Definitions of Commodity
15th to 19th century (“obsolete”): convenience
15th century: anything moveable (a good) that is bought and sold; something useful or valuable
16th to 19th century (“obsolete”): self-interest; personal convenience or advantage
Princeton: trade goods, good (articles of commerce)
Oxford: a raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought or sold, such as copper or coffee; a useful thing or valuable thing, such as water or time.
Chambers: an article of trade; (in plural) goods, produce; (“obsolete”) profit, expediency, advantage, convenience or privilege
A 2009 paper published by the German Institute for Human Rights distinguishes different types of human trafficking. Sexual trafficking and exploitation in the form forced prostitution is most common. There is also forced marriage. Another form of human trafficking is the exploitation men and women in forced labor. The paper identifies “Causes of Human Trafficking”. They include: economic imbalance between countries of origin and destination, including societal inequality within countries of origin; demand in destination countries, low risks, and profits for traffickers; traditional gender roles and cultural practices, corruption, armed conflicts, and post-conflict situations; and restrictive immigration policies in destination countries. The paper rejects the perspective on human trafficking as a result of organized crime and illegal migration as too narrow.
Germany legalized prostitution in 2002, abolishing the concept of prostitution as “immoral activity”. By legalizing prostitution, Germany brought the industry under state control. The decision to legalize was made to remove the social stigma attached to the trade, protect women and children from violence and exploitation associated with organized crime and sex trafficking, provide prostitutes with labor rights and health protection, and in some cases, assist prostitutes to leave the trade.
In May 2010 Jorg Ziercke, the Chief Commissioner of the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany announced a 70% increase in human trafficking crimes over the past five years. The majority of the victims are girls and women forced into the commercial sex sector. As explained in a recent article out of Victoria, Australia, where prostitution is also legal, criminal syndicates simply pay off legal license holders for the right to do business under their umbrella, described as the “backdoor method”. In some cases legal brothels engage in both legal and illegal commercial sex activity.
Prior to the legalization of prostitution, the proposal was hotly debated. Opposition was based on evidence from countries that had legalized prostitution and failed to meet the expected returns. Nine months after legalizing brothels on 1 October 2000 in the Netherlands, the New York Times published an article that provided insight into the perspective of prostitutes on the impact. The stigma attached to prostitution did not subside; an issue of social attitudes that regulation advocates said would be rectified through acceptance campaigns. Women reported being shunned by health insurance companies, banks, and accountants, as Netherlands proved legalization does not mean acceptance. In some cases husbands and children do not know their occupation. Being registered removed them from anonymity. Public records made them feel less safe and seek protection from pimps. For their part, brothel owners complained about laws and regulations involving renovations that were running them out of business. Women lamented about taxes cutting into their income. By leaving brothels and not registering, women could secure a higher income and avoid red-tape.
In 2005 Mary Sullivan compiled a thorough and extensive study on prostitution in Victoria, Australia. The paper documents the circumstances under which women work and indicates that most women who “voluntarily” enter the trade do so due to economic hardship. A Prostitutes’ Collective of Victoria survey on the impact of legalization provided this statement from a woman regarding the influx of illegal prostitutes: ‘far more competition, the clients are extremely demanding [and] the control over what the women will and won’t do is often taken out of their hands’. Another woman faced A$300 fine per booking if she refused a buyer she found ‘abusive’, ‘drunk’ and ‘threatened physical violence’. Victoria decriminalized brothels in 1995. In 1997 the Victoria survey revealed 64% of women wanted to leave the commercial sex trade. There are no Victoria-Government-sponsored exit programs. A 2003 study by Julie Bindel and Liz Kelly found the number to be 75% of women in the Netherlands wanted to leave.
In Germany, Victoria, Australia and the Netherlands legalized prostitution is not monitored by government ministries of social services and welfare, but business and judiciary. The legalization of prostitution is focused on issues of taxation, zoning, licensing (including fees), costing, structure and amenities “work place” codes, etc. It is not human-focused and does not monitor human rights abuses. Government agencies outside of business and judiciary as well as NGOs fill the gap.
Sullivan goes further to explain:
“This is in circumstances where prostituted women in legal sex operations already give 50 – 60% of their earnings to the brothel or escort agency. Defining prostituted women as ‘legitimate workers’ may serve sex entrepreneurs’ quest to gain legitimacy, but it does nothing to ameliorate the economic vulnerability that draws, then traps women in a cycle of prostitution.”
The commercial sex trade in Australia is the financial equal of the 50 top-ranking, publicly-traded companies. The trade is growing at about 4.6 per cent per year, higher than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In the Netherlands, the commercial sex trade has increased 25 percent in the last decade and is now a $1 billion business, or 5 percent of the Dutch economy.
Adding to the insight presented by Sullivan regarding economic hardship driving entry into prostitution, Brisbane Times published an article in 2008 citing the global economic crisis as a catalyst. The tone is different. The commercial sex trade is spoken of in hard, cold, commodities terms. Reporters Edmund Tadros and Christine Kellett provide the following financial analysis:
“The downturn reflects nationally, with Australia’s $1.22 billion prostitution industry expected to shrink by 6 per cent to $1.15 billion next financial year.”
The world publicly stands in agreement that the sexual abuse and exploitation of women, boys and girls is criminal, illegal, and immoral. There is a litany of global studies providing evidence that the people who enter prostitution are overwhelmingly childhood victims of emotional and sexual abuse and molestation. They are our nations socially embattled runaways, throwaways and drug addicts. As a commodity, she/he depreciates in value after presenting “damages” (lose of virginity, child birth, aging, bruises, scars, tracks).
While a study of sex trafficking as a means to understand the lack of success in legalization is important, it is not the end-all of investigation. Women, girls and boys have been reduced to the sector of publicly traded commodities within the commercial sex and entertainment industries; whether made available through trafficking or legalized prostitution. Clearly, we live in a world that sanctions the trading of women and children as commodities. The financial benefits and conditions that drive the commercial sex sector and human trafficking in general, and sex trafficking in particular, currently exceed the required intelligence and rigorous social debate and awareness to combat it.
- Zola Dube