Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Supply and Demand: The Real Cause

Earlier in the month, we discussed how poverty only explains a small part of the complexity behind the causes of sex trafficking. I also promised that we would return to this topic and I decided to do this sooner than later, due to the amount of response to this issue. There is a dimension to this issue that needs to be exposed. The issue is demand.

In my former life, I had a lot of experience working in drug interdiction - it was there that I had my first exposure to the complexity of issues and the multi-disciplinary approach it takes to address them. It was the early 1990's and the United States was heavily involved in the 'War on Drugs'. During my tenure, the DEA would make major drug busts - cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and crystal meth - yet, the next week (if not the next day) following the raids, there were more drugs back on the street. Arresting drug lords, blowing up labs, or burning harvest fields had little impact on the industry as a whole.

It was then that I realized that demand is the principle and driving factor behind illicit activity. If there was no demand, there would be need for a supply. This is one of the primary reasons that sex trafficking is so lucrative and difficult to shut down. Svay Pac, otherwise known as K-11 in Cambodia, is an area saturated by brothels and underage prostitution. The government and human rights organizations have done multiple 100 day shut downs, made arrests, and exposed the illiegal activities, and yet; the commercial sex operations are still functioning. Why? Demand. If there is a demand, then there is a buyer behind it.

Sex tourists, pedophiles, sex addicts, and perverts come from all over the world to exploit Cambodia - a nation known to the sex underworld as "the Wild West of Asia". But, who is this buyer? Again, this is not simple answer. It used to be presumed that a buyer of sex services was someone unable to get sex apart from paying for it. Stereotypes such as the "dirty old man" or someone with "that look" or reclusive habits were considered buyers of commercial sex. These stereotypes are simply not true.

In fact, it is quite the opposite. These buyers are young and old - in Cambodia, they have been as young as 26 and old as 65 (I have heard someone talk about 72, but I can't verify the facts of the case). They are Japanese, Australian, Swiss, American, British, African, Korean, and yes, Cambodian. They are businessmen, professionals, teachers, and tourist - most of them married, with children. This changes the landscape for understanding how this issue needs to be approached.

There are many players and many factors, which I will discuss soon, hopefully with some line diagrams to help sort out how trafficking takes place and who the key players are. The more immediate issue at hand is this: sex trafficking is multifaceted - it needs a holistic approach of prevention, intervention, rehabilitation, and reintegration to begin to address the issues.

The first two aspects of prevention and intervention include the physical rescue of victims, but also the broader issues of education, immigration and border control, as well as, advocacy and legal enforcement. The second two - rehabilitation and reintegration, deal directly with the victims and what happens to them after the initial rescue. This is where Transitions Cambodia, Inc. focuses its efforts. In restoring the lives of broken girls - giving them an opportunity to heal and move into life with a new start.

In an upcoming blog, I will discuss more on demand, as well as, what can be done to combat and deter this important issue. In the meantime, I am getting ready for a conference on human trafficking and some other important meetings. I will share the results of my trip to Toronto the first week in October.

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