At the tender age of eight, Meena Hasina was kidnapped and sold to a brothel. There, she was beaten with sticks and iron rods, threatened with swords, drugged and raped. With a broken spirit and her dreams of escape shattered, Meena was forced to have sex with 10 or more customers a day, seven days a week.
This story is not unique to Meena, or even to India, where sex trafficking runs rampant.
On the contrary, sex trafficking has victimized millions of girls and women from 162 countries, including the U.S.
It is the fastest growing commercial enterprise in the world.
The Somaly Mam foundation empowers victims to fight sex trafficking. Anastasia Plotnikova, communications associate at Somaly Mam, spoke of the difficulties of escaping sex trafficking.
“Oftentimes those trapped in slavery don’t believe they have a way out,” Plotnikova told The Guilfordian in an email interview. “They have been taken from their homes and are scared to return because of the negative stigma attached to sex slavery in many cultures.
“Many victims come from poverty and are uneducated … they do not know that there are ways out or whom to turn to.”
Is sex trafficking really that brutal and widespread?
No. It is worse.
Francesca Tarant is a communications and development associate of Apne Aap, an organization that works to stop sex trafficking internationally. Tarant described sex trafficking as a self-perpetuating crime.
“Sex trafficking is both a product of inequality and contributing to inequality,” Tarant told The Guilfordian in a phone interview. “Taking women out of the labor force impacts towns and communities by making education less available to children and less money will be spent on health care and nutrition.”
Mark Justad, director of the Center for Principled Problem Solving, addressed the social constructs that contribute to sex trafficking.
“Most of human culture has arisen with this notion of gender hierarchy: male being above female,” said Justad. “That just creates a kind of shadow over these issues. And, of course, there are a lot of people making money out of this.”
A study conducted in 2003 in The Netherlands found that a single sex slave earned her captor at least $250,000 a year.
When lax government regulations and great demand for illicit sex ensure plenty of protection for the already lucrative industry, many wonder: how do we even begin to address this situation, much less try to eradicate sex trafficking?
Triad Ladder of Hope Ministry, a faith-based non-profit organization in North Carolina, fights to eliminate the exploitation and slavery of humans. President and founder Sandra Johnson noted that ending sex trafficking requires commitment and collaboration across borders.
“It is going to take everyone working together to end modern-day slavery,” Johnson told The Guilfordian in an email interview. “The challenge is for people with faith to present hope and share their love with survivors by building loving relationships with them.”
In “Half the Sky,” a book that narrates the story of Meena and others in similar situations, journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn offer an effective solution to diminish sex trafficking: education.
Recent Bard College graduate Georgina Kronfeld is biking from Katonah, N.Y., to San Francisco, Calif., to facilitate education for 47 children in Sonagachi, India. Sonagachi has Asia’s largest concentration of prostitution and sex businesses.
“If you can’t even read, how can you know your rights?” said Kronfeld in a phone interview. “That’s how the sex industry works: keeping people uneducated and ignorant, taking away their autonomy and turning them into slaves. So, education is simply the most valuable thing for these children.”
Partnered with Apne Aap, Kronfeld aims to raise $30,000 to support a year of education for these children, the mothers of whom earn their living by prostitution. Without education, hopes for the children to escape Sonagachi’s sex trafficking industry are bleak.
Today, after rescuing both of her children from the brothel in which they were born, Meena works with parents in India to prevent their daughters from falling into the trap of prostitution. Her efforts to fight sex trafficking by supporting education have made waves in the revolution for gender equality.
In “Florence of Arabia,” his satirical novel about equal rights for women in the Middle East, Christopher Buckley sums up a belief that is slowly but surely permeating the globe:
“Women might just have something to contribute to civilization other than their vaginas.”