative, but even so they are exploitative in different ways. On one hand, the smuggler may take advantage of the migrant’s predicament to extract whatever monies she or he has available. The smuggler may also exploit the migrant by not fulfilling his end of the bargain in arranging movement. For the trafficker, on the other hand, movement may never feature in his exploitation of his victim. If it does feature, it is only a step in a much larger process directed towards his victim’s future exploitation as a slave. Consequently the reports on the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean are often only partly right. Often what they describe is human smuggling, and not human trafficking.
Nonetheless caution is needed. While human smuggling is not human trafficking, that is not to say that those who are exploited by smugglers will not later be exploited by human traffickers. The vulnerability that meant one needed to be smuggled in the first place often creates an opportunity for human traffickers to exploit later on. Indeed it is a damning indictment of the current predicament surrounding migrants that many thousands of children, once smuggled into Europe to escape calamity at home, have disappeared into Europe's sex trade through the efforts of human traffickers.
With more than 40 million people now estimated to be victims of modern-day slavery worldwide understanding is important. Awareness has certainly improved over the course of the past decade. Comprehension however remains quite impoverished. Nowhere is this more evident than in media reports which mistake human smuggling for human trafficking.
It is seldom that those who are enslaved encounter much by way of good luck. This is not always the case however. Since about the year 2000 immense work has been done to further the plight of the world’s victims of modern slavery or human trafficking. Public awareness of the phenomenon has improved beyond all expectations. International conventions and protocols have translated into first generation national policies and meaningful action plans. Specialist training has, and continues to be, delivered to police forces who are more sophisticated in their approach. Other specialist units have been established to deal with victims in the aftermath of exploitation. First generation laws have begun to morph into even better second generation ones. Public reaction has progressed from social awareness, to activism, and towards understanding. All of these changes are positive developments. They have come slowly and only through persistent effort. The number and variety of bodies who have made the transition in the fate of the world’s slaves possible is too big and too varied to allow them all to be mentioned. Among them however is one of particular importance and one whose role must remain to the fore if the fight against modern slavery is to retain its momentum.
Ever since it received its mandate through legislation to act on slavery, the U.S. Department of State has been a guiding force in promoting the welfare of victims. Through the work of its Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, situated in Washington D.C., a global partnership has been forged. Charities, non-governmental organizations, and state bodies working on the issue no longer work in isolation, but in loose co-operation with the Department of State through its vast network of embassies. Through its various meetings, events, and communications it has provided an important forum, one where the local efforts encounter international ones certainly, but one too where local efforts addressing one element of the problem encounter local efforts addressing other elements. Yearly it has produced the Trafficking in Persons Report. Such is the importance given to the document that its release is now a noteworthy annual event, one reported in the world’s newspapers every June. To add emphasis to these efforts the Department of State ensures that none other than its own Secretary of State launches the report.
Anybody who has attended these launches, or viewed them online, cannot but be struck by the sincerity of the passion, and optimism of the energy, directed towards helping victims. Aside from the attention the launch of the Trafficking in Persons Report brings to slavery’s reality and to the plight of slavery’s victims, what lies between the report’s covers is of perhaps even greater significance. No effort is spared by the State Department in gathering the global happenings from each of the world’s countries during the previous year. By collaborating with local partners every detail is gathered, collated and carefully cross-checked. No country, not even the United States, is spared this scrutiny. Most importantly this process allows recommendations to be made for individual countries, including the United States, to be published in the next Trafficking in Persons Report, ones aimed at improved prevention, protection and prosecution.
What is clear is how the energization of efforts to combat modern slavery come not just from policy and legislation, but from commitment and leadership. Of central importance to these efforts is America’s Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Great strides have been made globally during the tenure of the previous ambassador Luis CdeBaca, and during the tenure of present ambassador Susan Coppedge, through their commitment and their leadership.
So much has been said during the course of the America’s presidential election it is hard to conceive there are things remaining unsaid. Sadly this is the case, as throughout the campaign there was no debate on one of the world’s foremost criminal industries. Will modern slavery, or human trafficking, continue to be a priority for the new administration in the way it was a priority for previous ones? Will the administration continue to progress the agenda of earlier Republican and Democratic administrations? Will it show the same levels of commitment and leadership? Even now, when the matter of the presidency has been settled, an unfamiliar cloud hangs over position of the incoming administration. It is certainly the case that those who are enslaved seldom encounter much by way of good luck, but it would be a fatal blow if the incoming U.S. administration were to hesitate in its efforts to help them, especially now when so much has been achieved.
There is an old engineering proverb that it is easier to fix the problem than it is to fix the solution. Its wisdom is this: avoid flawed presumptions that lead to false solutions. One Irish newspaper covered a recent publication by the U.S. State Department on human trafficking globally. 78 suspected victims of human trafficking, or modern-day slavery, were located in Ireland in 2015 the newspaper disclosed: 22 were mere children, and 48 were exploited in the sex trade. In response, an editorial momentarily struck the right note by pointing to market behaviour, before proceeding to conjure the dependable bogeyman of the Catholic Church, and using the Church to springboard spectacularly to a position from where it advocated it was “time to legalise and regulate this industry – and better protect those who are forced to work in it”. Can the sex trade be regulated? Is it in the interests of the trade to be regulated? Fortunately the days when these questions were purely speculative have passed.
One of the objections to prostitution is that it commodifies human beings. This objection asserts that prostitution treats fellow human beings as items of trade, or as mere commodities. This objection is itself the source of a counter-objection, because it is a moral argument, and moral arguments are not en vogue nowadays. It is true, this is indeed a moral argument, but this is only part of the picture, as it is also an economic one. Exceptions aside, the economics of prostitution are the very same economics belonging to commodities. They assure that it is never in the interests of the trader to be burdened with costs, even those of a regulatory regime. This is why regulation does not belong to the sphere of prostitution, because it is incompatible with the economics interests of prostitution, and it is too why proponents of regulation are attempting, not to fix the problem, but to apply a solution which simply does not fit.
In 2000 the Dutch legalised prostitution with the expectation of regulation. To impose the necessary control they set about trying to establish what needed to be regulated. To do this Dutch law required prostitutes to register. Advocates of legalisation appear to have taken the trade’s consent to comply for granted, but from even the earliest days of the new regime it was not forthcoming. Thirteen years later, it was much the same with a petition from the Prostitution Information Center, opposing basic measures because, it claimed, “Government databases are never temporary and never secret. Anyone registered as prostitute in the database will carry that label for the rest of their life. Although the Netherlands is a so-called ‘tolerant’ society, the limits to Dutch ‘tolerance’ and social acceptance are narrower than one might think,” it added. These measures deemed absolutely critical, by the country’s national rapporteur on trafficking, to producing some semblance of meaningful regulation had to be abandoned and even stripped from law before it could be passed. The Dutch may have intended to regulate prostitution, but success does not rest on intent.
Establishing even the most basic of facts about the trade there today remains difficult. Nobody can say, for example, precisely how many prostitutes operate in the Netherlands, even after all these years. The shroud which once enveloped the trade remains in place, but where it was once used as a reason to legalise it, it is now used to defend the trade against criticism now that it has been legalised. All that can be relied upon comes in the form of estimates. Terrifyingly, one of these, given in this year’s edition of the Global Slavery Index, puts the population of modern-day slaves in the Netherlands at a staggering 17,500 persons. Yes, that’s 17,500 slaves! Given that sex trafficking in prostitution is the main form of human trafficking experienced in the Western World, the sex trade in the Netherlands must predictably account for most of those held in slavery there. Is this the solution we seek to emulate?
With over 45 million believed to be living in its grasp, slavery has returned to the world. Ireland can certainly choose to legalise prostitution. It will not succeed at regulating it however, for the very same reasons the Dutch have failed. One can promote the cause of prostitutes or the cause of prostitution, but one cannot promote the cause of both. It has always been so, for it was written of King Cotton at the South, that he was not slowed by “the cries of the oppressed, while the citizens of the world are dragging forward his chariot, and shouting aloud his praise!” This is the choice before Ireland today: do we consent to protect the consumer or the consumed.
Open Secrets: An Irish Perspective on Trafficking and Witchcraft explores modern slavery, human trafficking, and their slaves, all from the perspective of present-day events in Ireland.