Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery

Wednesday, May 6, 2009
5:00 PM - 6:30 PM
CISAC Conference Room
  • Siddharth Kara
Kara Sex
Please join us for a lecture and book signing with Siddharth Kara, author of Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. In 1995, Mr. Kara first encountered sexual slavery in a Bosnian refugee camp. He has since dedicated his life to traveling and learning the mechanisms behind the business of sex trafficking. Mr. Kara has taken a rare look at analyzing the local drivers and global macroeconomic trends that give rise to this burgeoning industry, in addition to quantifying the size, growth, and profitability of sex trafficking and other forms of modern slavery.


Employing his comprehensive research throughout his talk, Siddarth Kara begins by explaining that sex trafficking is the most profitable form of slavery. Therefore, to Mr. Kara, it is crucial to take a business approach to the issue. Using powerful stories as key examples to ensure focus also remains on the human cost of sex slavery, Mr. Kara divides the operation of sex slavery into three steps. The first is acquisition which most commonly occurs by deceit, seduction, or sometimes even sale by family. The second step is movement which involves all forms of transportation, the use of false documentation, and bribery. The third step is exploitation of the victims which takes place in many forms such as rape, torture, and violent coercion. The sale of women and girls often takes place in brothels, hotels, and streets. Mr. Kara reveals that their fate often involves HIV infection, drug addictions, exclusion from families, and most terrifyingly, retrafficking.

Mr. Kara goes on to argue that current abolition attempts are deficient in four key areas. These include a poor understanding of the trade, lack of funding for and lack of coordination between international organizations, inappropriate laws and insufficient enforce of them, and an improper business analysis of the situation.

However, Mr. Kara stresses repeatedly that this “war on slavery” as he puts it is a war we can win. He boils the industry down to slave trading which is the supply aspect and slavery itself which is the demand aspect. Mr. Kara argues that, like all industries, the slave trade is governed by these two forces as well. Therefore, Mr. Kara’s main argument is that sex slavery must be destroyed by reducing the aggregate demand for sex slaves by attacking the industry’s profitability. In terms of profit making, his research shows it is the demand side which must be focused on the most. Mr. Kara argues the demand for sex slaves is very vulnerable. He personally saw this in a particular brothel when prices rose. In addition, he emphasizes that the fact that business must be conducted between consumer and trader in relative daylight means these criminals can be caught.

Consequently, Mr. Kara proposes a multi-faceted approach of seven tactical interventions to hurt profitability and crucially increase risk for traders. Firstly, Mr. Kara believes in the need to create an international inspection force which works closely with paid locals of the community who are trained to spot such activities in everyday life. Mr. Kara stresses the importance of targeted, proactive raids on centers of such criminal activity. In addition, to avoid bribery and other forms of undermining law enforcement, he feels it is vital to improve the pay of trafficking authorities including judges and prosecutors. This is linked to Mr. Kara’s idea of specialized, fast-track courts for trafficking to quickly close cases. Cases often fall apart because victims or their families are intimidated, Mr. Kara therefore argues for at least 12 months of paid witness protection for victims and their families to avoid intimidation or outright murder. Finally, Mr. Kara stresses the need to increase financial penalties for those found guilty of trafficking to increase the risk in the business.

What Mr. Kara really emphasizes is that more resources are needed in tackling this criminal activity by attacking profitability, increasing risk, and reducing aggregate demand. Mr. Kara concludes by stating that sex trafficking is a “stain on humankind that must be buried.”

In engaging with the audience, Mr. Kara discusses several key issues of his presentation. One central area that is emphasized is his methods in gathering research and formulating statistics. Mr. Kara also explains where the money would come from to fund the global abolitionist movement he presents. In addition, Mr. Kara reveals what ordinary citizens can do in their everyday lives to help the cause.

About the speaker

Siddharth Kara is a former investment banker and business executive with an MBA from Columbia University. He set aside his corporate career to pursue anti-slavery research, advocacy, and writing, and, more recently, a law degree. He currently serves on the board of directors of Free the Slaves, an organization dedicated to abolishing slavery worldwide. In 2005, he testified on contemporary slavery to the United States Congressional Human Rights Committee.

Jointly sponsored by the Forum on Contemporary Europe and the Public Management Program of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.