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Maria’ (not her real name; her identity has been kept anonymous as she was a victim of sex trafficking), a 16 year-old wheninterviewed by Al Jazeera in 2013, had just been rescued from a prostitution ring 4 months ago. She hails from Tenancingo, an area synonymous with sex trafficking. When ‘Maria’ was fourteen, an older man approached her, assuring her of a better life if she went away with him to the US. Desperate, and drawn to America, seeing it as a land of opportunity and promise, she agreed. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a pimp. After bringing her across the border of Mexico and crossing into New York, America, some 130 kilometers away, he made her a sex worker. It was a brutal life where her trafficker controlled her through daily beatings and countless rapes. She recounts that after her first traumatic ordeal, she came back to her lodging, feeling bad and broke down. Frustrated, she threw her earnings at her trafficker. Everyday, she took a bath after coming home from work, not wanting the trafficker to touch her, but he would in fact always rape her (Al Jazeera, 2013).
This harrowing ordeal is not faced by Maria alone. Human trafficking is a globally prevalent organised crime with around 10 000 people trafficked in 2017 into the US and these are only the reported one (Polaris, 2017). Sex trafficking in particular constitutes 46% of all trafficking cases, a close second behind labour trafficking (Polaris, 2016). Let sex trafficking be the recruitment, harbouring or transportation of people into sexual exploitation through the use of violence, deception or coercion, against their will (Anti-Slavery International, 2018). One of the main countries of origin of these victims is Mexico, according to the Department of State (US Dept. of State, 2016). Sexual assault suffered at the hands of traffickers have been reported to leave the victims feeling as though they have been robbed of their identities and treated as owned property (The Guardian, 2015). Victims also often suffer from Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder (PTSD) or depression and have thoughts of suicide (Huffington Post, 2016). Some also suffer from vivid flashbacks of rapes and assault (The Star, 2015). Seeing these documented negative implications of sex trafficking, together with the prevalence of it despite the presence of calls-to-actions by organizations such as Anti-Slavery International and United Nations, I am motivated to focus my essay on Sex Trafficking Across the Mexico-US Border (UNODC 2016: 25). Like Maria, many are willing to make the treacherous journey from Mexico to the US with a rising number of migrants dying in the process (The Guardian, 2018). There are numerous push and pull factors at play here. Push factors drove Maria to leave Mexico. Pull factors attract Maria to America. Maria, may be drawn to the political security and employment opportunities offered by America (pull factor) as opposed to the dearth of jobs and political instability experienced in Mexico (push factor) (Alchin, 2017). Others who have fallen prey to sex trafficking across the border have attributed their migration to better education to move up the socioeconomic ladder (pull factor) while others flee from national threats (push factor) (Olson, 2016). Through this essay, I will establish that1. Crime, specifically sex trafficking, has arisen due to deviance from societal norms and poor social structures or breakdown of social institutions2. Karl Marx’s Conflict Theory and its emphasis on economic capitalism explains profiteering through sex trafficking3. Globalisation has abetted the proliferation of sex trafficking as technology has allowed international groups with common interests to become increasingly interlinked and thus organise crimes such as sex trafficking on a bigger scale.
Sex trafficking is considered a crime because it deviates from accepted standards of behaviour and norms founded on values in a society, set by a social institution such as the government. Here, the norms are not violating Maria’s freedom or the agency of her own actions, embodying the values of dignity and respect. Social structures such as law and order are dysfunctional, with government perhaps even being complicit in these crimes, as seen in corruption, resulting in failure to protect Maria and others. Endemic corruption costs Mexico anywhere between 2-10 % of its GDP annually (Rubio, 2017). Corruption is a result of the breakdown of social structures such as the Constitution, with no system of checks-and-balances, allowing for misappropriation of money. This is best exemplified in how the president, Pena Nieto himself has been tied to corrupt practices – his home renovations are rumoured to come from government contracts. (Rubio, 2017).
There exists strong links between crime capitalism contributing to a criminal economy that transferred through money laundering to a formal economies in countries such as Mexico (Reuters, 2018). Karl Marx’s Conflict theory explains that tensions arise when resources, status or power are unequally distributed between different groups in a society, driving social changes. In this case study, resources are the basic needs for Maria to live a comfortable life, status is her social standing in relation to others around her and power comprises her material and financial means. Maria’s poor financial background and resulting vulnerability classify her as a proletariat in her society while the coyotes, given their greater financial power and influence, are classified as the bourgeouise (British Columbia, 2014). The coyotes own the means of production, that is trafficking while the proletariats survive by trading themselves as commodities. Each man that visits Maria pays her about $35, and on the average she encounters up to 60 men a day (Human Trafficking in Mexico Report, 2017). What’s ironic however, is that only a fraction of this money can be kept by Maria; most of the earnings must be surrendered to the coyote who also otherwise earn a $5000 set fee for aiding in cross-border migration (CNN, 2010). The bourgeouise strata owns a whopping half of the nation’s total income, (The Borgen Project, 2017). According to Marx, there exists a strong correlation between wealth, and economic and political power (McEwan, 2009). As such, there is either an implicit or explicit coercion where the bourgeouise are able to assert their dominance, through any means possible, by projecting affluence (implicit) or violence (explicit). This helps perpetuate blind acceptance of the hierarchy. This explains why Maria, at the promise of a seemingly older, wiser and wealthier man, is swayed to follow him. The coyotes have the upperhand because of their financial means, and the physical means to aid in cross-border migration. This constant disparity is a result of a highly economically-capitalist system.
A capitalist system has a singular conception of the world- its primary mode of production and distribution of commodities are the most important. This highly capitalist society gives rise to inequalities due to the stratification of a society based on economic gains, in turn forming disadvantaged groups. In Mexico, boys as young as eight hailing from poor backgrounds are trained to be pimps or coyotes when they grow up and taught to understand that ‘sex sells’, exemplifying how disadvantaged groups respond with deviant behaviour such as trafficking to make ends meet (Odyssey, 2016). Furthermore, this commodity is considered cheap and it can be used over and over again (Fusion, 2014). This objectification of women also promotes the notion that women lack intrinsic value. The capitalist system explains why coyotes are more often than not, motivated by their financial self-interests, in turn victimising girls like Maria as a means to an end (Pepperdine University, 2017). Here, the rationale becomes accumulation of surplus value. These deviant behaviours further contribute to the capitalism system allowing sex trafficking to be a highly lucrative business industry which generates revenue of as high as $152 billion globally (ILO, 2016). Conflict Theory explains that inequalities stemming from a capitalist society explain the deviances from societal norms, accounting for sex trafficking.
Globalisation & It’s Impacts on Sex TraffickingIn an era marked by fast growing circulation and mobilization of goods, labour, information, ideas and so on, globalisation has had the unintended consequence of exacerbating international sex trafficking. The transnationally organised crime has disrupted Mexico’s social stability and modified the core values of a society as women are often objectified. Globalised crime poses a greater threat to Mexico’s state sovereignty and its citizens, with increased risk of violating rights, values and institutional norms. In the future, democratic policies may also be more greatly corrupted culminating in financial crises due to the increased crime capital. Firstly, the Internet is used for recruitment and communication. Through social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, traffickers lure and recruit women such as Maria into sex trafficking under the guise of job opportunities in US (Latonero, 2012). With a staggering increase of mobile phones globally from 200 million in 1997 to 4. 57 billion in 2018, people are more connected than ever (Statista, 2018). A message sent from one corner of the world to the next can be received immediately, allowing for instantaneous communication between different interlinked organizations. In this case study, when brothels in New York are short of girls, a bigger supply is requested from Mexico to meet the higher demand by text, Whatsapp, Telegram etc (Tedi Bear Children’s Advocacy Center, 2015). At the same time, with globalisation, access to minors someone’s personal information are made easier due to the sheer amount of data available online, via stalking or the aid of professional hackers.
Secondly, globalisation has given rise to increased mobility. The key strategy in all underground crime is that the management and productions must be based in low-risk areas where there is relative dominance of the institutional environment, in this case Mexico, where social structures have continually failed for a few decades now. Areas offering the greatest demand and monetary bidding for girls such as Maria are then targeted. This can be seen in the New York and Tenancingo example, but for this strategy to actually take root there must be transportation of the girls from Mexico to New York. Globalisation has allowed for advancements in technology giving rise to different modes of transportation such as busses, speed boats, trains and cars, which are some of the ways girls like Maria are trafficked (Kara, 2009: 10). They are moved around as many as 20 times, just so that the traffickers are able to avoid getting nabbed and that government officials are unable to specifically track down their location if they are constantly on the move (Goldhammer, 2006).
Lastly, globalisation encourages interdependency between different states for commerce and transfer of commodities (Brewer, 2018). For instance, North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 between Mexico, Canada and the US set up the world’s largest free trade zone so that goods and services can be exchanged for the betterment of all three economies (NAFTA, 2012). As such, lesser market borders are likened to migration- as having positive impacts of cultural diffusion, exchange of ideas between different groups of people, and economic benefits. However, this aspect of globalisation which increases the interconnectedness of countries, has led to the greater fluidity of illegal trade as well with over 30 000 being trafficked for sex slavery across Mexico the US (Polaris, 2016). To end off, I believe that if Maria and other victims are able have a collective consciousness and come together to raise awareness about their trauma, I am sure that many across the world revolting at the harsh reality, will unite to end this war against human trafficking. As much as globalisation propagates the problem, it can also be the solution to gradually putting a stop to sex trafficking. Through campaigns on social media platforms, the expansive outreach will allow the collective voices of these victims to be heard, especially in this day-and-age where information can be disseminated and spread at the speed of lighting. Currently, there are no organizations dealing with sex trafficking in the Mexico despite it being a huge social concern. Organizations such as Redlight Children Campaign which is based in New York, should be expanded to areas like in Tenancingo in Mexico, considering that the two are interlinked in this trade.
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