I’m quoting from and linking to a 2008 article from Vice magazine. As the name would suggest, it’s salacious, sleazy and sarcastic, and elsewhere it reports approvingly on the sex industry (click through to any link at your own risk), but I believe that this article is worth reading, with qualifications.
Incoming traffickees are processed in Vancouver and spat out across the continent’s vast labyrinth of massage parlors, hostess clubs, and underground micro-brothels. Within the industry, there are two broad categories of victims: older, street-smart semi-professionals who know what they’re getting into and younger girls who have no clue that they’re about to have their lives and their futures turned to shit by monsters.
So, what exactly is the difference between the “older, street-smart semi-professionals who know what they’re getting into”, and the “younger girls who have no clue”? My guess is the only difference is time; young abuse victims age into ‘semi-professionals’, in other words, they have been abused for a length of time, so they can no longer be thought of as ‘innocent victims’. After being trafficked into the sex industry, held in it for several years through threats of violence, and finally worked off the illegal ‘debt’, what other options do such women have available to them? They are now ‘semi-professionals’ who have ‘chosen’ to do it!
I recently got to know some of the women suffering under the yoke of sex slavery and they’ve told me their stories. One of the first women I met, who goes by the name of Yo-Yo, shares a dingy ground-floor apartment with her sister where they sleep on couches in the living room and turn tricks in the bedroom. Hailing from a quaint village in rural China, Yo-Yo enjoys spending her extra dough on Hello Kitty paraphernalia. She told me that when she isn’t providing what she refers to as “girlfriend experiences,” she sits around and watches pirated DVDs because she’s not allowed to leave the apartment without her pimp’s permission.
The pimps depersonalize them by assigning them cartoonish names like Cherry, Apple, Bobo, or Gigi. The typical workweek tends to last around 84 hours. Many girls end up working for gangs that run numerous brothels within walking distance of each other. When a trick calls up for his weekly taste of strange, the mama-san will answer the phone, check a master schedule to see which girls are free, and then direct him to the corresponding brothel. When he rings up to begin his 45-minute session, it will be the first time he speaks to the girl. From that point on, she is responsible for delivering $120 to the management, no matter how creepy, abusive, or filthy her client happens to be.
When I met Candy, a 20-year-old girl from Taiwan, she had just come up to Vancouver from San Francisco the month before and was holed up in a brand-new condo downtown. She seemed elated to meet a Canadian who wasn’t planning on getting off, and gleefully agreed to meet me for a coffee at the Starbucks around the corner the next day. When we met, she was wearing a pink velour jumpsuit and looked like she hadn’t slept or showered.
Although she had to make an abrupt exit after receiving a call from her pimp, Candy seemed relatively free to do as she pleased during downtime. Her disorientation and mental fatigue were painful to witness, as were the bruises on her wrists. She was proud of her Gucci watch and showed it off with a smile, and even though she wasn’t able to attend school like she was promised, she still studied English vocabulary in her spare time. We went for coffee once more the next week and chatted a bit about her favorite movie stars, but the next time I called, her phone was dead. I never heard from her again.
Now here is where the article is useful, as it demonstrates that a woman doesn’t have to be chained to the floor in a basement in order to be enslaved. Trafficked women may be able to move around to a certain degree, they may even own luxury designer goods, but they are still, very obviously, enslaved.
One day, after chatting with Yo-Yo for a while, I got up to leave. She panicked, begging me to phone her boss and explain why I didn’t go for full service (45 minutes of “anything goes” sex for $120). After calling up the management and voicing her plea, Yo-Yo passed me the phone:
“What wrong you no get full service?” a woman rattled out at me.
Not wanting to explain to her that I’m actually a journalist investigating her fucked-up slavery empire, I tried to sweet-talk her a little.
“Yeah… didn’t have time today, so I just went for a bit of a back massage. She’s a great girl though, I’ll definitely be back.”
“You call me next time before, OK?” she barked and then hung up.