Everyone knows what slavery is, from school, from television documentaries, or from the movies. The abolition of slavery belongs to the triumphs of history. It is an integral component of the path to human rights, democracy, and a free society. And it belongs to history. That is, however, a huge mistake. This is due to the fact today there are more slaves now than in any other prior century. And most of them have been treated and moved around like goods on the global market.
While classical slavery was abolished in the Western World by the first great human rights campaign in history, modern day slaves lack an advocate such as one finds in the debate over global warming. For most members of the media, the fact of the unsavory business of forced prostitution is not worth more than a report which, after all is said and done, provokes a bit of shock, disgust, and titillation.
“Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death” (Exodus 21:16). Even if we no longer respond with the death penalty for human trafficking, this Old Testament provision demonstrates how old the problem is and that we are dealing with one of the severest offenses committed by humanity.
According to the French world historian Will Durant, ancient Greece primarily experienced its demise due to the connection between sexual exploitation and slavery, and Western Civilization is well on the way to repeating this declension.
My research on human trafficking has led me to such different locations as Managua, Qatar, Bangalore, Tokyo, Bangkok, Pattaya, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Entebbe, Cape Town, New York, Prague, and Amsterdam.
I could be standing in front of the Colosseum in Rome, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, on the Charles Bridge in Prague, or even in front of the largest temple in Nepal, at night at the market in Bangkok, or at the airport in São Paulo. No matter where I am, I am offered the same imitation brand name bags and watches by dark-skinned foreigners. Only very few people suspect that what is involved here is predominantly people who are forced to sell imitation brand name goods under appalling conditions and do not receive any of the proceeds themselves. It is a matter of a global, well-organized combination of human trafficking and brand name imitation goods rings run by excellent managers with large production sites in China. And this happens in front of everyone’s eyes.
There are two things which are a complete mystery to me. On the one hand, there is the fact that Germans make no exceptions as far as modern slavery is concerned. At the same time, the National Socialist Regime was connected with one of the most horribly appalling slavery machines inside and outside the concentration camps. Was that not a lesson for us?
On the other hand, there is one fact which I absolutely do not understand. Almost all countries of the world have strict laws and penalties against rape, torture, and kidnapping. Forced prostitution comprises all three offences simultaneously, but it is treated much more lackadaisically, is rarely investigated, and is mildly punished. Additionally, it would have to be clear to those who go to prostitutes that they are in all likelihood participating in such crimes.
According to the UN, between 2003 and 2007 there were around 6,500 human traffickers charged. Of that number, 3,361 were convicted, whereby many sentences were rather of a symbolic nature. There is no other serious offense which is so little prosecuted, legally treated so incidentally, and punished so casually by the courts. In any case, the fight against human trafficking will not be won in this fashion. It is less risky to enslave people that it is to run a red light at an intersection.
It is a disgrace that there is no more lucrative branch of industry in the world than human trafficking and forced prostitution. The start-up costs are low, the profits are high, the demand is strong and growing, the risks are low, and the profits are broadly dispersed to all participants. This is in contrast to drug trafficking, where the largest portion of the profits go the bosses at the top.
That also has far-reaching negative consequences going beyond the topic at hand. In addition to drug trafficking, human trafficking and in particular forced prostitution are perhaps the main engine for corruption worldwide. Secondly, they are the main income source for armies engaged in civil war, for rebels, but also for religiously based fundamental movements that come along such as the Taliban and other Islamist groups.
The Taliban veil their own women, but they trade in girls and women from other people groups, and they give away women as thanks to deserving combatants. The Turkish PKK and the Near Eastern Hezbollah finance their terrorist Activities through drug and human trafficking. One leader of Hezbollah ran a human trafficking ring from a Viennese prison. His henchmen had no idea for whom they were generating revenues.
With respect to the international drug trade and to Islamist terrorism there is some sort of global consensus in overall society that they are dangerously widespread and should be massively combated. And yet, human trafficking hardly reaches into people’s consciousness and is fought with much fewer resources. Additionally, whoever denounces forced prostitution or violent pornography on the internet, which does groundwork for forced prostitution, finds himself quickly having to defend himself against the suspicion that they are a non fun-loving square who will not allow people to simply have their fun.
When the television moderator Michel Friedman was arrested red-handed in 2003, together with a number of forced prostitutes from the Ukraine in the course of investigations regarding women trafficking, the uproar about his cocaine consumption was much greater than the fact that a criminal organization had forcefully obtained women for him. Friedman excused himself before the general public, his girlfriend, and all sorts of other people. Yet he never publicly apologized to the forced prostitutes in spite of calls to do so.
In June 2006 the BBC reported that Eastern European women were being publicly sold for around $15,000 each at London airports. There was some temporary commotion but nothing changed, and the topic never again made it into the headlines. Whoever knows their way around can observe such auctions at London airports up to the present day.
In the process every country on earth is affected. Even in Iceland, with its 250,000 inhabitants, one finds pertinent cases. Almost all countries in the world are involved in human trafficking and indeed frequently find themselves in overlapping functions as countries of origin, countries of transit, and as countries of destination.