Friday, January 23, 2009

Siddharth Kara at the Carnegie Council

Earlier this month at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, Siddharth Kara discussed his latest book, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. Kara provided a rare business analysis of the sex industry, looking at supply and demand factors, profitability, and growth of the industry, and shared first-hand accounts of its victims.

Kara began with a narrative of a young girl from Albania, "Inez," who had been kidnapped, repeatedly raped, smuggled over the border, and forced into prostitution. When she managed to escape after two years, Inez was shunned by her father and forced to live on the streets. She was promised work in Italy, but was again brought into an international sex trafficking ring. Inez was detained by the police for having false documents and when she was released, the police forced her to return to the men who enslaved her. This time, Inez became pregnant and when she was able to escape back to her home, her family again shunned her and her child.

According to Kara, Inez's situation is illustrative of some key components of the sex trade:
-economic deprivation makes individuals vulnerable to exploitation
-victims are quickly broken down by physical and psychological torture
-trafficking victims often endure a cycle of exploitation, and even if they do manage to escape, they are thrown back into the same conditions that led to their initial enslavement.

Kara identified two principal drivers of the sex trade industry as high profitability and extremely low risk. Worldwide sex trafficking brought in $35.7 billion in 2007, making it the most profitable illicit industry next to the drug trade. In India, profits of approximately $12,900 per slave per year can be generated by exploiting sex slaves, while the only criminal penalty for the practice is a $44 fine for owning a brothel.

Even when stiff penalties are written into law, levels of prosecution and conviction of sex slave exploiters tend to be minor, due to corruption, poor witness protection programs, insufficient evidence gathering, a lack of cross-border cooperation, and other factors.

The best near-term solution to the illicit sex trade, according to Kara, is to reduce aggregate demand by attacking the industry's profitability. Commercial sex is a highly elastic product, so as price increases, consumer demand decreases. In order to attack profitability, Kara recommends elevating risk.

Four main impediments to dealing effectively with the illicit sex trade were identified: the crime is poorly understood; NGOs dealing with the issue are underfunded and poorly coordinated; laws against the crimes are poorly enforced; and few people have a detailed economic understanding of the industry.

Kara outlined seven tactics to reduce demand, elevate risk, and shorten the duration of enslavement:
-the creation of an international slavery and trafficking inspection force similar to United Nations weapons inspectors
-community vigilance committees trained to report signs of potential slavery to local police or trafficking inspection force
-targeted, proactive raids on establishments suspected of slave-like exploitation
-increased funding for salaries to police, border patrol, prosecutors, and judges to decreased risk of corruption
-special fast-track courts to prosecute crimes, with international observers and judicial review
-fully funded witness protection for slaves
-increased financial penalties associated with sex-slave crimes

Kara admits that the challenges to ending sex trafficking are immense, but believes that with increased resources and awareness, it can be done.

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