In a recent post, I discussed liberal and conservative perspectives on how much choice people have in where they end up. I used this framework to analyze debate about prostitution and human trafficking.
While I did my best there to present both viewpoints accurately, I also wanted to set down separately which narrative I find to be more accurate with respect to prostitution.
I'll start by saying that I have far less knowledge in this area than I would like to. This is especially true when talking about circumstances outside the United States. If you feel I am mistaken, I invite you to correct me in the comments section.
As with most things, I think the neither of the two perspectives presented quite captures the truth. However, I will not be so wishy washy as to say that I find both to be equally valid.
Remember that what I presented as the liberal viewpoint says that people's choices are greatly constrained by their circumstances, and in the case of many at the bottom of society, there often are few choices at all. See page seven of the handbook* I listed before for a survey of some circumstances that those who enter prostitution often share. They include childhood sexual abuse, incest, and physical abuse. In addition, the pamphlet cites that the international median age for entry into prostitution is 14.
In other words, many make this choice when they could still be considered children. True, the childhood that in the United States often extends well into the 20's is much different than the standard present many places in the world. But the forces of puberty are reasonably new to all at these ages, and a defining characteristic of young people is their inability to manage such forces well. And abuse greatly warps anyone's ability to manage these forces, let alone children.
So while these girls are capable of making a choice, their ability to choose wisely is heavily impaired. I conclude that circumstances in the lives of the majority of those who enter prostitution make them unfit to make such a choice. In that sense, since these do not have the protectors that they ought, I am willing to call them "trafficked."
Many might say that parents are responsible for protecting children from choices like prostitution, and legislation cannot substitute for good parenting. I agree, but there is another side to the equation. Forces war with parents for influence over children, and in the absence of good parenting these forces often win out.** Legislation can fight against these forces.
So I say, don't look at those who reap prostitutes' wages as men in an illicit business partnership. Look at them as oppressors. Work accordingly. This goes the same for men who use their services.
My reasoning applies specifically to those who become prostitutes at a young age, which figure to be significantly more than half worldwide. Perhaps there is some room in my reasoning for those who both choose to become prostitutes and who should be considered competent for such a choice, and thus in my view are not victims of trafficking. Should we only work against men involved with "trafficked" prostitutes?
In my understanding, no such distinction exists. Pimps and johns do not investigate whether or not prostitutes make their choices from a healthy context. And really, I am quite skeptical that such prostitutes exist in non-negligible amounts. Then, it makes no sense to differentiate between them when deciding how to act.
In short, I am willing to brand all pimps and the like "traffickers." So color me liberal on prostitution.
*From the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.
**The language of "forces winning out" is synonymous with the language of determinative circumstances in the liberal framework that I described. As I said, while I don't accept this concept wholesale, I think that children are "impaired choosers" and shouldn't be held responsible for choices of such magnitude. In this case it is appropriate to "blame" forces influencing their choices.