Friday, July 25, 2008

The Sex Trafficking Myth

Advocacy groups repeatedly make unsupported claims that foreign bride agencies are fronts for international sex trafficking. In her brilliant dissertation "MARRIAGE, MIGRATION, AND MARKETS: INTERNATIONAL MATCHMAKING," Lisa Simons finds no supportable link to this commonly referenced claim.
Simons analyzes typical anti-foreign bride advocacy literature claiming, "The mail-order bride industry is compromised of an international network that traffics women from less developed countries to men in industrialized nations." (Simons, 21) Simons explains her general findings do not support the claim that foreign bride agencies, "cause, contribute to or result in trafficking of women to the United States." (Id at 21).

Simons begins by analyzing several unsupported claims made by the researchers and non-overnmental organizations (NGO), like the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW). CATW claims an ever growing proliferation of prostitution and trafficking caused by the internet, aided by sex tourism and the mail order bride trade. (my emphasis added) (Simons 22) She cites an expert in Women's Studies, Donna Hughes, who claims one method of recruitment by those who seek to exploit and traffic women are mail order bride companies. (Simons 22) And she references the International Organization for Migration which claims "all mail-order bride agencies....of the former Soviet Union are under the control of organized crime..." (simons 22) Simons questions these conclusions saying that the..."conclusion that marriage agencies are engaging in a form of trafficking are based on the general belief that the advertising is sexist, the migration is done out of desperation, and thus the whole enterprise amounts to exploitation of women that is part of the international sex industry." Simons claims that sexism in advertising is not unique to marriage agencies and therefore tells us nothing unique about the men who seek foreign bride services.(Simons 23)

More untrue research has been done by the Global Survival Network (GSN) which did a two year study that found criminal enterprises were at the core "...establishing a dummy company that purportedly specialized in importing foreign women as escorts and entertainers… Under the guise of this company, GSN successfully gained entrĂ©e to the shadowy operation of international trafficking....(Simons 24) Simons rejects these claims "most of the report done by GSN was in reference to illegitimate job recruititng agencies claiming the women will be working in domestic service or entertainment but then transport them into prostitution."(Simons 24) Simons found that despite these claims, the conflation of marriage agencies with illegal activity is documented by a single example of a fraudulent marriage agency...." in the two year study. (Simons 24)

Simons found the often repeated claim that men who engage in foreign bride services are usually either considered unattractive socially or physically in their home countries. She says "this has been refuted in all the credible literature cited above in my review of previous studies" and is a spurious claim that undercuts the findings of this organizaiton. (Simons 25)

Simon considers the charges of another NGO MiraMed, who used the findings of GSN to support their own research. MiraMed published what it called evidence of sex trafficking. In the publication there is a picture from a Russian marriage agency advertising bride tours, under this picture MiraMed added the quote, "Advertising Sex Tourism in Russia." The text surrounding this graphic states, "local mafias operating violent rings of extorsion....prostitution.....trafficking is a highly sophisticated criminal activity involving recruitment through legitimate businesses..." (Simons 25)

Simons contacted MiraMed inquiring about how they "knew" the foreign bride agency "A Foreign Affair" was involved in illicit activity. "Had one of their research team obtained documanetation that the marriage agency was holding "sex tours" rather than marriage socials?" (Simons 26) Simons received her response to this question via email from the MiraMed program director, "The ad you cite was used for illustrative purposes...there are thousands of ads for marriage, jobs, etc. and it is extremely difficult to pinpoint which are legit and which are not.

As part of her research, Simons attended a bride tour conducted by "A Foreign Affair" and states she found no evidence of illegal activity. Simons acknowledges that due to the international nature of foreign bride agencies, evidence of criminal activity might be difficult to uncover. However, Simons maintains said difficulty must be addressed rather than obscured by making categorical accusations that marriage agencies are involved in nefarious activities. "GSN has no basis on which to say all marriage agencies operate in conjunction with the mafia" she states. (Simons 26) "MiraMed has no basis on which to say that "A Foreign Affair" is an illicit sex tourist operation, "Inaccurate reporting undermines otherwise potentially significant findings of NGO research." (Simons 26)

Simons concludes by summarizing the objection to marriage agencies as one grounded in the notion that the "for profit" nature of these enterprises lends support to the notion women are being sold. But she says, scholars have repudiated the notion that for profit means for sale. Furthermore, she states, "Even researchers who set out to expose the "evils" of the business, when they have collected interview data, have recognized that the service provided by marriage agencies also satisfies female demand....we ought to see the picture that entails both women and men demanding something from these foreign introduction services." (my emphasis added) (Simons 27)

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