Human Trafficking and the Sex Trade in Turkey

Economically, human trafficking is a big business. Working underground (and not so underground), the perpetrators of this terrible trade have generated anywhere between $32 billion to $150 billion a year, according to the article “Born Free” by Sarah E. Mendelson. In her travels, Mendelson curiously noted an aversion to prioritizing the human trafficking problem from many developmental and aid agencies, writing that “to date, the donor community has not made combating trafficking a priority along the lines of eradicating extreme poverty, decreasing HIV infection rates, or improving maternal health.” In the original UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) from the early 2000s, trafficking was not included. However, as of 2014, the language on trafficking is no longer “controversial, and U.S. President Barack Obama has labeled it “one of the great human rights causes of our time.” While an Outcome Document was formatted including explicit reference to human trafficking and putting an end to it; so far, ending slavery has not become a stand-alone post-MDG goal. With a post-2015 vision insight, however, the second-largest form of organized crime —— the buying and selling of humans– may surely be deemed “a goal worth aiming for” (Mendelson).

In the last decade, the country of Turkey has made remarkable progress, becoming a helping haven for the migrants driven out of an ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East. However, it is this influx of migration that may be leading to an increase human trafficking within its borders. With millions of immigrants streaming in, Dr. Stephanie Nawyn of Michigan State University argued that human trafficking is rising in Turkey as these displaced persons are enticed into the trade “with the promise of a new and better life.”

According to an article in the L.A. Times from 2006, the nation of Turkey was accused of being “one of the largest markets in the trafficking of women from nearby former Soviet states who have been forced into prostitution.” The illicit sex trade in Turkey made an estimated $3.6 billion, and the number was growing. Accordingly, the prostitution networks make about $150 per customer, with each woman serving up to 15 clients a day.

“The minute they set foot in Turkey, their passports are taken away and they are raped and beaten,” said Allan Freedman, who coordinates counter-trafficking programs for the Ankara bureau of the International Organization for Migration.

More recently, though, it is important to note that Turkey has made strict anti-trafficking laws to reign in the illegal abduction and sale of women throughout their nation. Article 80 of the Penal Code prohibits trafficking for both sexual exploitation and forced labor, and prescribes penalties of 10 to 15 years imprisonment, according to Wikipedia. In addition to the Article 80 convictions, “the government, in 2007, prosecuted 160 suspects and convicted 121 trafficking offenders, a dramatic increase from the 36 convicted in 2006.” However, there have been concerns within the legal system of misuse of authority and accepting bribes that have facilitated trafficking, including a Court of Appeals Judge who was relieved of his duties by the Government of Turkey after aiding traffickers — a prosecution that is still ongoing.

While the world has started to push back on the horrendous big business of selling and dealing in bodies, our efforts to eradicate the industry still have a long way to go.

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