Laws do little to curtail sex slavery

Marketplace Staff Jan 5, 2009

Laws do little to curtail sex slavery

Marketplace Staff Jan 5, 2009


Kai Ryssdal: Modern day slavery is a topic that’s not easy to discuss. But it’s too important and too big to avoid.

By some estimates, slavery as an industry is worth about $91 billion a year. Sex slaves represent about 4 percent of all slaves around the world. But they account for about 40 percent of the profits. And as the global economy worsens so could the lives of those women and children. Siddarth Kara’s book about them — and the business — is called “Sex Trafficking.”

Welcome to the program.

Siddharth Kara: Thanks. It’s good to be here.

Ryssdal: As a purely business model question, slavery is all up-side? I mean, it sounds flip, but really it’s almost hard to lose money doing it.

Kara: That is a very good point. The fundamental economics of slavery is to maximize profit by minimizing the cost of labor, in this case, zero or close to zero. So, yes, there is a tremendous profit incentive. There should be more risk to the commission of these crimes. Slavery is illegal in just about every country in the world. But, there is almost no real risk to the exploitation of slaves around the world.

Ryssdal: Why is that? I mean, if it’s illegal, if governments know about it, which they all do because we’re talking about it — and everybody talks about it from time to time — why is this the case?

Kara: Weak laws. In India, for example, there is actually no financial penalty for exploiting a sex slave, but there is a $44 fine for owning a brothel. Now you can actually make, as a brothel owner, close to $13,000 a year per slave in profit. So, even if you rounded up every exploiter of sex slaves each and every year and fine them that $44, sex slavery would still be a high-profit enterprise to be in.

Ryssdal: As you think about how to eradicate sex slavery — and that’s a good part of the book — you talk about the supply side and the demand side. But with access to sex slaves so cheap and human biology being what it is, can you ever really eradicate the demand side?

Kara: I do believe that the most effective attack on the sex slave industry in the near-term, is an attack on the demand force. To eradicate slavery in the long-term you’ll have to address the supply side — issues relating to poverty, lawlessness, corruption, etc. But I, in the book, focus on what I call two strategic points of intervention in the fundamental business structure of sex slavery and that’s slave owner demand for profit and consumer demand for low-priced commercial sex. And if you can significantly increase the risk inherent to the system — increase the cost of committing these crimes — you can make a strong negative impact on both slave owner and consumer demand.

Ryssdal: This is obviously an incredibly emotional topic. How do you remain so analytical about this, because you clearly do?

Kara: I — it’s not easy. As I sit here and talk with you about this business analysis — I have a business and legal background — my mind is still filled with the faces of so many of the slaves I met: Hundreds of slaves who have suffered unspeakable acts of savagery. Women and children who are raped, tortured and killed every day. And I believe that a business and economic analysis is the best way to attack a fundamentally economic crime, slavery. But the moral outrage of these crimes and the human cost of these crimes, is going to be what motivates us to initiate more effective efforts to redress these crimes.

Ryssdal: Are you optimistic that anything is going to come of what you clearly hope to achieve from this book?

Kara: I go through waves of emotion. There are some real down days and there were some down days on the research trail. For me this book is step one. Step two is to get in front of the right audiences, governments, international organizations, and argue for the case I’m making for a new brand of global abolitionist movement that will design and deploy more effective tactics to abolish slavery once and for all.

Ryssdal: The book by Siddharth Kara is called “Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery.” He sits on the board of directors of the group Free the Slaves. Siddharth, thanks a lot for coming in.

Kara: Thank you.

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