Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Problem of Denial

Since I promised to be genuine, here's another real confession: I'm writing this post after accidentally double dosing on allergy medicine, which I definitely do not recommend. Please excuse any lack of clarity.

Before I finally catch up on my country overviews (Thailand and Cambodia coming soon!), I wanted to share with you an interesting encounter I had with a taxi driver in Nepal regarding women in prostitution. Listen below before reading on about my takeaways and how this relates to the problem of denial:


Our conversation reveals a huge problem that I have come across in nearly every country. There is a denial that is widespread as to how big the problem of sexual exploitation is. People are quick to make judgments about other countries, but when it is their own home, they deny it or make excuses. Many times this is a lack of knowledge, but often it is a combination of denial and biased preconceptions.

He also talks a lot about how the taxi drivers in Nepal are involved in the sexual exploitation of women. This was news for me and even some of those in the country working on this issue. However, I want to focus more on the overall attitude of denial that this conversation represents.

Let's review the 'facts' that he told me during our exchange:

  1. Half of the girls working in prostitution are college girls, simply looking to earn pocket money.
  2. The job is easy - that is why they choose to work in prostitution.
  3. 40% of the women in prostitution are happy, 60% have some sort of problem.
  4. The police are useless in these situations because of bribery and corruption
  5. 60% of customers are Indian, 40% are from other countries - none are Nepali.
  6. A large portion of taxi drivers participate in bringing the women to customers.

Let me be clear on one thing. I do not post this so for anyone to villify one individual for his point of view. I had gotten a ride from this man before. He was very helpful with his decent English, fair price, and concern that I arrived at a safe location as a solo female traveller. I do not post this to condemn him. He seemed to be a genuine, compassionate man. However, he is a part of a larger system that tends toward denial or misinformation rather than action.

Now, some of what he said has a hint of truth. He at least seemed knowledgeable about the presence of prostitution in his country. It's a step.

The part about taxi drivers participating is probably totally true - but it was the nonchalant nature in which he said this that bothered me. It seemed to me that he saw this as a part of life. Also, it probably didn't bother him because of his misconceptions about the circumstances surrounding prostitution in Nepal.

Also, the police do indeed take bribes in countries like Nepal. However, this does not mean that they are not an important part of the solution. Nor does this mean that we should shrug this off and make prostitution legal as a knee-jerk reaction.

The rest of what he said - completely and totally false.

He drives by streets like the one shown right without realizing what is actually happening on the top floors of the surrounding buildings. For him and hundreds of others, it is business as usual.

The following counter-facts to his misconceptions are based on the experience and accounts of direct service providers in all of the countries I have visited so far - including Nepal. If you would like a hard data for all of this, check out a great study on sex work in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh here.

The majority of women enter prostitution because of manipulation or poverty. I am sure there are college girls in Nepal who are working for the sake of pocket change, but the most common factor that leads women to move to a city to work as a prostitute is poverty - they have few other choices.

The job is not an easy one. This is the line girls and women are given as a manipulation tool before they enter prostitution. Girls and women are abused by traffickers or customers, outcast from society, and often dealing with STD's or HIV. It is true that the money can be good compared to other jobs these women could be doing, but it is by no means easy.

The women working in prostitution are not happy on the whole. Same reasons I gave above. Other reasons include - the women have to give up their children to live with grandparents away from the red light areas, they have to live in fear of being arrested in countries where it is illegal, and they are constantly told that they are at the bottom of society.

The highest percentage of customers in most countries are nationals, not foreigners. It can be very easy to blame the tourists for what is happening in your own country. Of course, sex tourism is real and a huge problem. However, this population does not make up the majority of the demand for sex in most countries.

Unfortunately, people all around the world hold the same beliefs about the women in prostitution within their own country. It can be easy to believe if you don't ask too many questions. Having this belief also allows you to deny the need for change and ignore the calls to action. I hope that one day soon the average taxi driver of countries like Nepal will recognize the problem and help lead this fight. It is not enough to ignore it or blame it on tourists.



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