A Closer Look At Exploitation

“Virtually every country in the world is affected by trafficking for sexual exploitation or forced labour. Reliable global data are limited, but the number of victims is believed to be reaching epidemic proportions.” - United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking

We will dig into these topics at a deeper level over during our 31 Days of Strength and Dignity.

This video illustrates several components listed above. This is reality for thousands of young ladies each year.

The Story of Seema from As Our Own on Vimeo.

In my research I came up with the following notes and outline. Much of the information and the quotes come from the book Sex Slaves: The Trafficking of Women in Asia by Louise Brown.

Where does it begin?

There are as many stories of getting involved in the sex trade as there are girls but let's break it down into generalized categories to clarify.

  • Voluntary, many options in life but choose, usually for the money, to sell themselves These are most often girls in western countries
  • Involuntary, many options in life but are stolen or deceived
  • Voluntary, vulnerable situation, socially acceptable, becomes a generational profession
  • Involuntary, vulnerable situation, allowed by family, deceived

What makes a person vulnerable?

  • Poverty - inability to pay dowry or , lack of food - And the poverty that we mention here is extreme ... for example World Bank estimates that 40% of Nepalese live in absolute poverty which means that their income will not provide them with enough food to meet minimum calorie requirements.
  • Devaluation of girls - seen as a commodity to be sold or given in marriage, girls may not like situation but do not seem to argue the fundamental fact that they are not property
  • War – many families are torn apart during war, fathers are killed and rest of the family becomes vulnerable
  • Natural Disaster - flood, dry season…desperation increases greatly
  • Family Dependency - drugs, alcohol, and materialism – “A study was undertaken in 1990 with the aim of establishing the reasons why some Thai families encouraged their girls to become prostitutes. It came up with some depressing conclusions. It found that 60% of families sending daughters to the brothels were not forced to do so because of acute poverty. Instead they were motivated by the desire to own consumer goods like television and videos. P54-55” 
  • Broken Family - death of a parent


Recruiters/The Procurer/Perpetrator

  • Usually women
  • An offer of hope and a better life
  • May pursue romantically, promise marriage 
  • Many times it's a member of the community
  • In Cambodia about 50% of girls were sold into brothels by someone they knew


  • They seek out those that are in the most desperate situations
  • they will lure in young girls that arrive in the big city to find jobs
  • May be involved in "seasoning"

Brothel Managers

  • Day to day running of the brothel
  • Decides prices clients must pay for girls, virgins and newer in the system worth much more
  • Usually responsible for "seasoning"
  • Makes sure that food is provided or withheld

Brothel Owners

  • Purchase girls - anywhere from 400-1,200USD
  • At minimum rates and minimum customers they will make 800-1000USD/month
  • Keep relationships (pay off) landlord, police, government


  • The owners of these buildings are well aware of what is happening in their building and how much money is being made. They want in on the profits.

Police/Border control

  • Bribe the higher ups to get posted in red light district to get a cut in this lucrative industry
  • Will collect monthly fee in brothels and extra fees for new girls that come in
  • Many police are part or full owners of brothels in Thailand
  • Should be protection for girls but are the ones that will gladly return girls that have escaped
  • Often require free or discounted services to keep quiet
  • Are known to arrest girls because they are in the country illegally and take her to the jail where she will be gang raped by the police


  • Average age is 12-15
  • “Seasoning” “Every day thousands of girls and women are initiated into prostitution through acute physical and psychological violence. And every day men are willing to pay to enjoy the violence of this initiation. seasoning the girl until she is resigned to her life as a prostitute - this can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years
  • background -The poorer the girls background, the worse her living and working conditions
  • According to a mama-san, a brothel manager: "Things are the worst for the girls in the closed brothels. They have lots of clients especially on Friday and Saturday nights when they have ten to twelve men. It's especially bad for the new girls because all the regulars want to try her out...They are called 'cherry girls' but only the richest can afford to buy her 'cherry'."
  • The fairer the skin and more attractive, the more desirable, resulting in higher price and more clients
  • brothel girls go through 2 phases: seasoning and acclimatizing, after these they usually move on to some other type of sex trade business
  • Abuse and/or withdrawal of food if girls don't perform or client complains
  • Abuse from clients is perfectly acceptable
  • Complaining of rape is not taken seriously from a prostitute, "she's working"
  • May be moved around to different brothels: if family finds out and starts demanding money, provide variety for regulars, keep the girls vulnerable by being clueless about their surroundings
  • New girls start in the high end brothels and the longer they are around get moved to the lower end brothels
  • after a girl is seasoned she may get a couple days off per month
  • Very few over the age of 20 and they command a much lower price
  • Some have their own small room and will stand in "the line" and then use their own space...this helps brothel managers in India to appear they are abiding by Indian law which prohibits anyone from making money off of someone else selling sex
  • the cheaper the brothel the more clients must be seen and each will only take 5-10 min.
  • girls cannot refuse a client that is sent to them
  • girls cannot require that clients use condoms. in order to compete with the demand of the younger girls, older prostitutes will offer condom free sex which could take business away from the young girls were they to require them...thus they are not allowed to require condoms...about 60% of brothel girls and 40% of men in the surrounding areas are infected with HIV/Aids
  • girls are sometimes given contraceptives...common saying is that it is more likely for a girl to get Aids than get pregnant. abortions are very common: women who have given birth do not have the preferred “sensation” for the customer. girls may get a couple days off after having an abortion
  • Tuberculosis, the disease of poverty and overcrowding, kills as many of the girls as Aids
  • required to be available for clients 24/7

The clients

It's the consumer that make this industry function and profitable.

  • "the more repressive the sexual morality and the more rigid the social conventions, the greater is the tendency to buy sex p.129"
  • Some want to legalize it and say that will control it...it also will allow the state to make money off of these exploited girls
  • men may use a condom until they find out that they have Aids, then they feel no moral obligation to the girls they see...they were only wearing the condom to protect themselves, they don't care about the girls

Why do they stay?

  • Debt bondage - "I bought you for X amount and you must buy your freedom back. Brothel managers will hire police to arrest or thugs to beat up the girl so that the payment to release or treat her gets added on to the amount that she owes the brothel
  • Interest rates for the money owed averages about 300%
  • Fear - beatings and threats against girl and her family
  • Shame - Such a high value is placed on virginity that even if the girl was forced into prostitution she will not be accepted back by her family and no one will want to marry her
  • Girls don't know where to go or who to talk to even if they do escape because they are often in an unfamiliar place, possibly a different country and language and easy to spot by local gangs that keep watch on the area

The Law

  • No one under the age of 16 can sell sex
  • No one can make money from a woman selling sex
  • Legislation is passed to punish traffickers but rarely are there trials much less convictions...therefore, not really a key player...more of a facade to make politicians look good


  • The cultural belief that girls can be bought and sold
  • the belief that men have the right to buy sex


Who are the key players in getting the girls out?

Investigators – Go into the brothels under cover with cameras to identify girls that are under age and any girls that look like they would want to come out

Police – Thereare occasionally police that do what they can to help the girls. One female officer would post her phone number in every brothel and tell all the girls to call her if they wanted to get out and then would threaten the managers if they did anything with the number...CNN did a report on her and shortly thereafter she was transferred out of the district

Government – The government does little to prevent girls from being trafficked or to shut down the brothels but if an organization, group or lawyer provides evidence that minors are working in a brothel, they are the ones that must send in the police. Because of the number of corrupt police, there are many times that the brothel managers have been tipped off and have gotten all the girls out before the raid.

Government – Once the girls are rescued they must go to a state run rescue home

Social Workers – These women walk alongside the girls as soon as they enter the rescue homes. Social workers will go

Lawyers – working with the girls to prosecute the traffickers. Extremely difficult to prove that the girl was trafficked. Many girls will not testify for fear of harm to family.

What does this battle really look like?

  • Sonagachi is the largest red-light district in Kolkata, India and one of the largest in Asia. It is an area with several hundred multi-story brothels and estimated 11,000 sex workers
  • According to police, in 2005, there were 100,000 prostitutes working out of five-star hotels and brothels across Mumbai (Wikipedia)

How many girls are rescued?


What will life look like if she is one of those rescued?

Society condemns her

Families and villages will reject her because she is “spoiled”

Men will not want to marry her

  • In cultures where a woman’s identity is so tightly tied to a man, whether that is father, brother, husband or son Brown makes a profound statement. “When [girls] do not belong to one man they belong, by default, to all."
  • the brothel, in spite of its harsh environment will for most become the only place where girls feel safe because of relationships with other girls and due to hatred of society for what she does. She will likely remain in the business at another level Quote p 46

Small businesses are starting up to train the women a skill while providing education, counseling, life skills and a place to belong

  • the brothel, in spite of its harsh environment will for most become the only place where girls feel safe because of relationships with other girls and due to hatred of society for what she does

“In India, a child goes missing every eight minutes, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau. Almost 40% of those children haven’t been found.” India Real Time

“India probably has more modern slaves than any country in the world. It has millions of women and girls in its brothels, often held captive for their first few years until they grow resigned to their fate. China surely has more prostitutes, but they are typically working voluntarily. India’s brothels are also unusually violent, with ferocious beatings common and pimps sometimes even killing girls who are uncooperative.” New York Times



Sex Slaves: The Trafficking of Women in Asia by Louise Brown 
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn 
Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale: A Memoir by Rachel Lloyd


Nefarious: Merchant of Souls 
Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids


ATEST (Alliance To End Slavery & Trafficking) 
International Justice Mission 
Made in a Free World 
Not for Sale 
Polaris Project

“Today, there are more men, women and children enslaved than at any time in history. Together, we can stop slavery once and for all.” – ATEST

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