Sexworkers As Political Footballs to Mislead on Trafficking

5/20/06 - The use of sex workers as political footballs continues unabated, even among self-identified liberals. Nicholas Kristoff was at it again in New York Times Op Ed page. Just like his comrades in the State Department, whose praises he sings with an embarrassing effusiveness, Kristoff has let his obsession with sex trafficking lead him to tinker with the facts. In his zeal to exaggerate the phenom, he segues seamlessly from descriptions of girls in prostitution to the global total of all trafficked people:

"I've seen the peddling of humans in many countries: the 8-year- old Filipino girl whose mother used to pull her out of school to rent pedophiles; the terrified 14-year-old Vietnamese girl imprisoned in a brothel pending the sale of her virginity; the Pakistani teenager whose brothel's owner dealt with her resistance by drugging her into a stupor. The U.N. has estimated that 12.3 million people worldwide are caught in forced labor of one kind or another."

According to UNICEF , a large part of that tally is trafficking of babies for adoption in the West, trafficking of girls for mail-order brides, and trafficking for domestic work. The significant trafficking busts in the United States--the sinking of the Golden Venture, with its cargo of trafficked garment workers; the New York City racket involving deaf Mexicans who were trafficked to work as beggars on the subways--all involve adults forced into various kinds of indentured servitude involving manual labor, not young girls forced into brothels. UNICEF estimates that of the 246 million children engaged in child labor worldwide, only about 1.8 million are engaged in prostitution or pornography.

Those at the State Department and on the Christian right who have made sex trafficking their top priority are not doing it to save those 246 million kids from grinding labor in factories or as domestic servants. They're doing it to serve a broader agenda of legislating morality and disempowering women. And who's a better poster girl for that crusade than Kristoff's imprisoned 14-year-old?


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