Despite these many precautions, we cannot say with complete confidence that none of our subjects gave us misleading or incomplete information. But this is true of any interviews with any subjects on any topic.
We also realize that interviewing prostitutes inside a sex venue or a public place for an hour or so has its own restrictions in trying to understand transnational sex trafficking.
But by maximizing the variety of the prostitutes and the sex ring operators we interviewed, and by utilizing other sources of data (e.g., court cases, interviews with government authorities and NGOs, analyzing secondary materials, and especially fieldwork and participant observation), we hoped and believe that we have succeeded in learning much more about the pieces of the puzzle known as the international sex trade.
We have already detailed our research approach and rationale, as well as why we rejected the notion of depending upon defined groups of trafficking victims such as other studies have done. Nevertheless, we were made starkly aware of the potential risks we were running in using that strategy very early on in the study.
A college-educated, 33-year-old prostitute from Harbin City (Heilongjiang Province, in northeastern China) working in New York City criticized our proposed approach after she was told that we were looking to interview women who were trafficked:
If you are looking for trafficked victims like this, you are never, ever going to find them. If you can find a girl through a newspaper advertisement, that means the girl is not being deceived or controlled, because the girl can tell her customers about this. Those who are tricked here are most likely to be locked up, and the brothel owner is unlikely to advertise his business. He is going to do business with only regular customers, and the girls are going to be locked up in a small hotel or an apartment.
Interestingly and importantly, we believe, she then added: "Of course, I know this happens in China, but I don’t know whether it also exists in the United States." Similarly, most of our subjects, while denying that they had been forced, deceived, or coerced into doing what they were currently doing, also indicated that they knew of no such cases involving other women, although sometimes some had witnessed or heard of this happening.
We will have much more to say about this later, but simply want to add here that no matter how reasonable the criticisms from the above woman about our ways of locating our subjects, we also believe that it would be very difficult (albeit not impossible) for sex ring operators to do a lucrative business the way she described: locking up women and accepting new customers only with referrals from regulars.
Guri Tyldum and Anette Brunovskis from the Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies in Oslo made the same point when they wrote: "Even women in situations of serious exploitation and abuse can never be totally invisible in the prostitution arena, as their organizers need to sell the women to clients."
Sheldon Zhang also argued: "Despite sensational claims by the news media and advocacy groups, prostitutes are typically not locked up in cages and let out only to have sex with customers and then sent back to their cages again.
As long as these women and children come in contact with the outside world, there will be venues to study them." Even Victor Malarek, some of whose conclusions are in contrast to ours, echoed this point in his book The Natashas: "To make money, brothel owners and pimps have to make their victims readily available to clients, night in and night out.
It is virtually impossible, therefore, to run an underground sex trafficking enterprise. Johns have to know where to find these women whenever the urge strikes. Their quest has to be simple." Again, we will revisit this issue at some length.
In the next chapter, we will examine the main reasons for Chinese women to go overseas. We will also explore whether these women have been to other countries before they arrived in the country where we interviewed them.
We will also take a look at who the recruiters were, if any, and under what circumstances the women met their recruiters. Finally, we compare the background characteristics of the subjects in various research sites.
In chapter 3 we will introduce the women we interviewed.
We will provide some basic demographic information about them, such as age, education, family background, marital status, and employment history. And because a substantial number of these women were engaged in prostitution before they went overseas, we will explore how and why that came about.
This includes a discussion of what has been called "bounded rationality," as well as gender inequality and the objectification of women in China, and how these macro-factors seem to combine with microfactors to steer some Chinese women into prostitution.
We conclude chapter 3 with a discussion of life in the commercial sex business. We examine how our subjects viewed paid sex in general and their engagement in prostitution in particular. We then discuss how our subjects were coping in a foreign country, and how people in the destination countries reacted to the arrival of Chinese prostitutes.
In chapter 4, we will discuss the unique character of the commercial sex business in each of our destination countries, and examine how Chinese women penetrated or were embedded into the local sex trade. We will also take a look at the sex trade in Shenzhen, China.
At the end of the chapter, we will take a comparative look at the background characteristics of the subjects in each destination country.
We will explore the social organization of prostitution in chapter 5 by focusing on the modus operandi of various sex venues in the ten research sites.
We will categorize the sex markets into three main categories: independent, partnership, and employed. Within each main category, we will further examine the various settings where our subjects were engaged in commercial sex.
At the end of chapter 5, we will explore the curious phenomenon wherein certain of these women maintained a stable relationship with a customer by becoming a mistress, and the pros and cons in their view of having a "husband."
In chapter 6, we will take a look at the people who facilitate the movement of Chinese women from one country to another and engage them in prostitution.
We will examine all the participants in the sex trade: chicken-heads, agents, mommies, escort agency owners, brothel keepers, jockeys or drivers, fake husbands, and others.
We will conclude the chapter with an examination of whether or not transnational commercial sex seems to be controlled by Chinese organized crime groups such as the triads in Hong Kong, organized gangs in Taiwan, and Chinese tongs and street gangs in the United States.
We will examine the economics of transnational prostitution in chapter 7. Specifically, we will explore how much, if anything, Chinese women must pay to go overseas, how long it takes them to clear their transportation fees, how much they make from prostitution, and how they manage their money.
Here we will argue that transnational commercial sex is a business, and that the sex business is, like any other business, organized and functional in such a way that the benefits to all the participants are maximized, without certain participants having to be sacrificed or exploited.
We will then focus on the customers, the sex buyers. We will examine the socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds of the men who bought sex from our subjects. We will also explore the issue of abuses by clients. Lastly, at the end of the chapter we will discuss the nature of buying sex.
We will examine the role of the police and other governmental and nongovernmental agents in chapter 8. We will begin the chapter with a discussion of how government and police agencies in various research sites are responding to the increase in foreign prostitutes in their jurisdictions. We will then describe our female subjects’ experiences with the police. We also will explore the problem of police corruption in combating human trafficking.
In chapter 9, in order to assess whether our subjects can be truly considered to be trafficked victims, we will compare our subjects’ experiences and situations with those set out in the description of the nature and characteristics of sex trafficking as promulgated by both the United Nations and the U.S. government. Finally, in the concluding chapter we will probe the politics of prostitution and sex trafficking, the issue of defining and estimating the volume of sex trafficking, and then end with a discussion of what we see as the need to reexamine the predominant trafficking paradigm.
By maximizing the variety of the prostitutes and the sex ring operators we interviewed, and by utilizing other sources of data (e.g., court cases, interviews with government authorities and NGOs, analyzing secondary materials, and especially fieldwork and participant observation), we hoped and believe that we have succeeded in learning much more about the pieces of the puzzle known as the international sex trade.
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