Trafficking & Prostitution: A New Perspective

The first time I heard about the term “human trafficking” I was too young to understand what it meant. What I remember is a newspaper article with a big black bold headline about human trafficking with an image of children stuffed into a train compartment. Those children looked as young and as naive as I was at the time to have known the meaning of the trafficking.
I can faintly recollect that the news story went on describing something about how this sort of trafficking was on the rise to get hands on human organs.

The faces of the children in this image reflected a shock, a horror and silence. That’s something that would never be the case with a bunch of children altogether.

What can be said about trafficking in present times? The statistics seem astronomical, yet we never come across such events, unless we are looking for them. I must say I didn’t quite understand the term until I was faced with it again, or rather I didn’t get to see in its entirety what it meant until I was looking for it. Many have taken up the gauntlet and have gone to great lengths to describe what goes on in an industry that has objectified its own kind. The stories have been heard of people walking down the red-light areas of Mumbai and looking at eyes staring at them from behind iron bars. Nothing seems to have changed in terms of the atrocities they have faced and how they have been stripped of their ‘personhood’ as Dr. Ravi Zacharias puts it, but its a cause to celebrate that people are being rescued and numbers,  though not apparent globally but in local communities are dropping, thanks to the intense work that is being done by the crusaders against trafficking and prostitution.

A New Perspective

When you think about the people’s perspective about prostitution and trafficking, the issue seems to be met by mostly two perspectives. It is the general tendency to feel extreme sadness and heart wrenching pity for the trafficked victims. But the people who practice prostitution by their own choice, are looked at differently. They seem to be less worthy of our pity and sympathy and partly responsible for their own condition.

But I was exposed to different perspective in this regard by someone who has walked the streets of the biggest red-light areas of the world, Naomi Zacharias. Naomi works internationally for the rescue and welfare of victims of trafficking and prostitution and for children with AIDS as a part of RZIM’s Humanitarian arm called the Wellspring International. She said…

If I’m sharing a story of a girl that I’ve met, people often interrupted and say , “Was she trafficked or is she there by choice?” And if I say, “Well, she is there by choice.” You can see a change on their face because they put  her in a different category. They see her as partly responsible for her situation and that she is not much of our responsibility to try to help or try to save. But it is a false distinction. When you hear their stories, what kind of a choice was there?! And I remember one of the first times I went to Amsterdam , I was talking to girls behind the brothel windows. When I heard what had happened in their life, if what had happened to them would have happened to me,  I felt I confident that I’d be on that side of the window too.

And she goes on to explain how interesting it is that only in the cases of sexual exploitation we make such of distinction. For example: We wouldn’t have the same perspective about a battered wife who goes back to her husband or someone working in sweatshop who goes back there knowing that the few pennies they will make that day will be better than Nothing. In Naomi’s words,”When we hear of those (Battered wife or the sweatshop worker) situations, that does not abdicate the abuser from their responsibility. They are still exploiting those individuals. But for some reason when it comes to prostitution, we say, “If the person is willing, we don’t want to call it exploitation. That has never been what has defined it for us.”

I realize that there are definite outliers to this. Many women, especially young women have willing chosen the path of prostitution and do not think twice about what they do. But there is still a large section of the population, even in wealthier nations where this probably is the only way people can  make ends meet. Poverty, rejection, abuse , drugs stand as main reasons for some to become and remain  prostitutes. It is important that all people involved in prostitution are looked at the with the same sensitivity and sympathy for the their humanhood and for the brokenness they care.

It is a realization that all things cannot be looked at with the same eye. All things have to be looked at differently and seen for what they really are. There is still a long way to go and the statistics might seem discouraging but as Naomi Zacharias pointed out – ” We have to change our definitions of success…You have to look at this as a human being and every life you are able to change matters and I genuinely feel that way.

Cover image: Photo by Linda Nylind, via The Guardian