Today some of us at Girls’ Globe joined the Google+ Hangout with New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof, GEMS founder Rachel Lloyd and Cambodian anti-trafficking advocate Somaly Mam. The topic of discussion was modern-day slavery and sex trafficking and was moderated by Luke Blocher from The Freedom Center.

The group discussed domestic sex trafficking, factors contributing to the international sex trade and ways to help combat the problem, from high-level to grassroots actors.

Regarding what governments and state actors can do, Nicholas spoke about the importance of ending impunity. In most places there are laws in place that should protect trafficked victims and victims of sex slavery, the problem is that these laws are not being enforced. He mentioned the importance of putting pressure on governments to ensure that laws are followed and enforced. One example of this is Naming and Shaming. Through international shame, governments feel pressured to make a change, and this can actually have an impact on enforcing the legal framework in the country.

How do we decrease demand? When working to end sex slavery it is not often discussed how to address the demand side of the market. The Google+ Hangout crowd asked the panelists this question.

Rachel pointed out that it is critical to change attitudes and the way we view men who buy sex. We need to eliminate the boys are just being boys attitude and raise awareness of the crime that is being committed. She said that we need to socialize boys and young men differently, in a way that does not give them the right to buy other people. It is not a victimless crime. Rachel highlighted that we need to see and hear more from the men who do not buy sex, in order to change other men’s perspectives. Men need to rise up too!

Also to address the issue of demand, Nicholas said that there is a delusion that prostitutes are there on their own free will. He asserted that men need to understand what trafficking is really like and that people need to learn what is actually going on. Through education buying sex will become less sexy and more shameful, and thus decrease demand.

Should we distinguish between voluntary prostitution and trafficking? One thing that often arises when discussing sex trafficking is the statement that there are women who sell sex voluntarily. When talking about the modern-day sex trade I think this statement usually steers the conversation in the wrong direction. Instead of talking about how to help trafficked victims, people start arguing for the rights of women to sell their bodies. When this question was brought up by the audience, I think the panelists had some good arguments.

Rachel agreed that there are some women who voluntarily sell sex, but she argued that this is not where the global billion dollar industry is actually earning its money. She said that these women are really a minority.

To have a choice you must have options. Most of the women, children and men in the sex industry do not choose to be a part of it. They have no option. What we need to do is bring options to these people – the majority of “sellers” in the global sex industry are victims.

Nicholas pointed to the evidence that has shown that legalizing the sex trade does not necessarily minimize the black market trade that is still going on. That regulating the market does not ensure that underaged girls are not being forced into the trade. Also, when discussing the nature of prostitution, he said that the amount of people who do it voluntarily are minimal. He stated that those who enter into commercial sex in the US are usually underaged girls and those who enter into this market in India are usually coerced.

Somaly really underscored the importance of giving victims an option. By educating the girls in the brothels, protecting them from violence and supporting them with health care, we can make a difference. She emphasized the importance of education and raising awareness. We cannot change the practice if people have wrong perceptions of what is going on. There are victims in this world that need our help and Somaly stressed that if we want to do something we need to have patience and compassion.

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