Saturday, December 29, 2007
Last week, the justice minister and deputy leader, Harriet Harman, announced she’d be focusing on fighting human trafficking.
For anyone who is familiar with human trafficking this initiative is most welcome, as it is truly one of the most horrendous modern crimes.
The opening of Russia and Eastern Europe and the removing of the European borders have brought slavery back to the developed world, for the first time since the American Civil War (1865). It’s not merely sweat shops we are talking about, but true slavery.
Thousands of young women, often in their late teens, from poor countries are brought to their dream land (UK and other European countries) under the promise of good work that will help them support their families. They are lent the money for the trip and told that it will be easy to pay it off once they have started working.
When they arrive without their passports (held by their ‘travel agents’) they are sold to local pimps and made to work in prostitution ‘to pay back their debt.’ From stories of some of the girls who got rescued, we learn that they are held in cage conditions, which they are not allowed to leave. They have to service dozens of men each day, and although they are given no money whatsoever, they never manage to pay off their debt. Some have been living under such conditions for years.
Any effort to fight this crime should be applaud. But from a pragmatic point of view, it’s unlikely that Ms. Harriet’s suggestion to make paying for sex illegal will solve the problem, for the following reasons:
1. In England, due to insufficient police forces, inefficient justice system, and overcrowded jails many dangerous criminals, murderers and rapist walk free in our streets. Are we planning to bog down these resources further to handle the thousand of men frequenting prostitutes?
2. Prostitution is often considered a safety value for those who may otherwise commit sex crimes. So as long as prostitution is voluntary (in the sense that any work we do is voluntary) do we really want to remove this safety mechanism?
3. Prostitution, whatever your personal opinion may be, is a natural part of society. No culture or country, not even the strictest ones where prostitution means death, has managed to stop it. Would England be the first one? Besides, if we knew where to arrest the men frequenting the prostitutes, couldn’t we simply rescue the girls?
Human trafficking must be fought smart. We may want to consider regulating prostitution by restricting it to certain locations, and require prostitutes to have a license. If license also included health checks, it would be in the client’s best interest to ask for it.
We may also want to start a big awareness campaign, and provide free, anonymous telephone numbers to report of such cases. Although not all clients will care, I am sure that many would not agree with involuntary exploitation of women, and would use these lines to report.
Undoubtedly, there are other better solutions, which we must seek. But if we are to fight this crime, a knee jerk reaction that satisfies self-appraising political system is unlikely to be the solution we need.