In university I took a political science class called “Conflict & Conflict Resolution,” in which we studied global security issues, war, and threats to peace. The question laid before us was this: what causes conflict? What is the primary cause of war?
My professor spent the first week convincing us that conflict is mainly caused by issues of security. One country builds its weapons arsenal because it is afraid of its neighbour, who in turn feels threatened and points its guns right back. The feeling of having one’s security threatened eventually leads to war. We read articles and had debates. Yes, indeed security (or lack thereof) seemed to be the number one reason for conflict.
The following week the same professor had us wipe our memory clean of what we had just learned, and went about convincing us that the primary cause of war is greed. Money is what motivates people, and there would be no conflict if the love of money did not exist. This also seemed reasonable. After all, so many of the worlds violent conflicts have been over diamonds, spices, oil.
Can you guess what happened the next week? The main cause of war was no longer security or greed, but ran along ethnic, cultural, and religious lines. We read story after story of conflicts sparked by groups of people hating other groups of people because of such differences. How else can the bloodbath between Serbians and Croatians be explained? Once again I felt compelled.
Finally on the fourth week, we learned that the root of conflict really comes down to the most basic environmental resources. Israel and Palestine fighting for water rights in a desert. Communities in impoverished countries rising up against multinational corporations that were destroying the environment that kept them alive. As I sat in class I could only imagine what people were willing to do out of desperation when someone else hoarded the natural resources that they relid on.
After all this, our professor asked us to write a paper answering the question: “What is the main cause of conflict?”
Brilliant. I have never agonized over a paper so much in my life. My professor had clearly made a point that war and conflict are complicated, and those trying to bring peace to these areas need to realize that the issues are all connected somehow.
That class taught me so much about the world, and I have been able to apply what I have learned in various other contexts. Lately I have been thinking about how these same variables could affect, motivate, spark, or foster human trafficking.
Security. Boys whose fathers and uncles are involved in the flesh trade might find themselves in a precarious position if they don’t join the business. Their future and personal security could be at stake if they do not meet expectations. Traffickers who want to quit the trade or cooperate with authorities fear for their safety, as traitors are not treated with grace.
Girls who have been trafficked are also affected by concerns for security. Many are threatened with the safety of their families back home if they do not cooperate. Traffickers are particularly crafty at manipulating young mothers by saying they will kill their child if they do not perform. And they often do. Security is definitely a variable that keeps the cycle of trafficking moving.
Greed. Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry. Traffickers capitalize on lust to make a buck, and many drug traffickers switch over the the sale of humans because the profit margin is so much higher. You can sell a weapon or drugs once, but you can sell a woman’s body over and over again.
Ethnicity. The way that each culture views women plays a huge role in trafficking. In North America a strange scenario is at play, because music videos, TV, and advertisements often portray women as sex objects even though the workplace and academic world is getting progressively more equal.
Men who pay for sex often justify their actions through ethnic stereotypes. Author Benjamin Perrin was once interviewed on a radio station and the host referred to Aboriginal women as “just hookers.” Many guys convince themselves that Asian girls love to fulfill their sexual fantasies because they are “submissive by nature.” Traffickers who have wives and children at home have no problem selling girls from other families, especially if they are of another nationality. Ethnicity is absolutely wrapped into the flesh trade.
Environment. My friend Tara recently went to visit the floating village slums of Cambodia. An estimated 1 to 2 million people live on the river in little shacks that float on the water, and they technically do not exist according to the government. To help wrap your mind around this reality, you can read Tara’s article describing her experience. She explains that because the river has become so toxic, the men can no longer find fish and have to travel upstream for their food. The lack of accessible food makes these families extremely vulnerable, and many are selling their daughters so the rest of the family can afford something to eat.
Security. Money. Ethnicity. Natural resources. They spark wars and perpetuate exploitation. They make countries bomb other countries and traffickers manipulate the vulnerable. They lead to bloodshed and rape, pillage and brothels. But I believe that fear and greed are the the common themes that weave themselves into each of these factors. Ultimately this is a heart issue, isn’t it?
What do you think is the strongest factor in sex trafficking? Are there other variables that are missing? How are we perpetuating trafficking? How is our society perpetuating it? And what can we do to reverse it?