Slaves by Another Name Clear of Charges in NY

Pic courtesy of Police: The Law Enforcement Magazine
Victims of human trafficking are finally getting further rights under a recent New York state policy, and it’s about time. Under the new law, women will have the right to clear their names of prostitution charges.

The business of sexual slavery and human trafficking is growing around the world. It is one of the many negative impacts of global financial meltdown, and perhaps one of the most overlooked issues of our times. It can also be said that forced labor flourishes in times of disaster and financial distress. A perfect storm of economic hardship in an increasingly post-industrial, globally integrated world, modern day slavery impacts women and children the most. According to the U.S. State Department, in 2007, 50% of transnational victims were children, and 80% were women and girls.

Recently I came across an article about the sex trafficking industry in the small Mexican town of Tenancingo. An economically depressed town with a large Indian population valuing forced marriages, many men have lured women into forced sex work by first proposing marriage and then kidnapping them. The Washington Post reported that as many as 3,000 people, of a total population of 10,000, are directly involved in the sex trade there. Oftentimes, the women are smuggled into the U.S. where their work will support a lavish lifestyle for their captors back home in Mexico.

Human trafficking can also thrive in times of natural disaster. In the wake of the Haiti earthquake, lowered security levels to accommodate the influx of relief assistance provided the perfect breeding ground for human trafficking—as was also the case of the Asian Tsunami in 2004. As unpredictable weather and the rise of natural disasters can attest, human trafficking will persist, so long as dire poverty and chaotic conditions are not contained.

I was surprised to read that just last week, the governor of New York signed a bill into legislation that would allow victims of sex trafficking to clear their names of prostitution charges. Let me repeat that: women who have become sex slaves are only now being granted the ability to clear their names of any criminal wrongdoing.

“It’s a hard reality that trafficked people are often arrested, convicted, and released without the justice system realizing what’s really going on,” said Sienna Baskin, co-director of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center, which helped write the bill.

In that small Mexican town, officials scoffed at the idea that women were being forced to commit acts of prostitution. Around the world, women face an uphill battle once they’ve broken free of bondage, since admitting involvement in such a trade can mean a life of social stigmatization. Hopefully shifts in perception will come soon. Hopefully we’re getting closer and closer to a world that classifies sex trafficking as what it actually is: modern day slavery.