The Face of Trafficking

Image of Pardip Singh from Indianapolis Police; semi-truck courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Image of Pardip Singh from Indianapolis Police; semi-truck courtesy Wikimedia Commons

I am often asked if, by calling “sex trafficking” a myth, I’m saying that there is no such thing as coercion in sex work.  The answer, of course, is “not at all”; what I’m saying is 1) that coercion is much rarer than “trafficking” fetishists pretend it is; 2) that the term “trafficking” is used to describe many different things along a broad spectrum running from absolutely coercive to absolutely not coercive, yet all of them are shoehorned into a lurid, melodramatic and highly-stereotyped narrative; and 3) that even situations of genuine coercion rarely bear much resemblance to the familiar masturbatory fantasy of an “innocent” middle-class girl in her early teens abducted by “pimps” from a shopping mall, bus stop or internet chat room.  “Let Me Help” discusses the first two factors, but I recently discovered a fine example of the third:  a situation of genuine coercion which nonetheless runs counter to many “sex trafficking” claims.

…Pardip Singh [of Indianapolis, Indiana]…was convicted…of promotion of human trafficking, criminal confinement, intimidation, battery and domestic battery.  On May 11, 2012, Singh called several men and told them that for $500 they could come to his…apartment and have sex with a “teacher’s daughter from India”…The first potential client to show up learned that the victim was Singh’s wife and witnessed Singh hit her…that man “told Singh he should not treat his wife that way and then left”…Just after midnight on May 12, 2012…police…responded to a domestic disturbance at the couple’s apartment…the victim, “visibly shaken and crying,” told the officer she needed help…

Right from the start, the true story belies the familiar “trafficking” porn.  Singh is clearly no slick, mastermind pimp with insidious hypnotic powers, but a crude bully.  He didn’t have a dozen slave-captives confined in dog kennels or controlled via “Stockholm syndrome” or magical mind-control philter, but one wife that he attempted to control through garden-variety brutality.  He didn’t advertise her on Backpage or any other site used by sex workers, but by contacting people personally.  Though the rescue industry’s professional victims entrance their salivating audiences with tales of daily parades of dozens of callous, uncaring men oblivious to their plight, the very first man who answered Singh’s advert was disgusted by what he found and refused to participate.  And while those same prohibitionist shills claim to have been successfully held captive for years, Singh’s wife escaped the very next day after he started trying to “sex traffick” her.

…Court documents describe a devastating chain of events that began March 13, 2006, when the victim became Singh’s wife in an arranged marriage in their native India…Singh was living in the United States but traveled to India for the marriage…After the wedding, he returned to the United States while his new wife stayed in India to attend college.  In 2012, after obtaining a nursing degree, the victim moved to the United States to live with Singh in New Jersey…Within a few weeks, Singh began physically abusing [her]…Singh was angry that the woman’s family did not send the couple more money [so he] took her to Atlantic City to try to get her a job in a strip club…which he believed would generate a more immediate windfall.  Singh would not allow the woman to speak with her parents except when he was within earshot…and regularly hit and abused her.  During one week when Singh worked as a semi truck driver…he forced [her] to remain in the back of the truck cab during a long interstate trip.  At stops, he would get into the back…and force her to have sex with him…The events in Indianapolis occurred about a week later…

The conventional narrative tells us that huge cartels of slick international gangsters abduct teen girls by the tens of thousands and reap vast profits without detection, but what do we see here instead?  A greedy, pathetic wife-beater who tricked a grown woman (and university graduate) via a venerable social institution.  This sort of “pimp” is much closer to the norm than the racist stereotype in clownish attire, yet I don’t see anyone screaming for the criminalization of marriage.  Prohibitionists are fond of saying that sex workers “believe pimps are their boyfriends” because they can’t face the uncomfortable truth that neither emotional attachment nor a license from the state is a guarantee against emotional or economic exploitation in a relationship, and that the main difference between a “pimp” and a “sex trafficking” fetishist’s own abusive spouse is the label.

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