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A Journey From Home To Captivity: The Wedlock Of Sex Trafficking

A new University of Leicester study is to investigate the role of society and culture as a complicit to the process of sex trafficking.

The postgraduate research project in the University's Department of Criminology aims to gather information from 'the world's most silent and abused women - women who have been exploited by the people they trust.'

The study by Mega Arumugam, a doctoral student at the University, will be presented at a public Festival of Postgraduate Research at the University of Leicester on 13 June 2006.

“Using a combination of in-depth interviews, the study will investigate the prevalence of ‘bride trade’ and its link to forced marriage in the UK.”

According to researcher Mega Arumugam: “By-products such as forced marriage and bride-trade culminate out of certain practices embedded in family and kinship relations within some of Britain’s ethnic communities. These practices not only condone exploitation and sexualized violence against women, but can actually encourage sexual trafficking of young girls and women”.

Mega Arumugam added that the study aims to move beyond the focus on trafficking for the commercial sex trade to include other contexts in which women are exploited as items for exchange or are denied individual autonomy or authority. Her study will highlight the striking parallel between traditional violence stemming out of culturally-condoned exploitation of women and that of sex trafficking, the modern day slavery. This will inevitably broaden the concept of ‘sex trafficking’ to a more domestic level and inform for a more comprehensive legislative protection against sexualised violence

“Marriage can be an attractive tool for sex traffickers. The legality of marriage often offers a false sense of security that there is no victimisation, coercion or exploitation involved, hence providing a veil for the perpetrators, and could possibly lead to a means of trafficking women across the UK,” according to the study’s author.

“When the process of trafficking begin at a more domestic level - with perpetrators ranging from spouses and partners to parents and other family members, the familial relationship between trafficking agents and victims often leads to barriers in disclosure. This provides the perpetrators with a coercive tool to use and abuse these women at every step of the trafficking game”.

Mega cites two examples to illustrate a more general and widespread problem:

*The case of two sisters, one 15 and the other younger, who were taken to Yemen ostensibly on holiday-but who were literally sold into marriage

*The case of a Bangladeshi wife who was regularly sold to her husband's friends in exchange for money and who was later sold to a brothel. According to her, marriage was no different to prostitution.

"We already know that a rapidly growing worldwide industry has developed in trafficking women and girls for commercial sexual exploitation such as prostitution, but contemporary trafficking operations can also transform traditional bride wealth and marriage exchanges by treating women's sexuality and bodies as commodities to be bought and sold”

“Having said this, it is important to note that the essence of social practices and traditional customs such as ‘arranged marriages’ itself is not exploitative in its nature. My identity as a South Indian woman enables me to appreciate that these practices and customs do play a vital role in the preservation of culture and tradition. As such, I do not denounce the notion of traditional customs such arranged marriages, but rather wish to make those who abuse the system as the focal point of my research”.

“The study will help inform policy makers and communities at large of a criminal network that could link crime to the murky side of social and cultural practices and hence defy the myth that crimes such as sex-trafficking are predominantly organised 'Mafia business’”.

“It will also provide a whole new perception to gender specific violence at its most corrosive forms without undermining the foundations of a community’s sense of self-identity and its cultural tradition.”

Speaking of what inspired her research, Mega Arumugam said: “I have always had the opportunity of experiencing the many privileges that life has to offer and now it is my turn, through my research, to provide that hope of emancipation to the women out there who are being abused because of their gendered position within their society. The research will hopefully give ‘voice’ to many of these silent groups of women.”

Alex Jelley | alfa
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