Severe Austerity Programs Increases Human Sex Trafficking

By Martha P. Ortiz

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, the United Nations is in its 58th year of delegations, the Committee on Status of Women (CSW) is now planning a final outcome document on its post-2015 development goals.  Some of the challenges that women and girls face is violence, including domestic and sexual violence.

Severe austerity programs inflicts poverty and inequality especially to those women and girls around the world who are marginalized, live in rural areas, and face gender discrimination in the labor market, and face unequal rights at many levels of occupations.  An onerous answer would always be instrumental the key role of education plays against poverty and as an accelerator for development; to promote women’s agency and empowerment; and to promote active citizenship.  But how can private and public sectors implement programs to eradicate all forms of exploitation of women and girls, especially violence, and keep them in school, empowering them economically, politically and socially?

There are many academics and advocates that specialize in women’s issues that publish non-fiction books that provide case studies on international level, one of these being Women and Globalization, edited by Delia D. Aguilar and Anne E. Lacsamana, and Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff.

“For the majority of the world’s population, contrary to the opinions of academics cited early on, globalization has brought on a predicament that is far from being cheered or exalted.  In the public mind in developing countries it is associated with the debt burden and structural adjustment programs, both of which are linked to “conditionalities” imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. . .the irony cannot be missed that it is elite white men like Stiglitz and financier who would write about how year after year the flow of money has been from the poor nations to the wealthy, rather than the other way around, as assumed by common wisdom and fostered by the major media (Women and Globalization ed. by Delia D. Aguilar and Anne E. Lacsamana, p. 14).”

It was refreshing to read this, it impacted me because where academics like Harvey and Stiglitz are working as valued actors where they truly start out to have intentions for the greater good, the institutions they work for like IMF and WB are interest actors that act as debt collectors, they just want to get paid!  It’s really contradicting.  There are great economists working for IMF, whom has belief values that are for global equality and eliminating poverty.  But you know what they say: Institutions are shadows of people. . .

So, how much is the flow of money coming from the poor nations to the wealthy?

Each year 400 billion USD go from developing countries to industrialized countries- this is much MORE THAN WHAT ENTERS FROM INDUSTRIALIZED COUNTRIES IN THE FORM OF OVERSEAS DEVELOPMENT AID (ODA)! So, is Stiglitz work biased?

These corporations (pure interest actors) take resources from the global South- OFTEN without paying taxes, but leaving pollution and damage behind.  Taxes needed to help agendas like development and public services that are much needed in societies of the global South.

But these international institutions are producing harm and to the point that it is recommended that intervention from non-governmental organizations are integrated into the general debate and the thematic globalization discussion, taking into consideration geographical balance in favor of the G5.  “Today the international debt exceeds two trillion dollars; place the poor majority of the world in virtual debt bondage.  To ensure debt payments, the IMF/WB injunction has been the production of goods for export . . . the employment of women and children as cheap labor have been the key ingredient (Women and Globalization ed. by Delia D. Aguilar and Anne E. Lacsamana, p 14).”

The Security Council reaffirmed that women’s and girls’ empowerment and gender equality were critical to ensure international peace and security and that the economic empowerment of women greatly contributed to the stabilization of societies emerging from armed conflict.  It is a statement that needs proposed cooperation in the organization of work to implement that women in the world have access to employment and to remove the obstacles that stand in the way from this to happen.

Between 2000 and 2012, women’s employment rates declined from 48.6 % to 47.9% compared with 73.8 to 72% of men.  Despite the changes, women are 24.8 % points lower than men.  In the “third world” or the global south, women in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia stand out as regions where they are extremely disadvantaged, with gender gaps of 52.3, 48.2 and 48.0 % points. (The statistical data taken from UN Economic and Social Council document E/CN.6/2014/3).

Countries’ that pass severe austerity programs are already setting a death sentence and enslaving millions of girls and women who will fall into the plight of human trafficking.  But how is this modern day slavery happening?  It is because driving factors like poverty, migration, and vulnerability that many girls and women fall victim to being manipulated with traveling for prospective jobs, and then suffer the horrible reality that the jobs were scams.

What are my experiences on human trafficking that leads me to be so interested in this issue?  A human trafficking story, a woman who survived and told her story through art installation called Journey, physical, mentally, and emotionally impacted me.

Elena Varga was asked by a famous actress to outline her life as a victim of human sex trafficking. Actress Emma Thompson worked with the Helen Bamber Foundation to create Journey an exhibit that illustrated the experience of human sex trafficking on Tuesday morning, November 10,2009.  The conversations between Elena Varga and Thompson were inspiration to create the project Journey.  Varga’s words are part of the art exhibition that helps raise awareness against the harm of human trafficking and to understand a trafficked woman’s experience.

“If people could experience for just five minutes what it’s like, then maybe they would not be so cruel,” said Thompson on Varga’s experience.  Thompson recreated the story of Elena Varga, a sex slave at the massage parlor that she walked by everyday on the way to the London subway.  Thompson encountered Elena, a Moldovan girl, in 2006 through her work with the Helen Bamber Foundation, an organization that helps abuse victims.  “I never expected people to listen to the whole story for fifteen minutes and they listen because she is so extraordinary. . . I feel as though if you can somehow get her voice in everybody’s head in the world, people would know so much more and so much could be done with that story!” said Thompson.

Oscar winning British actress and human rights campaigner, Thompson, is the chairwoman of the Helen Bamber foundation.  Hosted by Thompson, Helen Bamber herself, and other members of the “Journey” team, the exhibit is seven portable shipping containers made by a collaboration of dozen artists under the foundation.  Thompson helped Varga in portraying her story not only for the purpose of making this art exhibit to raise public concern of the underground business of human trafficking but also to serve as a therapeutic outlet to help rehabilitate.

“Part of the therapeutic process was to turn her capacity to tell her own story into something more and powerful in order to help other people” said Thompson. “We got seven stages here and I would like you to write in each box, what part of your experience you think should be inside it” said Thompson of the instructions she gave to Varga at the beginning of the “Journey” project.

The seven shipping containers are the seven stages of a trafficked woman’s experience: Hope, Journey, Uniform, Bedroom, Customer, Stigma, and Resurrection.  Through “Journey”, Elena told her story of being led to the United Kingdom with the promise of a job as a receptionist.  Once she left her home, Elena was forced into the sex trade at age of 19 after her passport was taken away once she entered the UK.  The container room “Hope” explained the illusions of leaving Elena’s home and her family for the opportunity of accepting job offers in order to provide a better life for herself.

The room “Hope” contains several key holes against the wall, in which visitors can peer through and see Varga’s life at her home, in art form.  The next room, “Journey,” was the experience of traveling, while audio was played of a train moving, showing how Elena was soon to be stripped of her identity and forced to abandon her once life behind.  “Uniform” was a room where face-sized holes are in the walls, where the visitors can peer and see women in revealing outfits; a prostitutes uniform.

In the room “Uniform,” the writing above the face-sized holes, Varga wrote “This could be you.”  The most disturbing room and ultimately the most influential, was the “Bedroom,” a foul smelling room that showed the conditions of where many victims of human trafficking eat, sleep, and “work.”   In “Bedroom,” the bed was on hydraulics, moving up and down, resulting in the eerie visual that one can imagine a customer violently having intercourse with the victim.

Also in the room, Varga demonstrated the prices women have for themselves written on a board hanged on a wall alongside a mirror, which was written in lipstick, tally marks of the daily customers.  Meanwhile, one can hear a repeatedly played audio of men grunting, woman whimpering, screaming, slapping and men ordering sexual acts.

Human sex trafficking has forced millions of women into a life of cruelty, violence and rape.  The business of human sex trafficking subjects their victims to physical and physiological torture, form which the survivors must rebuild their lives from these deeply traumatizing experiences.  The aim of Journey is to explain that human sex trafficking is happening not just in other countries, but also here in the U.S., even in New York City.

Thompson explains that girls and women were often forced into the sex trade by a male relative and lured out of the country on false pretenses of a better life and job offers.  This business is a form of slavery, abusing the human rights of women and children all over the world.  New York Mayor Bloomberg established the Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force in 2006 to help decrease foreign and domestic human trafficking, and coordinating the efforts of different organizations contributing against human trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. The NY Mayor’s Office has partnered with the task force to provide services to victims and employees of massage parlors and helped pass the New York State Anti-Trafficking law in 2007.

International experts said that 2.5 million people at any one time, are recruited, entrapped, transported and exploited for sex or forced labor.  The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports people from 127 countries are victimized in 137 different nations. Thompson comments that human trafficking was a much easier business than dealing with drugs or weapons.

“You can make $150,000 from one girl in a year . . . because moving people around the place is easier than moving guns around,” Thompson said.


What can we do?

Instead of criminalizing prostitutes, or “sex workers,” criminalize the customers.  Studies have shown in European countries where they underwent severe austerity programs but criminalized customers who seek to pay for sex, the industry of prostitution and human trafficking went down drastically.  So it isn’t impossible or too ambitious of an object to eradicate exploitation of girls and women, and ending violence both domestic and sexual to make the world a safer place.

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Roosevelt Avenue and Sex Workers: How Some Undocumented Latinas Fall Into A Life Of Crime and Violence

By Martha P. Ortiz

From Central America and Mexico, Latinos migrate to cross the United States border.  They risk their lives in order to have an opportunity to work in America and support their families.  During the trajectory of this journey, traveling by train (nicknamed “la bestia”), some will be beaten, attacked, raped, kidnapped to do sex work, enslaved for sex and/or labor, abducted, and some will suffer accidents, mutilations, and even death.  Rubén Figueroa, human rights activist, and Moysés Zúñiga, photographer, chronicled this journey- The Route of Death: Migrants in Transit in Mexico.  Figueroa and Zúñiga, along with the Migrant-MesoAmerican Movement (MMA) a radical organization by ex-migrants, work 24/7 in the field- on the train that is, moving from car to car, station to station.  Their work is denouncing human rights violation and on working in solidarity with international human rights activists to change anti-immigration policies in Mexico and in the United States of America.

The route to cross the border is not the only struggle Latino immigrants will face.  For women migrants, they fall victims to a life of crime and violence in the states.  Stories of Latina migrants manipulated into sex work and sex slavery is one heard far too often.  The exploitation of Latina undocumented women continue to happen yet America’s society discriminates and criminalizes them.  Anti-immigration policies and recent American racism towards the Hispanic/Latino community shows the dehumanization of immigrants, and their indifference to human trafficking and the sexual objectification of Latinas.      

In Latino populated neighborhoods, like Jackson Heights in Queens, New York, it’s very common to see undocumented Latina migrants find their first work as nannies, maids, bartenders, dancers, and sex workers.  Roosevelt Avenue is the busiest street in Jackson Heights, underneath the above-the-ground subway No. 7 train; its nightlife starts from the 69 street train station to 111th street station.

 This stretch alone shows repeated businesses like legal offices advertising for immigration and divorce attorneys, churches, “24/7 checks cash,” liquor stores, Spanish restaurants, cheap-chain restaurants like McDonald’s and Little Ceasar Pizza, chinese food take-outs, bakeries, botanicas barber shops, beauty salons, hotels, bars, sex shops, gentlemen nightclubs, and gay nightclubs.  During the day, you see lots of Hispanic people, typically construction workers, couples, young single mothers pushing strollers, and families holding their children by the hand.  But by night, it’s a complete transformation from family to sex workers on Roosevelt Avenue.

 Taxi-clubs on Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights cater to different Hispanic nationalities.  Men visit these low-lit clubs because they pay for women’s company while Latin music like reggeaton, bachata, cumbia, merengue and such, blasts.  The basic rules are that women charge $2 – $4 per dance.  In some taxi-clubs, you find Colombian and Dominican young girls, others just Ecuadorian, Peruvian, or Mexican girls.   

Although banned, infamous Chica-chica cards are still visible handed out outside the 69 Street/ Roosevelt Avenue station, in front of the “Para de Sufrir” church.  Retail clothing stores dress exaggerated curvy mannequins in skimpy, sexy mid-drift tops with cut-off jeans and nightclub dresses.  A lot of businesses posts signs in Spanish outside.  Despite its much sexualized reputation, Jackson Heights is still a community full of family and children.  And the nightlife still spills onto daytime, clearly staining the streets with a message to young girls and boys that sex sells.

Since the increase of police patrolling Roosevelt Avenue, street-walking prostitutes have been joining other sex workers to car pool, working with a driver that they pay commission, that drives them to the location that the paying customers awaits.  This has caused the New York Police Department to assign checkpoints on various street intersections and expressway entrances to not only stop drug dealers and drivers under the influence, but johns and sex workers as well.  However, sex-work is not only done at taxi-clubs, through Chica-chica cards, and street-walking on Roosevelt Avenue.  There are many internet sites that offer sex workers like the personals on, and serve like the internet’s yellow pages of Queens’ adult entertainment.

Many taboos are at place that must be overcome in order to address and help the sexual, racial, and criminal issues and the political statuses of undocumented Latina immigrants in communities like Jackson Heights.  The controversial ‘Stop and Frisk’ is still continued by undercover cops and NYPD officers in Jackson Heights towards suspecting prostitutes.  Finding condoms on women is enough evidence for police officers to arrests them on prostitution charges.  

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Zero Funding Affecting Immigrant Latinas

By Martha P. Ortiz

Cuts to New York City’s budget have forced the only social service group for the Latino community in Jackson Heights, Queens to reduce its resources to bare minimum.  Voces Latinas is a small group of four certified social workers who specialize in the field of HIV/AIDS, which remains a high risk factor among the immigrant Latinas.  They organize weekly community workshops that help teenagers and older women overcome the effects of abuse.

Claudia Molina, a case worker for the group who is also the Program Coordinator says that this program is “by Latinas, for Latinas.”

“Es muy triste,” said Molina, after she explained that the “zero funding is affecting directly immigrant Latinas.  Where do Latinas fit in this community?”  The neglect of immigrant Latinas is “what drives us, the case workers and volunteers, at Voces Latinas,” she says.

The factors that put Voces Latinas clients at special risk are experiences of sexual abuse, traumas, depression, low self-esteem, disempowerment and violence, according to Molina. Voces Latinas offer screenings, short term counseling and case management services to help.  They can make referrals for medical care, immigrant services, housing services, and mental health support services.  Karina Bernabe, a case worker for the group, says “you can get an HIV test here, at anytime during the office hours, on the weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.”  The tests are 99 percent accurate, and are free and confidential.

There is also a youth program, created for young Latinas in the community.   “The young Latinas attending the workshops are mostly 17- 19 years old,” said Molina.  “They have either discontinued high school or are young mothers.”  The organization has also started a new workshop on domestic violence.  Local police often visit to speak to clients on the subject, said Hector Nino, a secretary for the Voces Latinas.

Johanna Pinada is 24 year-old and mother of two daughters, ages 3 and 5, and she leads the warm-up exercise class on Saturdays, at 4 p.m., after the Zumba class.  “I found out about Voices Latinas through the teacher of my daughters,” said Pinada.  “At Voces Latinas, we are listened to.  Our stories of who we are and where we are from are heard.  It is a safe place to stay away and off the streets.  You can come to the different programs and meetings offered on the calendar for free, no question asked.  You can work with a case worker, if you want.  You talk in private with them and they can help you with referrals to doctors and set you up with an appointment.”

The hunger to have more resources motivates the clients to bring their own ideas to Voces Latinas.  Marisol is a middle age woman and attends the programs at Voces Latinas.  She became a volunteer “promotora.”  The promotoras program is an annual leadership training program.   The training is four weeks long.  “This training will educate the volunteer to have adequate experience to help clients’ in their self-esteem, show community skills, provide HIV confidentiality,” says Molina.

“We bring our projects and develop them on our own,” says Marisol.  “The girls start taking on their own projects for themselves and their peers because we want to better ourselves, to have good health, to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong,” she said.

The women at Voces Latinas have also an art and craft support group meetings.  The women volunteer themselves to lead and teach the group.  At Voces Latinas, they continue to create new activities for each other.  They talk about their families, healthy diets, work, and how they feel.  They bring food and beverages to share.

“One of the clients came up with organizing a Zumba dance class,” said Mrs. Molina.  “They bring the DVD and organize amongst themselves.  This is a way to strengthen their communication as Latinas, by gathering and creating the steps, whether its exercise or a computer skills class, they gain independence through small organizations like this.”

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