The Global Citizen is a joint project of New Voices and the American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Throughout the year, a group of former AJWS volunteers will offer their take on global justice, Judaism and international development. Opinions expressed by Global Citizen bloggers do not necessarily represent AJWS.
All too often, the victim and the prosecuted are one and the same. Even more often, we fail to recognize that this is the case.
With political, monetary, and social power comes a voice and a say on the collective stage. Â Much like the victors write history, so to narratives about right and wrong are composed by those with strong enough voices to be heard by others.
Prostitution and sex trafficking are a prime example of this reality and of the possibility of social movements to change it. Â Majority of those engaged in sex work, domestically and internationally, are impoverished women and girls recruited at a young age. Majority of those persecuted in the crime of sex trafficking and commerce are these very same sex workers.
Rachel Durchslag, who spoke with my Avodah Chicago group a while back,Â asked the same question. In 2006, she answered, founding the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE), with the goal to end â€œsexual exploitationâ€ in Illinois by â€œdirectly addressing the culture, institutions, and individuals that perpetrate, profit from, or tacitly support sexually exploitive acts against people.â€ One of the main focuses of the movement is their â€œEnd Demand Illinoisâ€ campaign, to push the State to address the issue through punishing and rehabilitating the true perpetrators, namely the customers, pimps, and escort services. Currently, â€œIn Chicago, two-thirds of the approximately 4,000 annual prostitution-related arrests are of women prostituting, less than one-third are of men buying sex and less than one percent are of pimps.â€
Unfortunately, Illinois is hardly the epicenter of this human disaster. In the spring of 2009 I went to the World Premiere the documentary â€œPlaygroundâ€ at the Tribeca Film Festival, where I learned that the sex trafficking of children is a booming industry domestically- though Americans â€œtend to relegate [the issue] to back-alley brothels in developing countriesâ€- and that American men make up the majority of sex tourists internationally. Libby Spears, the director, gives voice on the world stage to the real victims; still, the crackdown is often on the workers and not the customers or the pimps. Moreover, sex workers are often the victims of physical and emotional abuse by the very same people who arenâ€™t persecuted for their part in the sex trade. The Polaris Project, a renowned organization working to end human trafficking for sex and labor internationally, makes a point of referring to those who are trafficked at â€œvictimsâ€ and are known for their extensive victim services and protection programs.
A recent New York Times article, â€œChild Pornography, and an Issue of Restitution,â€ by John Schwartz, may be evidence that these movements giving voices to the victims are taking a stronger hold of our public attention. Amyâ€™s uncle took pictures and videos of her as a little girl, theyâ€™re called â€œThe Misty Series,â€ and 10 years later they are still infamous in the world of child pornography. Amy is nowÂ â€œdemanding that everyone convicted of possessing even a single Misty image pay her damages until her total claim of $3.4 million has been met.â€Â Senior U.S. District Judge Warren W. Eginton, the first judge to rule that a possessor of her child pornography must pay restitution to Amy, contends that â€œhis ruling Monday was the first criminal case in which someone convicted of possessing illegal images — but not creating them — is required to pay restitution.â€Â The judge further notes, “We’re dealing with a frontier here.”
Indeed we are, and we insure that this is only the beginning not only in the arenas of prostitution and human trafficking, but also in every other realm where the real victims are pinned as the criminals for lack of an audience on the world stage to hear they see and experience their realities. Iâ€™m reminded of one particular scene in the documentary Food Inc., where undocumented workers are seized from their trailers in middle of the night, not long after viewers were shown footage of major food corporations sponsoring busses to bring workers over the Mexican border to work underpaid, long hours.
The RaceWire blog, a branch of ColorLines (â€œThe national newsmagazine on race and politicsâ€) and product of the Applied Research Center (ARC) published â€œFood Inc. Shines a Light on the Immigrant Labor That Makes That 99c Patty Melt Possibleâ€ by Julianne Hing in July 2009 addressing just this scene. She vivdly recounts, â€œthe cameras catch ICE [US Immigration and Customs Enforcement] carrying out a raid on families in a trailer park near Smithfield. Bulletproof vests and ICE caps on, guns drawn, they kick in the door of a familyâ€™s home and throw a woman into the back of a police car. According to PeÃ±a, Smithfield tips off ICE regularly, giving them the names of a couple of undocumented employees at a time; ICE raids peopleâ€™s homes in exchange for staying off the plantâ€™s floor. It is terrifying footage.â€ She continues, â€œIt’s all so much more invisible because meat processing plants are usually hidden in backwater towns. Who could stand the smell of acres and acres of soon-to-be pork and beef, standing around in their own s*** all day long?â€
This brings us back to the same question: Who is the real criminal?
Iâ€™d imagine that it is far simpler for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to arrest undocumented migrant factory workers to mollify the public rather than prosecute mammoth corporations. Go after the victims without a voice or the corporations with a megaphone? Without morality in the decision-making process, itâ€™s a no-brainer.
This is exactly why concerned global citizens need to mobilize to gain the social, political, and financial capitol necessary as a collective to have a seat at the public conversation. Those with voices that are heard have the moral imperative to ask the right questions and to amplify the answers, such as these activists in the sex trade and undocumented workers arenas. They amplify not only their own voice, but the voices of those who have been maligned from the global conversation. Itâ€™s all to easy for people and entities with power to blame the victim, thereby assuring the public with the illusion that justice is being pursued while carrying on with their covert, predatory, and profitable activities. Consequently, the victim without a voice is often assumed to be the criminal, which may be the even greater crime.