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The Truth about Global Sex Slavery – A Book by Lydia Cacho

13 septembre 2011

par Élaine Audet

Trafics – enquête sur l’esclave sexuel dans le monde, by Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho, is a book that sets itself apart from other writings on the international trafficking of women and girls - a “business” that, according to the author, proves more profitable than trading in arms or drugs. The book is poignant, not only due to the extreme courage shown by the author but also due to the fresh and lively writing style. It is direct and revealing, with no trace of complacency, and keeps us hooked until the last page.

Cacho manages to create the sense that we ourselves are experiencing the unbearable ordeal undergone by some 1.4 million women and girls that are bought and sold every year on the lucrative sex market, in order to constantly supply local prostitution markets with increasingly young, fresh flesh.

Over six years and across three continents (Latin America, Asia and Africa) the journalist has risked her life to dig up the truth about global sex slavery. She presents around 100 distressing first hand accounts of women and girls who have been kidnapped, raped, sold and trafficked like mere material goods, from one end of the world to the other, for the purpose of prostitution. She also gives a voice to the “survivors” who have managed to escape, and to all the campaigners who are fighting against this horrendous social plague – an industry that emerged during the 20th century, and “whose victims”, according to Cacho, “will soon outnumber those of black slavery between the 16th and 19th centuries”.

Triumphing over fear to denounce the perpetrators

The journalist has not hesitated to use disguises and false identities in order to penetrate this dangerous world. Despite the risks and dangers, Cacho even interviews those pulling the strings – organized crime bosses, pimps, and procurers from all strata of society - mafia members, servicemen, journalists, civil servants and deeply corrupt politicians (all of whom are benefiting at the expense of the most vulnerable). “Fear, which is ever present” says Cacho, “ has also reminded me how dangerous it is to be a woman living in a patriarchal society”.

The sex slavery route runs through Turkey, Israel, Palestine, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, Mexico, Argentina and the Middle East. It is a painful journey from which no one returns unscathed. After reading such an account, we can recognise the refusal to see and denounce the unacceptable reality of international sex trafficking for what it is - a criminal failure to help people in danger. It is a kind of silent complicity, which will have terrible consequences for the future of humanity.

Normalization of sex slavery

Cacho exposes the rise of a culture that promotes human commodification as though it were an act of progress, a free choice, and a form of self-assertion for those being repeatedly raped by men who feel that anything is allowed as long they are paying for it. These procurers of women and girls come from all social classes and from all over the world – Europe and North America, but also Asia and Africa. In order to indicate the scale of the issue, the author writes that the money spent each year on supporting the sex industry “in order to create a political lobby for the normalization of slavery, could feed all the people in the world”.

For Cacho, “the claims of those who call themselves ‘sex workers’ reflects the internalization of male dominance and helps to further conceal the exploitation of other women”. It is an absurd situation that primarily benefits organized crime, which depends on its ability to make sex slavery commonplace, to pay off and corrupt the political sphere and to legally invest dirty money in the sex industry, whether this be in banks, the Treasury or local casinos.

The hypocritical indifference of clients

Even though several countries are signatories of international conventions against human trafficking, their national laws continue to contradict these resolutions through authorizing trafficking and prostitution, which are considered to be a veritable godsend for the economy. Some of the women interviewed wondered why the police continually target the victims of prostitution and trafficking, and not the perpetrators. Why is it that pimps and clients are not implicated in 90% of cases ?

It is reported that 70% of clients are to be found in Thailand, Cambodia and Japan – the most popular destinations for sex tourism – whilst in Europe, it is Spain that has the highest percentage of clients. Cacho also cites Mexico’s Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Acapulco as being popular destinations for Americans and Canadians in search of sex with increasingly young and submissive women.

The journalist shows us that it is not only organized crime and pimps that are responsible for the global marketing of women and girls, but also clients, whose constantly growing demand is leading to an increase in supply. Responsibility also falls on fathers, who could never imagine such a fate for their own daughters and stubbornly repeat that, “if women are prostitutes, it is because they enjoy it”.

There is a hypocritical indifference shown by these ordinary men who do not question their inherent right to the bodies of these women, or the violence that they have been made to suffer in brothels or private flats, where they are subjected to gang rape and are drugged so as to be “groomed” for their purpose. As one pimp explains to the author, it is a question of turning the female body into “a body that belongs to and is dedicated to others”. The most important thing is that the women and young girls destined for prostitution lose all their self-esteem.

The journalist also attacks religion, which encourages the sexual subordination of women through reinforcing sexist stereotypes, and the army, which treats women in occupied territories as war spoils, left for the soldiers to enjoy. The reality, she concludes, is that “every 15 seconds, a man chooses to abuse a woman”.

Capitalism and patriarchy

For the author, this new form of slavery without borders is rooted in “wild capitalism, according to which human life has no importance other than the profit that one can glean from it, and the fact that we live in a patriarchal society where male dominance is so significant that women are considered to be little more than objects”.

In Memorias de una infamia (“Memoirs of an Infamy”, 2008), Cacho recounts how she was imprisoned and tortured by the mafia after she denounced a large paedophile ring in Mexico. As I write this article, the courageous journalist has just received further anonymous death threats, no doubt from those that she persistently continues to expose .

Having received numerous prizes, including the national journalism prize in 2002 and Amnesty International’s Ginetta Sagan Award for Women and Children’s Rights in 2007, Lydia Cacho continues to give a voice to those who do not have one. She works alongside survivors who – following in the footsteps of Cambodia’s Somaly Man, a “true model of tenacity and shrewdness” – dedicate their lives to rescuing women and children from the jaws of pimps, traffickers and clients. In order to incite her readers to fight against the decriminalization of prostitution, Cacho ends the book by presenting different ways in which we can act, all around the world.

Lydia Cacho’s Trafics – enquête sur l’esclave sexuel dans le monde encourages its readers to react - before it is too late - against the inhumanity that is triumphing over us in the name of pleasure, profit and the limitless male domination over women. This book must be read, and passed on.

Lydia Cacho, Trafics – enquête sur l’esclave sexuel dans le monde, Paris, Nouveau Monde éditions, 2010, 330 p. (French translation of Esclavas del poder : Un viaje al corazon de la trata sexual de mujeres y ninas en el mundo, Debate Editorial, May 2010).

Version française

Translated from French for Sisyphe : Emma Bale.

On Sisyphe, September 1, 2011

Élaine Audet


- Voir l’entrevue de Lydia Cacho

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