Innocent Teen Whore
After two years of our growing and dear friendship, came a time, when he went to his hometown for a long time and I really felt lonely and lost. I had got so used to him, that such a phase was actually quite a difficult one for me to handle. I kept my promise to him and never failed to send emails to him during that time. I kept updating him about all that kept happening back with me. I sent him innocent exchanges about how I felt without him and how hard it was to be alone here without my best friend. But strangely, there were no replies at all from him.
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The campaign against ‘trafficking in women’ has gained increasing momentum world-wide, but in particular among feminists in Europe and the United States, in the last two decades. This current campaign is not the first time that the international community has become concerned with the fate of young women abroad. Modern concerns with prostitution and ‘trafficking in women’ have historical precedent in the anti white-slavery campaigns that occurred at the turn of the century. Feminist organisations played key roles in both past and present campaigns. While current concerns are focused on the exploitation of third world/non-western women by both non-western and western men, concerns then were with the abduction of European women for prostitution in South America, Africa or ‘the Orient’ by non-western men or other subalterns. Yet, though the geographical direction of the traffic has switched, much of the rhetoric accompanying the campaigns sounds remarkably similar. Then as now, the paradigmatic image is that of a young and naive innocent lured or deceived by evil traffickers into a life of sordid horror from which escape is nearly impossible.
The mythical nature of this paradigm of the ‘white slave’ has been demonstrated by historians. Similarly, recent research indicates that today’s stereotypical ‘trafficking victim’ bears as little resemblance to women migrating for work in the sex industry as did her historical counterpart, the ‘white slave’. The majority of ‘trafficking victims’ are aware that the jobs offered them are in the sex industry, but are lied to about the conditions they will work under. Yet policies to eradicate trafficking continue to be based on the notion of the ‘innocent’, unwilling victim, and often combine efforts designed to protect ‘innocent’ women with those designed to punish ‘bad’ women: i.e. prostitutes.
The campaign against white slavery needs to be seen in the context of the European and American nineteenth century discourses on prostitution. Two competing views can be distinguished: that of the ‘regulationists’ and that of the ‘abolitionists’. ‘Regulation’ refers to the state system of licensed brothels, in which prostitutes were subjected to various forms of regulation, such as forced medical examinations and restrictions on mobility. The ideology behind ‘regulation’ was that of prostitution as a ‘necessary evil’. Pre-Victorian regulation of prostitution was based on the religious/moral notion of the prostitute as a ‘fallen woman’ (Guy 1991:13). In the Victorian age, new rationale was found for regulation in the ‘science of sexuality’ (Foucault cited in Walkowitz 1980: 40) in which the prostitute was constructed as a sexual deviant and spreader of disease (Walkowitz 1980: 40).
In the US, the primary narrative motif was that of the ‘innocent country girl’ lured to the dangerous and corrupt city (Grittner 1990: 62), a theme with resonance in Europe as well (Bristow 1982: 24).
In analysing the mythical nature of the ‘trafficking in women’ discourse, I do not mean to imply that any accounts of trafficking, including those referred to in this paper, are ‘false’. Women who travel for work in the sex industry are often lied to about the conditions they will work under, and in a number of cases are subjected to violence and/or find themselves working in slavery-like conditions. Some women are also lied to about the type of work they will be doing (GSN 1997, Weijers and Lap-Chew 1997). The repetition of the discursive foundations of ‘white slavery’ do, however, lead to the question: does the campaign against ‘trafficking in women’ revolve around a relatively few number of cases that conform to the stereotype of the innocent girl lured or abducted into the sex industry? A systematic investigation of reports and statistics of ‘trafficking in women’, similar to those undertaken by chroniclers of the white slavery panic, has yet to be done. However, there are a number of reasons to question the reliability of evidence of ‘trafficking in women’.
Thirdly, and most significantly, there are emerging indications that it is sex workers, rather than ‘coerced innocents’ that form the majority of this ‘traffic’. GAATW, whose report is based for a large part on responses of organisations that work directly with ‘trafficking victims’, found that the majority of ‘trafficking’ cases involve women who know they are going to work in the sex industry, but are lied to about the conditions they will work under, such as the amount of money they will receive, or the amount of debt they have to repay (Weijers and Lap-Chew 1997: 99). They also conclude that abduction for purposes of ‘trafficking’ into the sex industry is very rare (p.99). GSN (1997) relates the testimonies of a number of women who had been sex workers before their migration and who were lied to about working conditions, rather than the nature of the work. Research by the foundation for Women in Thailand concluded that the largest group of Thai women migrating to work in the sex industry in Japan had previously worked in the sex industry in Bangkok (Skrobanek 1997: 49). Watenabe (1998), who worked as a bar girl herself in Japan in the course of her research into Thai women migrating to the Japanese sex industry, found that the majority of sex workers she interviewed were aware of the nature of the work on offer. Other research, such as that by Brockett and Murray (1994) in Australia, Anarfi (1998) in Ghana, Kempadoo (1998b) in the Caribbean, COIN (1998) in the Dominican Republic and the Salomon Alapitvany Foundation in Hungary (1998) 11 indicates that women seeking to migrate are not so easily ‘duped’ or ‘deceived’, and are often aware that most jobs on offer are in the sex industry.
The archtypical ‘white slave’, as I have shown, was suitable for public sympathy (and delectable tabloid fodder) because of her youth and innocence. This ‘innocent victim’, over 100 years older but not a day wiser, makes her reappearance in contemporary ‘trafficking’ stories. As in white slavery narratives, her ‘innocence’ is established in a number of ways: through stressing her lack of knowledge of or unwillingness to accede to her fate; her youth-equated with sexual unawareness and thus purity; and/or her poverty.
As explained above, there is some recognition that the majority of cases ‘trafficking’ for prostitution involve women who are aware that they are going to work in the sex industry but are unaware of the conditions under which they will work. How does the deceived sex worker fit into the myth of innocence in peril? In the first instance, she would seem to radically contradict the construction of the ‘innocent victim’. However, a closer reading indicates that this potentially myth-busting perception is coated with a dusting of victimisation to make it more palatable. The sex worker who is a ‘trafficking victim’ is rendered innocent by the ritual invocation of her poverty and desperation.
The effect of these motifs of deception, abduction, youth/virginity and violence is to render the victim unquestionably ‘innocent’. Desperately poor, deceived or abducted, drugged or beaten into compliance, with a blameless sexual past, she cannot have ‘chosen’ to be a prostitute.
As with the public outcry against ‘white slavery’, the real concern for public and policy-makers is not with protecting women in the sex industry, but with preventing ‘innocent’ women from becoming prostitutes, and keeping ‘dirty’ foreign prostitutes from infecting the nation (Doezema 1998, Weijers 1998). A ‘guilty’ prostitute is not considered a possible ‘victim of trafficking’: as expressed by delegate to recent conference on trafficking: 14 “How can I distinguish an innocent victim from a sex worker?” (Weijers 1998: 11). Thus women who knowingly migrate to work in the sex industry and may encounter exploitation and abuse, are not considered to have a legitimate claim to the same sorts of human rights protections demanded for ‘trafficking victims’ (Doezema 1998, Weijers 1998). This is a reflection of the earlier regulationist reasoning : ‘innocent girls’ need protecting, ‘bad women’ who chose prostitution deserve all they get (Doezema 1995, 1998; Murray 1998, Weijers 1998).
Today’s policies differ little in form or intent. A recent paper on European anti-trafficking legislation is entitled, with knowing irony, “Keep your women home” (Weijers 1998). Once again, measures to protect ‘innocent’ women are being used to counter the supposed threat to society posed by ‘bad’ women and racial/cultural ‘others’. Repressive immigration measures enacted to stop ‘trafficking’ include limiting the number of visas issued to women from ‘origin’ countries, increased policing of borders and high penalties for illegal migrants and those who facilitate their entry or stay (Weijers 1998). For example, in Macao, the government has decided to combat ‘trafficking’ by refusing to issue visas to Russian women (GSN: 7); in Australia, 67 illegal sex workers had been deported between July 1997 and February 1998 (The Australian, 23-02-98). 041b061a72