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Human TraffickingThe Complexities of Exploitation$

Margaret Malloch and Paul Rigby

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781474401128

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474401128.001.0001

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Root Causes, Transnational Mobility and Formations of Patriarchy in the Sex Trafficking of Women

Root Causes, Transnational Mobility and Formations of Patriarchy in the Sex Trafficking of Women

(p.194) 12 Root Causes, Transnational Mobility and Formations of Patriarchy in the Sex Trafficking of Women
Human Trafficking

Jackie Turner

Edinburgh University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The focus of this chapter is on transnational mobility and formations of patriarchy in the cross border trafficking of women for sexual exploitation. It draws on the findings of an empirical study, conducted between January 2009 and May 2010, and based on an examination of selected Crown Prosecution Service completed trafficking cases in England and Wales. It argues that the collapse of the former Eastern bloc produced economic and social conditions conducive to sex trafficking, underpinned by patriarchy in certain areas. The chapter focuses on how, in a globalised world, transnational mobility is key to the modus operandi of cross-border sex traffickers, while distant and local formations of patriarchy intersect in racialised prostitution industries.

Keywords:   Patriarchal gender orders, Global demand, Sex trafficking, Transnational mobility


The scale of trafficking worldwide can at best be estimated, but most practitioners and scholars agree it is both significant and increasing (Aronowitz 2009; Shelley 2010), aided by improved transportation infrastructures and advances in communication technologies, which traffickers are able to exploit in an increasingly globalised world.

There can be little doubt that globalisation has exerted transformative influences on the world’s social, political and economic landscape. It has produced ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ (De la Dehesa 2006) and, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), it has promoted crime beyond borders (UNODC 2002). It has also contributed to accelerating rates, and changes in patterns, of migration. Increasing numbers of people now reside and work outside their countries of origin (Monzini 2005), while globally, at any given moment, significant numbers of individuals are on the move, so much so that we are now said to live in a ‘world in motion’ (Inda and Rosaldo 2002). This perpetual movement has transformed the nature of social relations that span borders; changes that have unsettled historic population movements and have seen the emergence of new, more fluid, transnational formations (Cohen 1997; Smith and Guarnizo 1998; Turner and Kelly 2009). The last few decades, however, have also witnessed other, historic changes. The collapse of the former Soviet Union towards the end of the last century, the wars and subsequent reconfiguration of borders across the region, all generated unprecedented movements of people, while the transition from command to market economies produced social (p.195) and economic asymmetries which enriched some and simultaneously impoverished others.

These are among the factors that account for the rise and spread of trafficking. The disparate effects of globalisation, poverty, wars, political instability and the lack of sustainable livelihoods comprise the ‘fertile field’ (Kelly 2005), or conditions conducive to trafficking. Yet, in whatever combination they affect the lives of individuals, they do not sufficiently account for the increase in the sex trafficking of women and the growth of commercial sex markets across the world. While trafficking into other sectors is a significant phenomenon, and while the sex trafficking of young men and boys remains ‘thus far a terra incognita in terms of sociological research’ (Morawska 2007: 98–9), there is good reason for the continued focus on the sex trafficking of women, albeit with a shift in perspective.

Patriarchal gender orders

The international community has singled out women and children as the two groups that are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. While this focus is welcome, its framing in these terms is also problematic. Women and children are not synonymous, they do not share the same needs, rights or agency, and they do not require the same protections. Combining the two in such fashion risks infantilising women and failing to afford children the recognition they need, both as children and as gendered beings. Moreover, with respect to women, the approach promotes a very one-sided debate in that it fails to locate gender within what Connell (1987, 2009) calls patriarchal ‘gender orders’. Gender orders comprise ‘overarching hierarchical social arrangements and patterns’ (Coy 2012: 4) of gender inequality. In much of the literature on trafficking, and at international level, gender means women. The relevance of focusing on the gender order in particular, however, rather than simply on gender, is that the other side of the equation is factored back in: men and masculinity as locations of power. As Connell (2009) suggests, the dominant feature, and harm, of the current gender order lies ‘first and foremost in the system of inequality in which women and girls are exploited, discredited and made vulnerable to abuse and attack. The still massive incidence of [violence] is an easily recognized marker of power and vulnerability’ (ibid.: 143).

How trafficking is primarily understood is not merely a matter of academic debate, but impacts in the real world of policy and action. In locating sex trafficking within patriarchal gender orders, it can be conceived as ‘an easily recognized marker of power and (p.196) vulnerability’ and, therefore, as a form of violence against women. This does not refer only to the violence to which trafficked women are subjected within the trafficking process, although this certainly does occur. It is instead to understand trafficking as violence against women in the sense promulgated by the Committee for the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in General Recommendation No. 19 (1992). While the definition of discrimination in CEDAW makes no mention of violence, the Committee commented that it is nonetheless included insofar as gender-based violence is ‘violence directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately’. Since trafficking is now a global problem in which, according to most estimates, the majority of victims are women and girls trafficked into prostitution markets the world over, sex trafficking can be framed as gender-based discrimination and as a practice involving violence directed against women because they are women, as well as violence that disproportionately affects women.

Widespread violence against women is common in all communities. It is a feature of the ‘global gender order’, as much as gender is ‘a structure of world society’ (Connell 2009: 126–7). Yet, while gender is not the same across all cultures, and always intersects with other factors such as race (Crenshaw 1991), there are nonetheless ‘significant features of the gender order which cannot be understood locally, which require analysis on a global scale’ (Connell 2009: 126; emphasis in original).

Global demand

Sex trafficking is just such a significant feature and is inadequately captured, as is the tendency in much of the literature, by reference only to the vulnerability of women in general, as well as the vulnerability of particular groups of women. Instead, sex trafficking is better understood by reference to patriarchal gender orders predicated on women’s subordination to men, albeit as this manifests itself within different social contexts. This shifts debate from its conventional axis focusing on vulnerability, and allows the conventions of power to emerge as situated overwhelmingly with men.

This is particularly evident in global prostitution markets. Prostitution is distinct from the sale and purchase of other goods and services in that it involves women selling a particular kind of sex that is premised on gender inequality (Jeffreys 1997). The practice is ‘socially constructed out of male domination and women’s subordination’ (Jeffreys 2012: 75). O’Connell Davidson (1998) refers (p.197) to prostitution ‘as an institution which allows certain powers of command over one person’s body to be exercised by another’ (ibid.: 9). While acknowledging that prostitution features among gay and transgendered people, it nevertheless ‘disproportionately involves men buying access to women’s bodies’ (Coy 2012: 5). As such, prostitution can be identified as a cornerstone of patriarchal gender orders ‘even though there may be variation at the level of everyday gender relations between women who sell, and men who buy, sex’ (ibid.: 4).

Part of that variation can be seen in the racialisation of the global sex industry (Monzini 2005; Dahinden 2010), and which informs the modus operandi of trafficking groups. Dahinden (2010) discusses ‘the ethnicised and “racialised”’ nature of gender representations which create demand for women with particular ‘looks’ and which ‘form part of the transnational character’ (ibid.: 60–1) of the global sex business. Another study by Englund et al. (2008) of sex trafficking in Estonia, Finland and Sweden similarly noted that, while ‘client preferences are perhaps the most recurrent theme … sex buyers also have more specific demands. They want the women to wear certain clothes. They want blondes and young girls’ (ibid.: 121). The same study also noted the presence of what the authors call ‘ethnically niched prostitution’ (ibid.: 122) in which women are imported to meet the demands of their male co-nationals living in diaspora.

Monzini (2005) suggests the racialisation of the sex industry may be a consequence of changing patterns of demand, which have created hierarchies in which African, Asian, Balkan and other non-European Union (EU) women work in lower paid sectors of the sex industry compared with their white EU counterparts. Research conducted in London found that men who express a preference for women of a specific ethnic or racial background tend to fall into one of two categories: those seeking the ‘exotic other’ or those who prefer women of the same ethnic background (Coy et al: 2007). Hughes (2005) notes that trafficked women often belong to the same national or ethnic group as their clients. Monzini (2005), again, has similarly found the existence of such ethnically exclusive prostitution circuits, but notes that, more commonly, ‘foreign women work in the market intended for men originating in the country in question’ (ibid.: 38), and whose preference is either sexual access to the bodies of the ‘exotic other’ or simply to foreign women as a sometimes cheaper alternative. This resonates with the findings of recent research undertaken in the United Kingdom, where women were trafficked from source countries and placed in brothels located in areas with diverse populations (Turner 2014). The same study also found evidence of the so-called ‘carousel system’ (Monzini 2005: 82) in which Eastern (p.198) European women, in particular, were circulated around different parts of the country, from Wales, through England to Scotland, and sometimes internationally, to ensure the steady supply of ‘new faces’ to sex buyers, and to meet racialised demand (Turner 2014). In this sense, gender and ethnicity are always inextricably intertwined and, prostitution–of co-nationals or the exotic other–is premised on male demand for sexual access to the bodies of female strangers. It derives from a sense of ‘male privilege’ (Durchslag and Goswami 2008), commensurate with the power vested in men.

Kara (2009) advocates measures for quashing demand as one of two key themes at the heart of his ‘framework for abolition’ of sex trafficking, which he calls slavery (see also Miers 2003; Ould 2004; Bales 2005; Smith 2007). His analysis directly addresses gender issues, but his primary critique is of the role of global capitalism. ‘Sex trafficking is one of the ugliest contemporary actualizations of global capitalism because it was directly produced by the harmful inequalities spread by the process of economic globalization’ (Kara 2009: 4). It is within this process that women, minorities and lower castes are discriminated against, disempowered and disenfranchised and, therefore, are more vulnerable to ‘enslavement’. Hence, demand reduction measures should be taken in the short term, while longer-term strategies should be geared towards addressing the root causes of trafficking, which Kara describes as ‘poverty and the destructive asymmetries of economic globalization’ (ibid.: 201).

Powerful and compelling as this account is, it suffers from the same deficit that is to be found at international level and in much of the academy. Globally, the sex industry is flourishing and, increasingly, sex trafficking is becoming the ‘primary delivery and distribution system’ (Turner 2012: 48) for prostitution markets the world over. In identifying the root causes of trafficking as a consequence of economic globalisation in which women feature as among the accidental ‘losers’, Kara’s (2009) account fails to sufficiently factor in the other side of the gender equation.

The fertile field

The root causes of trafficking–poverty, failing states, wars and the inequities associated with globalisation–all disproportionately and adversely impact on women. Globalisation in particular has created deep divisions with women estimated to comprise 70 per cent of those living below the poverty threshold (Monzini 2005). This ‘feminization of poverty’ (Baden 1999) is not the inadvertent outcome of poor life choices, but is instead better understood in the context of (p.199) patriarchal gender orders. Here, women occupy a subaltern position in most communities and societies throughout the world, but they do so in relation to men, where power and resources are overwhelmingly concentrated at both individual and government levels. Sassen (2002) posits that governments are among the dependents of women’s exploitation, where their remittances are vital sources of income for families in countries with weak welfare systems. The role of government can also be seen with respect to the countries of the former Soviet Union–so-called economies in transition–where the re-distribution of resources through privatisation of one-time state assets has mainly, and adversely, affected women, as Shelley (2000) notes of Russia:

In that period of transition, the resources of the state were privatized primarily to men. After the initial privatization, which was handled so improperly that it brought almost no resources to the state, no revenues were being paid and nothing was being done to provide social services to women, education for children, summer schools, and so forth. So a simultaneous impoverishment of women occurred, not only in their salaries and their access to property but also to social services.

(Shelley 2000: 6)

Indeed, it was during this period of transition that a rise in the numbers of women selling sex in the region was noted, which was higher ‘than at any time in living memory’ (Kelly 2007: 84). Significant numbers of women were forced to migrate, often on a temporary basis ‘to solve problems arising from the shortage of jobs and the crisis of the public assistance system’ (Monzini 2005: 61); this despite the fact that Russian women are among the most highly educated in the world (ibid.). In the United Kingdom, it has similarly been found that a number of women trafficked from Ukraine and parts of Eastern Europe had university level education or were in the process of obtaining university degrees. For these women, the scarcity of jobs and the means to make a sustainable living in their home towns and cities left them with few options. Travel to work in London, Sheffield or Glasgow was intended as a temporary measure to help support families or to fund their further education, but reliance on intermediaries led them into the hands of traffickers (Turner 2014).

Arguably, however, it was not only the scarcity of jobs that impacted the position of women, but also their declining status in social and political life (Kelly 2007). During the Soviet era, Russia was characterised at least by greater formal gender equality. Yet, as Connell (2009) notes, by ‘the end of the 1980s, the system that held these ideals collapsed with stunning speed’ (ibid.: 24). Here, Connell (p.200) (2009) draws on the work of Novikova (2000) in Latvia, who argues that the re-emergence of local patriarchies there can be attributed to a ‘common belief’ that the ‘official Soviet model of gender equality’ emasculated men (Novikova 2000: 119 (cited in Connell 2009: 24)). Connell (2009) extends this analysis to include ‘most post-Soviet regimes’, which, she argues, have come to be characterised by a ‘militant patriarchy’. ‘They are openly dominated by men, they marginalize women, and they weave together their nation-building with a hard, aggressive masculinity’ (ibid.: 24). These are among the conditions that account for the significant increase in women’s emigration and their exposure to the risks of trafficking, where they are ‘cheated, duped and exploited beyond anything that one can imagine’ (Monzini 2005: 63).

Government policies and actions, then, are often pursued without regard to their impact on women and therefore play a significant role in driving women into ‘survival circuits’ (Sassen 2002). These failings, however, are not solely the responsibility of individual governments. They can also be attributed to international policy, such as the structural adjustment policies mandated, for example, by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. There, loans are made on conditions that require governments–especially those of developing countries–to open their markets to further financial and trade flows, and to undertake austerity measures that disproportionately impact the poor (Kara 2009), and that directly or indirectly discriminate against women.

Yet, in imposing measures that disproportionately deprive women of resources and of access to resources, law and policymakers are effectively adding to the cumulative surplus concentrated in the hands of men, a surplus Connell (2009) calls the ‘patriarchal dividend: the advantage to men as a group of maintaining an unequal gender order’ (ibid.: 142; emphasis in original). This is taken to mean not only money income, but includes other benefits such as ‘authority’, ‘respect’, ‘access to institutional power’ and ‘control over one’s life’ (ibid.). Control, in particular, is a significant loss in the lives of trafficked women. Once in countries of destination, traffickers frequently remove and retain passports and other identity cards. This impacts not only third-country nationals, but also on women from within the EU who, undocumented, are left without proof of citizenship, immigration status and, specifically, without the means to exit the country, even where they escape their traffickers (Turner 2014). Such control entraps women in ‘conditions of confinement’ (O’Connell Davidson 1998) and severely restricts their mobility, nationally and transnationally.

(p.201) Transnational mobility

In an era of globalisation, transnational mobility and access to the means of mobility are likewise important benefits of the patriarchal dividend. Here, too, mobility and transnational mobility, in particular, is gendered, as acknowledged in a report of the European Commission’s (2004) Expert Group on Human Trafficking. This posited that ‘women’s inability to access regulated migration and their propensity to work in unregulated unskilled sectors leaves them more vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation’ (ibid.: 147). So framed, the report continues the tradition of a very one-sided debate. It is not women’s lack of proficiency, or their disposition, that has contributed to what has become known as the ‘feminisation of (ir)regular migration’–perhaps the most significant phenomenon of recent decades (Castles and Miller 1998; Sassen 2002). In remaining steadfastly focused on women’s vulnerability to trafficking, the international community and, indeed, much of the scholarship, thereby neglects to take sufficient, or any, account of the ways in which unequal gender orders promote patterns of international mobility that systematically privilege men. And while some women do benefit from participation in the patriarchal dividend, generally through marriage to wealthy men (Connell 2009), men nevertheless tend to be the politicians on the world stage, the media barons and the top executives in multinational corporations, corporations noted to have ‘a strongly masculinized management culture’ (ibid.: 129). These highly mobile transnationals rely on patriarchal linkages and reciprocal connectedness to smooth their entry into the world of the global citizen. Such masculinised ties facilitate male migration and modes of trade and commerce well beyond the lofty heights of the corporate world. They are also embedded in the myriad of networks and crime groups engaged in the cross-border trafficking of women and for whom transnational mobility is essential to the execution of their operations. Here, transnationalism and globalisation intersect in complex systems of reciprocity, in which globalisation extends beyond the expansion of capitalism. More particularly, it is also said to refer to ‘the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa’ (Giddons 1990: 64) Yet ‘social relations’ are no more gender neutral than the transnational flows that span continents. In the context of the sex trafficking of women, these linkages and flows might be more appropriately characterised as the intensification of worldwide patriarchal relations that connect distant and local patriarchal gender orders in ways that shape the contours of local and global sex markets. In a global (p.202) world, in which human mobility is highly sought after and in which migration, for some, may be a matter of survival, the concentration of mobility resources in the hands of men can transform women’s planned labour migrations into ‘journeys of jeopardy’ (Kelly 2002).

Sex trafficking from the European Union to the United Kingdom

Trafficking and migration, then, often share the same root causes or push and pull factors. Hence, cross-border trafficking intersects with other forms of transnational mobility, while transnational mobility itself–including its absence–affects the mechanisms of the trade. As citizens or migrants, having settled immigration status, restricted or unfettered mobility is likely to determine, in varying degrees, recruitment, transit and exploitation strategies up to, and beyond, state borders. These, in turn, impact on how the business of trafficking is organised and on the modus operandi of traffickers.

Very little is known about traffickers and their operations. One of the difficulties undoubtedly lies in the fact that research on trafficking can be methodologically challenging, involving, as it does, so-called ‘hidden populations’, the parameters of which cannot be known (Di Nicola 2007). While other areas of research provide their own methodological challenges, with respect to trafficking this has meant that much of the research has tended to focus on victims, rather than perpetrators. Victims, particularly those in support and assistance programmes, are deemed, relatively speaking, at least potentially more accessible, leaving a dearth of knowledge on traffickers. More recently, a number of scholars have sought to address this gap (see, for example, Aronowitz 2003, 2009; Shelley 2003, 2010; Levenkron 2007; Englund et al. 2008; Turner 2014). For Shelley (2003, 2010), in particular, the growth of trafficking and the rise in transnational organised crime has gone hand in hand with the spread of globalisation, and yet, as she notes, the modus operandi of trafficking groups remain rooted in the traditional patterns of trade associated with their regions of origin. Bales (2000, 2005) similarly observes that one of the enduring features of human trafficking is the extent to which it remains embedded in different cultural and historical contexts. These are important observations. Yet notions of ‘culture’ and ‘history’ have to be problematised in the context of the sex trafficking of women as too frequently they are discussed without reference to patriarchal gender orders within which both are similarly embedded.

Nevertheless, ‘the gap in knowledge, globally, of traffickers and their methods of operation contributes to the widespread failure to (p.203) identify traffickers and those who assist them’ (UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking 2008: 2) with significant consequences. While prosecution is a cornerstone of international and national efforts to combat trafficking, trafficking prosecutions worldwide remain low in number. In the first global assessment of the scope of human trafficking and steps taken to combat it (UNODC 2009), data gathered from 155 countries show that while there is an increase in trafficking convictions, in two out of every five countries covered by the report no convictions at all are recorded. Moreover, during the period in question, from 2003 to 2007, the report further notes decreasing trends in Western and Central European countries in the number of criminal proceedings for human trafficking (ibid.: p. 37). With respect to sex trafficking, however, prosecution rates in England and Wales run counter to this trend. Here, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) data on prosecuting cases of human trafficking offending for sexual exploitation show a year on year increase. Additionally, there is evidence that women and girls trafficked into domestic servitude are also likely to have been sexually exploited and perpetrators prosecuted for servitude offences (Bowen 2014).

Even so, there are few estimates of the scale of trafficking into the United Kingdom. At the turn of the century, one study indicated that between 142 and 1,420 women were trafficked annually for the purposes of sexual exploitation (Kelly and Regan 2000). This estimate was updated in a report for the Association of Chief Police Officers Project Acumen, which calculated that of the 17,000 migrant women involved in the UK’s off-street prostitution sector, 2,600 are victims of trafficking, with a further 9,200 considered to be vulnerable, that is, possibly, but not conclusively, victims of trafficking (Jackson et al. 2010). These figures suggest a rise in the numbers of women trafficked into the United Kingdom. While many are trafficked from far away continents, many are also trafficked from within the EU. As with other migratory flows, women tend to be trafficked from poorer to wealthier countries (Lee 2011).

Yet the expansion of the EU in recent years has also paved the way for more nuanced migratory movements. Once characterised as ‘Fortress Europe’, involving the ‘cultivation of a hegemonic European character built on principles of exclusion’ (Green and Grewcock 2002: 99), the approach of governments past and present has been primarily to consider trafficking as a mode of illegal migration and as a function of transnational organised crime. This is epitomised in the United Kingdom by the popular media perspective that we are being ‘swamped not just by aliens but overtaken by the mafia’ (Anderson and O’Connell Davidson 2002: 6). This location of trafficking in a crime control and prevention bracket has enabled governments (p.204) to adopt restrictive immigration practices under the rubric of state security and national sovereignty (Aradau 2004). While this creates a market for assisted border crossing and, arguably, strengthens conditions conducive to human trafficking and smuggling (ILO 2002; Friman and Reich 2007; Lee 2011), the conflation of counter-trafficking measures with immigration control is also a strategy riven with conflicts. It tasks those border and law enforcement personnel responsible for apprehending illegal border crossers with also ‘catching’ victims of trafficking (O’Connell Davidson 2006). Within the region, however, EU enlargement has brought about the transformation of borders in a manner which challenges the characterisation of ‘Fortress Europe’ as comprising simply inclusion and exclusion zones (Andrijasevic 2010). This was perhaps in any event always more accurately termed ‘Fortress Western Europe’, but the expansion of the EU over the last decade has blurred the distinction between those who are ‘inside’ and those who remain ‘outside’ (Mezzadra and Neilson 2008). Increasingly, cross-border travel and rights of residence are mediated by degrees of EU membership, such that ‘we are witnessing the differentiation and stratification of legal statuses and citizenship’ (Andrijasevic 2010: 9). This clearly has implications for the mobility of individuals across the region, including traffickers and their victims. From the perspective of the UK Government, however, ‘smarter multi-agency action at the border’, a key component of its anti-trafficking strategy (Home Office 2011), seems unlikely to curb the activities of traffickers with the appropriate level of EU citizenship, who are trafficking fellow nationals or other EU women.

Indeed, full EU citizenship, or its absence, informs the modus operandi of traffickers in the United Kingdom (Turner 2014). Europeans who have unrestricted freedom to exit and re-enter the country, who can travel to and fro across borders, tend to control their trafficking operations end to end. They regularly return to countries of origin to recruit women and bring them back to the United Kingdom for exploitation in prostitution markets here. These activities are all conducted with apparent ease, as one Czech trafficker noted: ‘It’s easy to get girls to work as prostitutes. They’re homeless Czech girls with no jobs, so you promise them work and then take all their papers when they get here’ (ibid.: 139).

By contrast, those whose personal mobility was restricted organised their trafficking operations differently. Albanian traffickers are a case in point. While, in a number of cases, Albanian men were found to operate within apparently closed and fully diasporic groups, this was more a function of their transnational status. On the one hand, they had high levels of local anchorage within an Albanian (criminal) diaspora, which facilitated the movement of women within (p.205) the United Kingdom. On the other hand, their illegal or irregular immigration status restricted their cross-border mobility. This did not, however, inhibit their trafficking activities as the supply of women was ensured through the development of cooperative ties with Lithuanian crime groups (Turner 2014). Yet while recruitment activities were undertaken by both Lithuanian men and women, it was overwhelmingly men who were involved in the transportation of women to the United Kingdom (see also Andrijasevic 2010, where assisted travel and border-crossings were likewise facilitated mainly by men). Hence, these cross-border connectivities were instrumental in overcoming limited personal mobility and were reflected in the modus operandi of these groups (Turner 2014). This suggests that the networks that link transnationals, even those with limited transnational mobility, in fact comprise patriarchal ties. They are variations on the ‘old boy networks’ that have long facilitated male social and professional mobility nationally and, increasingly, internationally. Such networks constitute another aspect of the ‘patriarchal dividend’ (Connell 2009) to which women’s access is mediated and policed through local patriarchal gender orders.


There is no doubt that the uneven impacts of globalisation and poverty in countries of origin, and male demand in destination countries for sexual access to the bodies of female strangers are all essential components of the ‘fertile field’ (Kelly 2005). Yet for women, all are also part and parcel of other destructive asymmetries, namely, patriarchal gender orders, which pre-date the processes of globalisation as much as they are exacerbated and reproduced by them. Here, international and national policies disproportionately deprive women of resources, while the ‘still massive incidence’ of exploitation and violence against women remains ‘an easily recognized marker of power and vulnerability’ (Connell 2009: 143). These harmful asymmetries comprise the disadvantage to women as a group of the maintenance by men of an unequal gender order.

In a globalised world, transnational mobility is often the key to survival. Yet unequal gender orders continue to promote patterns of international mobility that systematically privilege men. The networks and ties that have long facilitated male migration are still denied to many women, who are consequently exposed to the predatory activities of traffickers who recruit and distribute them to racialised prostitution markets the world over, where they are ruthlessly exploited. The international regime has been largely ineffective (p.206) in combating sex trafficking because it has been ‘long on rhetoric but short on decisive action’ (Turner 2012: 33) in addressing the other side of the gender equation. The persistent focus on the vulnerability of women consistently deflects attention from the concentration of power and resources in the hands of men. It has muted challenges to patriarchal gender orders and to increasingly militant patriarchal regimes, and it has undermined efforts to promote the globalisation of substantive gender equality with a commitment and urgency commensurate with the depth and scale of gender inequality. These failures have promoted the commodification of women beyond borders, and accelerated the growth and spread of the global sex industry into which they are trafficked and in which they are exploited.


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