Women choose to work in sex trafficking

Prostitution, the world’s oldest profession, as well as human trafficking, was the topic of discussion last night at the first event of the Provost Lecture Series, themed “Open Secrets, Tolerated Illegalities, Ethical Refusals.”

The lecture “Transacting Sex in the Caribbean: Migration, Work and Human Trafficking” was given by Kamala Kempadoo, associate professor of Latin American and Caribbean Studies at York University in Ontario.

Kempadoo opened her lecture with a little known fact concerning prostitution and human trafficking.

“The majority of women engaged in the sex work industry are aware that they are being recruited or opt themselves into the work,” Kempadoo said.

There are many reasons that a woman may choose sex work, Kempadoo said. Many women do so to secure independence, pay for basic needs, pay for education or purchase commodities.

Kempadoo added that in some countries women are more socially valued as a prostitute than in formal sectors of society.

“People who engage in sex work activity regard it as a very real alternative to other jobs,” Kempadoo said. “Sometimes it can be more lucrative, less demanding and less dangerous.”

Kempadoo pointed out that there are many problems and concerns surrounding the policies of sex work and human trafficking.

Since prostitution is illegal, much of the time any violence against the women goes unreported.

“Stigmas silence these women and push them father into the shadows,” Kempadoo said.

Kempadoo also argues that the anti-trafficking framework adopted by the United Nations only improves the rights of the elite and ignores the disadvantaged.

“The anti-trafficking paradigm ignores the reasons why people move away,” Kempadoo said. “When they are arrested they are sent back to the conditions they were trying to leave.”

She also said that the anti-trafficking policies can work to push trafficking even farther underground or cause it to thrive somewhere else, an outcome she terms the push-down/pop-up effect.

Kempadoo also pointed out that the anti-trafficking policies adopted by the UN haven’t had very much affect.

“Policies tend to encourage anti-immigration or xenophobic acts,” Kempadoo said.

Vicki Patraka, director of the Institute for the Study of Culture and Society, decided to ask Kempadoo to speak at the University after a graduate student recommended her.

“I found very interesting her assessment of trafficking laws and policies and the ways they don’t help the very people, in theory, they were designed to protect,” Patraka said.

She said it is important for students to attend the lectures because it gives them additional opportunities to learn.

“We offer students a very rich intellectual agenda of speakers,” Patraka said. “It enriches their participation in their classes.”

Jason Kirby, graduate student at the University attended the lecture because he was interested in the topic and because his department, American Culture Studies, helped to organize the event.

“I really enjoyed the lecture,” Kirby said. “She made a provocative point about something that doesn’t fit into an easy categorization.”