The United Nations Debates Prostitution

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The United States has a resolution before the United Nations: “Reduce the Demand for Trafficked Women and Girls.” One would think that at a conference supposedly devoted to the well-being of women — the 49th Session of the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) — such a proposal would encounter no opposition. Last year, the President of the United States, in an address before the U.N. General Assembly, accurately called sex trafficking “modern-day slavery.” The evidence is overwhelming that prostitution is inherently harmful to women.

Donna M. Hughes, Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island, in an address this week at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, gave a quick overview of statistics related to women in prostitution in the United States. From 60 to 80 percent of prostitutes were victims of incest or child abuse, over 60 percent entered prostitution before age 18, nearly 90 percent are physically assaulted by their johns, nearly 90 percent suffer from depression, over 60 percent have tried to commit suicide, more than 90 percent use drugs or alcohol to cope with and during prostitution, and they are nearly 20 times more likely to be murdered than other women of their age and race.

Data from other countries is similar. One study was headed by prominent academic Melissa Farley and published in 1998. Based on nearly 500 prostitutes from five countries (South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, United States and Zambia), it found: 62 percent reported being raped in prostitution, 73 percent reported physical assaults in prostitution, 72 percent were currently or formerly homeless, and 92 percent wanted to escape prostitution immediately.

Is it any wonder that nearly 90 percent want out of this destructive life? Clearly, sex trafficking and prostitution are harmful to women.

Yet, a coalition of nations at the CSW — the European Union, the Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand and Canada — is opposing the resolution to “Reduce Demand for Trafficked Women and Girls.”

WHY? Because prostitution is big business. Sex trafficking is a huge money-maker; it is a $10 billion-a-year industry.

The Netherlands, for instance, legalized brothels and pimping in 2000 and is a leading proponent of prostitution as a career option for women and girls. Its sex industry is now at $1 billion a year–5 percent of the country’s economy–having increased 25 percent in the past decade. Prostitution has become a big, money-making national industry, but at the cost of enslaving and abusing women.

Sex traffickers currently control over half of the women in prostitution, and the women and girls come into the Netherlands from 32 different countries. Few of them are Dutch women. A 1995 report, Trafficking and Prostitution, revealed that these prostitutes are primarily from Central and Eastern European nations, and that their “employers” have confiscated the passports of 80 percent of them. They are kept in isolation, forced to work long hours without pay, and experience physical and emotional abuse by the traffickers.

When asked about the inequity of importing vulnerable women to meet the demand for prostitutes, Carel Hofstra, a representative from the Netherlands Embassy, replied that women from other nations might have “working skills” that would benefit the Netherlands. Others explain that “there is a huge demand for foreign women.” Hofstra asserted that the nation could regulate the industry through special permits. Clearly, making money is more important than protecting women — especially when those women are from poor nations and they are vulnerable or desperate.

In her speech last week, Dr. Hughes, a leading researcher on sex trafficking, explained the three general approaches to prostitution: prohibition, regulation and abolition. In general, prohibition focuses on the “crime” and everyone involved (including the victim) is a criminal. Regulation, on the other hand, is the Netherlands approach: Prostitutes become “sex workers” and the industry is “managed” by special permits and taxation. The abolitionist approach distinguishes between the perpetrator and the victim. Solutions include laws and policies to eradicate trafficking and prostitution, while providing rescue and restoration services for the victims.

The United States has adopted the “abolitionist” approach, and Evangelicals have taken a leadership role in the effort to eradicate sex trafficking. At the U.N. this week, a Dutch newspaper interviewed me for a feature article on trafficking because its staff has observed and heard that Evangelicals, and Concerned Women for America in particular, are a major influence in the modern-day abolitionist effort.

Ironically, Sweden has also adopted the abolitionist approach to sex trafficking. While the U.S. bases its opposition to prostitution on the fact that it is “inherently harmful” to women, Sweden’s opposition is based on the “oppression and discrimination against women.” Since taking its new stance, Sweden has reduced prostitution by almost 80 percent.

So, the issue of sex trafficking has produced “strange bedfellows,” with some radical feminists paired with evangelicals in a battle against a common enemy.

Sadly, though, the majority of nongovernmental organizations and Leftist nations continue to resist the facts and fight for a utopian view of “women’s rights” that includes using vulnerable women as commodities to be bought and sold, used up and discarded, degraded, abused and violated for someone else’s profit.

Wouldn’t it be tragic if the major outcome of the conference celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Beijing Conference on Women were the failure to pass a resolution protecting women from being preyed upon by sex traffickers?

Wouldn’t it be appalling for nations that are profiting from the buying and selling of women to continue to call the shots at the United Nations?

And, wouldn’t it be sad, if the United Nations, an organization established to protect people around the world, continued to be part of the problem rather than a driving force for the solution to sex trafficking and prostitution? In a panel discussion at Harvard University yesterday, Jane Holl Lute, assistant secretary for peacekeeping operations at the United Nations, was asked about the sexual exploitation and rape of women and girls by U.N. peacekeepers. She responded, “The U.N. will have to account for why it has taken so long to deal with this problem — and, words are not enough.”

The same can be said about the 49th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The U.N. will have to account for the outcome of the celebration of Beijing +10, and words are not enough! The nations of the world deserve more than “sound and fury signifying nothing”; women of the world deserve more than “U.N. Babel”! They deserve true recognition and promotion of the human rights of women instead of talk about and promotion of the special agendas — abortion, lesbianism, quotas — of so-called “women’s rights.”

It is past time for the United Nations to get serious about issues like sex trafficking and prostitution — two forms of modern-day slavery where women are the primary victims.

Janice Crouse, Ph.D., is senior fellow of the Beverly LaHaye Institute and an expert on sex trafficking. She is representing Concerned Women for America at the U.N.’s 49th Conference on the Status of Women, which ends today, in New York.

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