Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Addressing Sexual Exploitation: Justice

In a world where getting to see a baseball game is a unquestionable human right - which of these images represents justice?

This image so simply clarified the concept of justice for me when I first saw it. Justice is straightforward - it is giving everyone the same access to their human rights. Of course, the definition of human rights can be a bit more complicated. That is why people disagree on what justice is.
Of course, justice goes much further than simply the redistribution of resources. There are quite a few obstacles that appear in the pursuit of justice. In the case of most of the stories I have heard this year, it is more like the tallest observer on the left stole the box from the smallest one, which wasn't enough to begin with. In the process, the tall observer would injure or intimidate the small one. What's worse, the observer in the middle and the security in the park responsible for helping in these types of situations do nothing to intervene.
So what is justice in this case? In order to answer this question I will discuss the three most apparent barriers to justice that I have encountered throughout this project:


So in the scenario I described, poverty is the initial problem that the smallest observer doesn't have enough boxes to see from the beginning. Giving this observer another box seems like an obvious solution. However, in the real world, it doesn't work this way. Often, you need to have some amount of resources to begin with in order to rise above poverty. It is as if the 'giver of boxes' is inside the park, so the small observer has no way of getting his attention or requesting in his current situation. A real example of this would be a poor woman in a northern tribal Thai village. She cannot get the government distributed aid because she doesn't have an official citizenship card. Getting this citizenship card requires completing paperwork she cannot read and paying for its delivery with money she does not have.
So what does justice look like with this obstacle in mind? Governments and NGO's need to do the work of seeking out impoverished individuals and removing their barriers to even requesting assistance. In the case I mentioned, this could look like providing free and mandated assistance with obtaining official documents to all citizens. It will take lots of investigative work and some creative solutions in every context, but I believe this barrier can (and should) be overcome.


Unfortunately, even if those in poverty have access to resources, they often cannot hold onto these for long. Like in the hypothetical scenario I described, those more powerful often use violence to take these resources for themselves. As I described in a previous post, many countries have a history of colonialism, where the rich foreigners were protected, but not the nationals. This system remains, benefitting those who can afford private security. This means that there is no fear of punishment for those who inflict pain on others in order to improve their own situations. Often there is no one to see who can intervene. This happens every day. Poor people work hard to improve their situtations, only to have it stolen from them by greedy neighbors.

In this case, justice means protecting the poor through public law enforcement and criminal justice systems - because they cannot afford the private protection of the rich. It sounds simple, but the follow through is complicated - involving capacity building and hours of collaborative casework. However, none of this will go far if the third barrier is not dealt with.


Even if there is someone who can intervene in a situation of violence, many countries have a huge problem of corruption, reducing the incentive to act for those in power. So in the case of my scenario, the security guard who should have helped the smallest observer was paid off by the tall observer to ensure silence. In the real world, this could mean a police officer is paid off by a trafficker for his silence. It could even mean a judge being bribed to make a particular decision on a case.

Until the problem of corruption is properly addressed, I don't think justice is truly possible. This is because those holding the responsibility to ensure justice for all are sometimes the most corrupt. To be honest, I don't know of a proven solution to this problem. I hope someone smarter than me is working on that, but my gut tells me that the more educated the average citizen is about their rights, the less this corruption will flourish.

Now back to the issue of sexual exploitation. Agencies that are forming policies and conducting research on best practice in this work should clearly understand these three barriers to justice that I have described. By understanding these obstacles and structuring activities around the goal of justice, they will operate in a framework that will properly steer the organizations and teams involved.


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