Shame of the City

The Chronicle is doing a four part series on sex trafficking in San Francisco, with the first part up today. It’s a longish read, but actually worth going through and pondering instead of simply reading my version of it.

In essence, the article underlines a fact that we are already well aware of–that sex trafficking into the United States is a growing problem, and that port cities like San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles are a big part of it. Human trafficking in general is on the rise, although it’s difficult to get accurate statistics because of the nature of the trade. However, there does seem to be a general upward trend, and this is a concern for law enforcement, human rights activists, and anyone with a soul.

Most people who are trafficked are tricked or coerced with promises of a better job in America, a way to bring money home for their families, and so forth. Most victims are Asian or Latin American, although the Chronicle in this series is focusing mostly on Asian trafficking for the sex trade, which primarily includes women. Many Asian women are smuggled into the country as sex workers, and kept in very dangerous and unpleasant conditions. Many of them actually wanted to come to America, because they were offered good jobs or other assistance, and upon arrival realized that America wasn’t what it was all cracked up to be.

These sex workers are kept as prisoners, often literally, with guards and double locked gates. They rack up “transporation fees” which they are expected to pay off, and while they’re working they accrue more debt–food, clothing, housing, “fines” for bad behaviour, and are economic prisoners as well. Threatened by their captors, these sex workers are forced to endure long hours of what is, in reality, rape. It’s often cheap, and it’s in back alleys, and it’s wrong.

This is not something I am ok with. I hope it isn’t something that you are ok with either. In my opinion, humans deserve to be free to make their own choices and decisions, and we owe it to each other to work for and protect our freedoms. Furthermore, no one should be forced to engage in sexual activity against their will, or coerced into sexual behaviour. It undermines our fundamental humanity to allow sex trafficking to occur, and it should not be tolerated.

What can we do about it? The article begins to detail some changes the city is making–cracking down on “massage parlours” which use trafficked women, for example. For the sake of traditional massage practitioners, I wish that massage and the sex trade could be disassociated, because it does a grave injustice to the hardworking, committed, healing massage therapists I know. Perhaps adjusting our legal system so that we prosecute pimps and johns, instead of prostitutes. Being active in areas where trafficking is known to be an issue, following up on reports of trafficking, and being more proactive about making sure that human trafficking will not be tolerated in this city. Investing more police energy in tracking, investigating, and busting trafficking rings.

But we can also help, as individuals, by supporting a legal, safe, and consensual sex trade. Sex work has a long history, and it isn’t all bad. There’s nothing wrong, in my opinion, with availing yourself of the services of a sex worker–but you do have an obligation to check on ou provenance. Is the sex worker here legally? Choosing sex work as an occupation, rather than being forced into it? Taking joy and pride in ou work? It would be a more pleasureable experience for the consumer to work with a consenting partner, after all. There’s a market for sex slave because undiscriminating johns exist, and if consumers of the sex trade took a more active role in promoting legal and ethical sex, perhaps there wouldn’t be as much profit in sex trafficking.

San Francisco is often touted as a licentious and free-wheeling city, and to many extents that’s true. But like most of America, we have our own hangups and issues, and sexual repression does exist here. The same dark corners where sexual repression lurks also breed sex trafficking, because there isn’t an open and free exchange of information and respect going on.

Modern day slavery is an ugly reality: so what are you going to do about it?

[sex trafficking]