A distant relative of mine was trafficked.
Depending on what you’ve read and seen in the media, you may not expect this story to look like this: he is male, and wasn’t destined to become a sex slave, but a construction-site slave. Desperate for a job in Western Europe, he left his Ukrainian village with some sketchy individuals, was forced to trek through a marsh in freezing weather, and was eventually discovered on a train by police, still determined to reach his destination.
This spring, an article on modern-day slavery was published in the L. A. Times – it warned readers that slavery is far from over, that, in fact, there are more slaves today than before, and that slavery has many faces and many forms.
The article mentions prostitution, and argues that not all prostitutes are sex slaves, and that the U.S. legislators, by focusing mainly on the sex trade, are not seeing the complete picture. I understand that this will be a point of contention to many reading this site. Overall, it’s not an easy article to read, but I do hope you guys might find it useful to engage with.
Now, it seems obvious to me that rape goes hand-in-hand with other forms of coercion. For example, a woman enslaved as a domestic worker will often get raped by her captors. She may not be a trafficked prostitute, but is a sex slave, and many other kinds of slave besides that. And enslaved males can also be subject to rape and sexual abuse.
I’ve read that the English word “slave” actually originated with the word “Slav” – because of the high instance of enslavement of Slavs in the Middle Ages. History is repeating itself. Of course, modern-day slavery is everyone’s problem, as it seems to exist on every continent.
A friend of mine works in law enforcement in Kyiv, Ukraine. He frequently runs up against the desperation of women who will do anything to change their circumstances. And a lot of the prostitutes he meets tell him that they don’t want to get out of prostitution, they just want to be left alone by police and abusive pimps. The vast majority of them do not sanitize what they do, but some prefer it to working at McDonald’s, as he once put it.
He also told me that when he cautioned a woman against associating with a criminal gang who were most likely going to sell her abroad, she all but spat in his face. Not because he was saying something that wasn’t true, but because she wanted to get out, she had to change her circumstances, and take a chance. What struck him then was the dissonance between all manner of good intentions and the unforgiving reality of poverty.
And so it goes.
While I do not agree with her on everything, I find that Pawlina of The Natashas blog often has good things to say on the subject (and wish that she was still updating it). For other resources, I recommend checking out the State Department rankings of individual countries in regards to this phenomenon. People have said that these are not unbiased, but they’re a good start for those of us just starting to find out about what’s happening.
One of the worst things about this phenomenon is the tendency to blame the victim. I see it in Jordan, in the States, in Ukraine, in the UAE, and elsewhere. Race, class, gender, ethnicity, religion, and more, often play into the way the blaming is constructed. For example, I know a person who was sympathetic to the story of my male relative, yet refused to believe that trafficked women are anything but greedy bitches who get what they deserve. I’ve seen people express shock that a white-skinned woman can be bought, but are not at all weirded out by, say, a Sri Lankan woman being held captive in a wealthy household in the Middle East.
Now, if you’d like to support the anti-trafficking effort in Ukraine, I recommend checking out La Strada. This link should take you the English-language version of the site. You can find out ways to donate, etc.
The evil of slavery, its repercussions through the ages, and the way it has endured, makes me feel small and afraid. In those moments, I like to think of those fighting the good fight as hobbits (don’t laugh), walking up to Mount Doom. I need an analogy that can give way to some semblance of hope. But is there a reason to hope? You tell me.
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