The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Women Who Traffic Women Into Sexual Slavery: What Do We Know about Them?

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 11:00 AM
Nautilus 5 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Nilanjana Ray, PhD, Assistant Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (India), Hyderabad, India
Purpose – This study explores the profiles of women who traffic women into sexual slavery. Literature on sex trafficking has a distinct gender bias. It refers to women only as victims and glosses over their role as perpetrators. If mentioned, women who traffic women are described as former victims of trafficking, whose only option of moving out of bondage is to act as recruiters of new victims for the traffickers who control them. However, are women perpetrators as blameless as they are made out to be? Are they always a small cog in the large wheel of organized crime that is under the control of male traffickers?  Understanding the role of women as traffickers is an under-researched area.

Method – This study analysed the narratives of trafficking of fifteen rescued victims of sex trafficking in Kolkata (India). In-depth unstructured interviews were conducted with them that included the details of their initial contact with their traffickers, and the mode of deception/coercion that led them to being trafficked. The informants for this study were recruited by purposive sampling in a shelter home and two brothel areas, followed by snowball sampling. The narratives were analyzed according to Grounded Theory methodology. 

Results – (a) The first profile is that of an independent female trafficker, who befriends a girl and sells her directly to a brothel keeper. The distance travelled is short - rural area to the nearest urban centre - and no male plays a role in the chain of events. (b) The second profile is that of the female recruiter who acts in partnership with a male pimp. During the recruitment process only the female is visible to the victim. The male partner appears as soon as the victim is ensnared. He takes care of the logistics of travel, which can be between two cities, and also is responsible for bargaining with the brothel keeper who buys the girl. The female trafficker accompanies the male pimp till the final stage and appears to have a 50-50 partnership with him. (c) The third profile is that of a female trafficker who acts as mere recruiter and disappears immediately after handing over the girl to a male trafficker. The male is then solely responsible for transporting the girl to a distant place, where he is connected to a particular brothel.  This reveals all the elements of a mafia dominated business, wherein the female trafficker is only a junior player or perhaps even a pawn who buys her own freedom by bringing in a substitute to be exploited.

Conclusions and Implications – (a) This study increases our knowledge about the female trafficker – the invisible woman in the business of trafficking.  (b) It points out that the independent female traffickers and the freelancing partners slip out of the law enforcement net if brothel raid is the only strategy used. The anti-trafficking establishment needs to come up with new ways to reach this fairly large segment of traffickers.