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The Dark Side of the New World Order

The increased selling of young women into sex slavery is the latest global commodity.

January 13, 1998|Robert Scheer | Robert Scheer is a Times contributing editor. E-mail:

Anyone who travels widely knows that prostitution is a major component of the emerging global market. Wherever foreign businessmen and tourists gather, they are readily serviced by sad-eyed economic refugees, often mere children, who have been lured to the sparkling centers of commerce in a desperate attempt to escape the poverty of their homelands.

Child virgins are in particular demand in these markets because of a fear of AIDS. A recent example is the late Larry Hilblom, founder of the DHL courier service, who, it is alleged in court records, specialized in theft of such innocence. Genetic testing has left at least four children from three different Pacific Rim countries with claims on his fortune.

Some free-market purists may attempt to justify traffic in sex as merely another avenue for expanding economic opportunities. But the truth is that the vibrant multinational sex trade, involving millions of women and children, is largely based on slavery. As a devastating expose in last Sunday's New York Times confirms: "Selling naive and desperate young women into sexual bondage has become one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the robust global economy."

Well organized elements of the Mafia, that dark but persistent shadow of the multinational economy, have established trade routes as extensive and potentially more profitable than those for the drug trade. Unlike cocaine, girls and women can be resold and resold.

Evidence of this trade's extent pops up continuously in world press reports, from Thai nationals sold as sex slaves in New York, Houston and Toronto to the discovery last fall of 60 Bulgarian women enticed across the Czech Republic border and held in what police officials described as a sexual "concentration camp." This incident was covered in an extensive report on the worldwide sex trade by the Dallas Morning News documenting the complicity of government officials in facilitating the passage of sex slaves across borders.

The pattern is depressingly similar: Young women attempting to find legitimate jobs through immigration are deceived by gangsters who specialize in smuggling humans. Upon arriving as strangers in a strange land, their papers are seized, their movement confined, and even when they are forced to work the streets, they are too frightened to seek help--rapes and beatings by their captors are the norm.

The United Nations reports that 4 million people a year are traded against their will to work in one or another form of servitude. The current situation is shocking in the numbers involved, and the impunity with which international criminals organize this commerce and how easily the exploitation of women fits into the culture of nations that pride themselves on being eminently civilized.

Israel, for example, according to the New York Times report, is a major center of the prostitution slave trade and doesn't even have a law banning the sale of humans. At a meeting last year of ministers of the European Union, it was conceded that Western Europe illegally imports 500,000 prostitutes a year. Italy's justice minister said that 90,000 women are smuggled into his country each year from Albania alone.

What irony that the bulk of these newest slaves were made available to the world's fleshpots by the "freeing" of the old Soviet Union. In a historical turnabout, the world's sex slaves are increasingly Slavic and white, with sex now a leading export of faltering Eastern European economies. In Ukraine, the sale of women by international gangsters is becoming the new nation's most lucrative export. Ukraine is no longer a "captive nation," as it was defined during the Cold War, but millions of its young women are. It must bring them small comfort to know that if they ever escape from their brothel jails to return to Kiev, they would be free to vote.

What hypocrisy that many who cared so much about the human rights of those people when they were in the enemy camp now seem so indifferent to their current nightmare. Too often, the human rights agenda is caught in a time warp where freedom is defined as a matter of religious or political expression but irrelevant to the far more overwhelming problems connected with economic exploitation.

The global economy has spawned a new genre of victim: illegal immigrants without access to the normal protections of the country where they have landed. Their captors are often their only link with the outside world; the fear of retribution is real. Official authority is mostly indifferent to the immigrants' plight when it is not itself complicitous in their exploitation. This is the dark side of the New World Order, and its essential barbarism will continue until governments treat human rights and immigrant rights synonymously.

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