Author provides economic perspective on sex trafficking

Lauren Mogannam

Contrary to popular belief, slavery is not a thing of the past, a speaker for the Roberta Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies said Tuesday afternoon.

“Slavery still exists,” said author Siddharth Kara, who spoke about sex trafficking during the event. “It is a stain on humankind that must be buried.”

About 45 people crammed into the center’s conference room to listen to Kara, author of “Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery,” which was also the title of his speech.

“Hundreds of thousands of women and children are forced into prostitution each year,” Kara said. “Victims are broken down physically and emotionally. Some are forced to have sex with up to 20 men a day.”

Instead of approaching the issue of sex trafficking from a humanitarian side, Kara, who received an MBA from Columbia University, focused on the economic aspect. The author argued that the supply and demand structure of the global economy makes sex trafficking a lucrative business and difficult to eradicate.

“The ‘slave trading’ is the supply side and the ‘slavery’ is the demand side,” he said. “Both of these components together make for a very sophisticated business.”

Since there is a constant demand for commercial sex, a slave purchased for $10,000 could end up making her owner $160,000 in profits before she dies or runs away, he said.

“For every 1.4 hours of labor in the United States, a person can get one hour of commercial sex,” he said.

Many who attended were surprised to hear the economic side of human trafficking.

“The numbers were astronomical,” said Medill freshman Simone Slykhous. “I had never thought about the supply and demand aspect of sex trafficking.”

For some, combining the two was the most powerful approach.

“By understanding both the economic side and the humanitarian side, it can lead to tangible results,” said Breanne Ward, a Communication freshman.

According to Kara, the main problems facing a movement to combat human trafficking are awareness and resources.

“Three hundred times more money is spent to fight drug trafficking than human trafficking,” Kara said. “More funding is needed for inspection forces and the protection of victims and families during trials.”

Kara was invited to Northwestern as part of a series on humanitarian rights organized by the center, said Brian Hanson, the center’s associate director. The series was intended to generate excitement for the NU Conference on Human Rights, which begins Thursday.

“Two years ago the humanitarian conference focused on human trafficking,” Hanson said. “We wanted to continue discussion and dialogue about this issue and encourage people to talk about it and make a difference.”

According to Hanson, Kara’s unique approach was just what the center was looking for.

“One of the things that we try to do is present different aspects and points of view on problems,” he said. “The economic theme is important because so much money is being made and to address this problem you need to understand the economics behind it.”

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