Nicholas Kristoff writes in the NYT today about sex slavery and the vicious torture of girl slaves in the trade in Cambodia. Read it, if you dare. This grisly, filthy business actually isn't a world away. To the extent that it caters to them, it begins in the consciousness of Western men. It exists because they like it and because Cambodian men and women slave-traders and brothel owners can profit from it.
"Sex trafficking is truly the 21st century’s version of slavery. One of the differences from 19th-century slavery is that many of these modern slaves will die of AIDS by their late 20s. . . .Everything Kristoff says is true and urgent. And yet. . .
"I hope that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will recognize slavery as unfinished business on the foreign policy agenda. The abolitionist cause simply hasn’t been completed as long as 14-year-old girls are being jolted with electric shocks — right now, as you read this — to make them smile before oblivious tourists."
Is Kristoff really unaware of the slavery that underpins much of US business? Florida's and Texas' citrus and vegetable industries are equally brutal, routinely practicing beatings, starvations, and murders--not to mention gross wage theft. Growers know it, local residents and authorities know it, state officials know it, ICE knows it, and so does Congress. Everyone winks.
Is it somehow easier to focus on Cambodia's sex trafficking than on the domestic variety? Ask any big city US mayor whether there's a thriving underground economy in trafficking and torturing girls (and boys)--whether Cambodian, Vietnamese, Russian, Texan, or New Yorker. Ask the Attorneys General in Utah, Texas, and Arizona whether sex slavery exists in remote fundamentalist Mormon enclaves, protected by whole townships. Ask them whether torture is involved. If they don't mention re-assigning wives, dumping boys too young to fend for themselves and without any means of support, and handing over pre-teen girls for the sexual pleasure of men old enough to be their grandfathers, point out that these things, too, constitute torture.
I don't knock Kristoff's service in publicizing the horror of the Cambodian sex slave trade. Good for him. But it's breathlessly naive to assert that sex slavery (abroad) "is truly the 21st century’s version of slavery." (It's this kind of thing that makes me think of Kristoff as such a lightweight.)
"Truly the 21st century's version of slavery"? Well, no.
Sex slavery is merely ONE of 21st century America's versions of slavery. We have several.
Wherever wage theft occurs, there is some degree of forced labor, one criterion for defining slavery. This includes the legions of mostly foreign domestics brought here and then imprisoned in the blight of a million McMansions.
There are legions of undocumented workers lured and brought here and sold off by "coyotes" to complicit managers in construction, agriculture, meat processing, landscaping, and entertainment.
There are legions of girls and boys bought and sold as sex slaves for guys we see in suits every day. There are legions of children who are being circulated among pedophiles, and raped by their fathers and uncles and brothers and cousins. These, too, are forms of sex slavery.
So you might wish that Kristoff would place the Cambodian sex slave trade in its larger global context, and that he would also illuminate the myriad forms of slavery happening right here, right now. The home-grown variety.
And you might think that, in addition to challenging Obama and Clinton, Kristoff would challenge, oh, say, the "religious" Right.
You might think that it's a far, far worthier cause to target slavery in any of its loathesome manifestations than it is to target the right of GLBT persons to marry, adopt, and serve openly in the US military.