The Debate on Trafficking and Sex-Slavery

The present day phenomenon of trafficking in persons, which takes on different forms, fulfills different purposes, and includes men, women, and children, has diversified the definitions, interpretations, and public understanding of this complicated issue.

Negotiations leading up to the United Nations 2000 Protocol on Trafficking revealed the differences between two distinct viewpoints as the definition of “trafficking in persons” was debated. The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) argued that “trafficking” should include all forms of recruitment and transportation for prostitution, regardless of consent, while the Human Rights Caucus (HRC) supported the view that prostitution is work and that force was the important factor in defining trafficking.

The pro-prostitution viewpoint includes groups like those which make up the Human Rights Caucus, such as the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (GAATW) and Network of Sex Workers Project (NSWP). These groups defend the right to self-determination, right to work, and the right to self expression, believing that women can make informed choices about engaging in consensual commercial sex. The anti-prostitution viewpoint, on the other hand, held primarily by CATW and its many international partners questions the wider socio-economic and cultural context within which such “choices” are being made and warns of systematic reinforcement of male dominance and oppression against women if gender disparities of rights and status are ignored.

The campaign literature of CATW states that “prostitution victimizes all women, justifies the sale of any woman and reduces all women to sex.” They stress that the international call for an economic recognition of the sex-industry will further widen gender inequality, compromising the status of women. According to Janice Raymond of CATW, “if women in prostitution are counted as workers, pimps as businessmen, and buyers as customers, then governments can abdicate responsibility for making decent and sustainable employment available to women.” Dismissing reasoning that options for women might be limited and prostitution often a survival tactic, CATW questions the social utility of prostitution and the difficulty of resisting a lucrative sex-industry that flourishes at the cost of disadvantaged women. The NSWP claims these views are challenged by emerging research indicating that it is sex-workers, rather than coerced innocents, that form the majority of the traffic in women.

Content by Mini Singh
Research Analyst, FSE

Content in Arabic by Raja El Habti
Research Assistant, FSE