Laila Mickelwait, manager of policy and public affairs for Exodus Cry, an international anti-human trafficking organization, told CNA May 9 that while it is important to “rescue and rehabilitate” victims of human trafficking, “work of prevention is the most important thing we can do in the fight against the global injustice of sexual slavery.”
She added that preventing people “from ever ending up in those exploited positions” would be “the greater victory.”
The “most critical component of sex trafficking prevention is reducing the demand for commercial sex,” Mickelwait noted.
Mickelwait had spoken at a May 7 presentation, hosted by Rep. Randy Hultgren (R- Ill.), a recently selected member of the Congressional Human Trafficking Task Force, for congressmen and their staff.
Hultgren noted that the issue of human trafficking “extends even to our own backyards.”
“We cannot turn a blind eye to what’s going on in the shadows, and what is at the root cause of it” he stressed. “Learning about what exacerbates the problem of human trafficking is a difficult topic, but we must address the evidence before us. If we could save one child, one woman, one life, then our efforts would be worth it.”
Mickelwait’s presentation emphasized the enormity of the problem of human trafficking - an industry that generates over $32 billion in crime each year and includes some 10-30 million people held in some form of “slavery” today, performing a wide array of tasks including sexual slavery, forced or bonded labor, involuntary domestic service, child soldiering, and organ trafficking.
She added that while several forms of human trafficking occur in developing nations, sex trafficking occurs mostly in developing nations. Victims of sex trafficking are forced into the industry by a variety of means, including online recruitment, romantic interests or family members using their relationship to sell the victims, and abduction.
Mickelwait stressed that connection between the prostitution and sex trafficking industries.
“Sex trafficking and prostitution are linked,” she said, noting the connection between the legalization of prostitution, and an increase in human trafficking in a given area.
“In order to combat sex trafficking we must also reduce demand for prostitution.”
She noted that one of the most effective means of combating human trafficking is to decrease the demand for the commodification of sex. Pointing to Norway and Sweden, which have enacted laws “criminalizing the purchase, not the sale, of sex,” she noted the decrease not only in prostitution, but in the number of men who buy sex and a decrease in sex trafficking rates.
In further fighting sex trafficking, Mickelwait argued that laws and policy must focus on combating the “root cause” of pornography, because of its role in creating a demand for sex.
This demand is further commodified in society through advertisements and popular culture.
“Pornography is ubiquitous and self perpetuating,” Mickelwait offered, and results in a system that is “both creating and supplying demand for commercial sex and thus sex trafficking” through its addictive effects on the brain.
In addition, pornography is filmed prostitution and oftentimes human trafficking itself; she warned that victims of human trafficking are often recorded during sexual acts, such as in “live web cam pornography”, and that the growing medium of child pornography is always a form of sexual trafficking.
Quoting a former pornography filmer Donny Pauling, she explained that pornography “is not a whole lot different from human trafficking”, in that “you start seeing people for the amount of money that they could make you.”
Mickelwait also rejected the protection of pornography as a form of free speech, saying the medium is “increasing demand for commercial sex, trafficking through production and distribution and perpetuating a culture of complicity in commodifying women and children’s bodies.”
An expert in combating human trafficking urged congressmen last week to focus their efforts against the scourge on reducing the demand for commercialized sex, including pornography.