Friday, July 4, 2014

Chinese women Selling Sex Overseas for Greater Sexual Fulfillment

Over the past two decades the public has become increasingly concerned about the problem of human trafficking. Fueled by images of women and children forced into the global sex trade, policymakers and advocates have lobbied for laws and policies to combat the spread of sex trafficking. In Selling Sex Overseas: Chinese Women and the Realities of Prostitution and Global Sex Trafficking, Ko-Lin Chin and James Finckenauer, professors of criminal justice at Rutgers University, shed important light on the nature of transnational prostitution and the degree of human trafficking that exists in this clandestine industry.
In 2000, the United Nations adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. That same year the U.S. Congress passed the Victims of Human Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act (TVPA). The TVPA criminalized both sex and labor trafficking and provided significant resources for the identification and protection of victims. Similar laws have been passed in over one hundred different counties and in the U.S. all fifty states have adopted legislation criminalizing human trafficking. Despite passage of new laws and the devotion of attention and resources to combat sex trafficking, we know very little about the true nature or scope of the problem in the U.S. or worldwide. Estimates of the number sex trafficking victims vary widely and are often based on little solid data. Much of what we know about sex trafficking comes from official reports of human trafficking cases investigated by the police or stories from victims who were identified by victim service providers trained to work with human trafficking survivors. Those who seek assistance from the police or social services may be very different from those who do not. As a result, our understanding of how women and girls became involved in prostitution and the extent of exploitation involved in their experience may be biased. In the face of little empirical data about the nature, scope or magnitude of human trafficking, anti-trafficking policy has been largely guided by anecdote.
Missing from the anti-trafficking discourse is empirical data about the nature of sex trafficking. Important questions remain about the prevalence of human trafficking victims among those engaged in various commercial sex markets across different cultural contexts. Sex trafficking and prostitution are not one in the same. Under U.S. law, an adult is considered a victim of sex trafficking when they are forced, deceived or coerced into prostitution, while children induced into commercial sex are all considered to be victims. Researchers generally have not gained the type of access to commercial sex markets that is necessary to determine the frequency and characteristics of sex trafficking in commercial sex operations. Further, we lack important basic information about the organization and connection of commercial sex operations to other illicit industries such as smuggling.
Selling Sex Overseas begins to tackle these important questions. Primary among their aims is to better understand how global sex trafficking networks are organized (or not) and how prevalent sex trafficking is among a population of foreign women who are selling sex overseas. Their research is based on a unique set of ethnographic data collected in ten locations (eight in Asia and two in the U.S.) between December of 2006 and August 2008. Chin and Finckenauer conducted interviews with 149 women who were engaged in prostitution across the ten study sites. They conducted another roughly two hundred interviews with sex ring operators, government officials and non-government organization stakeholders across the ten sites to understand how women became involved in commercial sex. Additionally they conducted fieldwork visiting and observing red light districts and in some cases shadowing individuals involved in the commercial sex markets being studied.
The book chronicles the experiences of women engaged in selling sex overseas. In-depth interviews covered information from the women’s background and recruitment into commercial sex, their reasons for traveling abroad and the mechanisms of the travel, and their experiences selling sex overseas, including how their work is organized and the financial operations of the commercial sex market including their expenses and debts. Contrary to images of foreign women being forced or deceived into traveling abroad to engage in prostitution, the majority of Chinese women interviewed by Chin and Finckenauer claim they knew they would be traveling overseas to sell sex. Violence and deception were rare. Only one-third of the women they interviewed indicated any form of coercion was involved in their decision to travel overseas to sell sex or their experiences selling sex abroad. This finding stands in stark contrast to studies relying on interviews with victims identified by service providers or the police who report more abuses are more prevalent. Importantly, they found that the proportion of women who experienced violence, deception or coercion varied across study sites. For example, while a majority of the women interviewed in Indonesia experienced coercion, none of the interviewees working in the U.S. disclosed experiencing coercion. These findings suggest caution in attempting to generalize about trafficking across different regions with varied contexts that support and facilitate foreign sex work.

Chin and Finckenauer paint a complex picture of the varied roles and responsibilities faced by different actors in the transnational prostitution markets they studied. Bolstered by rich narratives from interview text and field observations, they provide readers a unique window into the lives of sex ring workers, operators and facilitators. Interviews with those responsible for organizing and managing the sale of sex suggest that women in the sites studied here face more vulnerability in some commercial sex markets due to local conditions that structure power arrangements among recruiters, facilitators and workers. And despite claims that human trafficking is a form of organized crime, those interviewed by Chin and Finckenauer argue that organized crime groups do not play an important role in the movement of Chinese women for commercial sex.  
Although Selling Sex Overseas challenges popular notions about the relationship between sex trafficking and prostitution among adult foreign women, some cautions are warranted. Since sex trafficking is quite purposefully a hidden enterprise, collecting data about trafficking operations and its victims is extremely challenging. Chin and Finckenauer chose to interview women actively involved in selling sex at the time of the interview, rather than relying on information from people who had left the sex trade or escaped experiences of exploitation. They chronicle numerous methodological challenges they faced recruiting women to participate in the study. Ultimately they relied on three methods, they: 1) found women on the street who were selling sex and asked them to participate in an interview, 2) located indoor commercial sex operations and requested consent from the operator or manager to speak with the women selling sex and then asked women to consent to an interview, and 3) located women through referrals of key informants, often managers or “mommies” in brothels. As the authors note in the concluding chapter, many readers will be skeptical that the interviewees, particularly those women working under the watchful eye of sex ring managers at the time of the interview, were being truthful. While Chin and Finckenauer took a number of precautions to ensure more truthful responses including conducting face-to-face interviews in a place that was comfortable to the interview subject and ensuring anonymity to interview subjects, there are challenges inherent to interviews with sensitive subjects that may undermine the validity of the information gathered from women selling sex. Primary among them is the fact that women who were interviewed about their experiences selling sex overseas may feel compelled to deny exploitation if those doing the exploiting know she will be talking to a researcher. The women who Chin and Finckenauer located for interviews may have been recommended by key informants because they were more independent. An unknown number of women who experience more exploitation and suffer more force or coercion in the decision to sell sex overseas were not identified by the authors. Only fifteen to eighteen women were interviewed in any one study site. As a result, it is hard to generalize more broadly about the experiences of women selling sex either within or beyond the ten sites studied. These challenges are inherent in all research that seeks to collect data in natural settings.     
Reading Selling Sex Overseas illuminates the complexities of transnational prostitution markets. Women have different motivations for and experiences selling sex abroad. Their experiences and their perceptions of these experiences may also change during the course of the time they sell sex, complicating the task of researchers to gauge exploitation. The women Chin and Finckenauer interviewed did not generally have the characteristics of sex trafficking victims. This finding stands in stark contrast to studies that rely on interviews with people who are working with service providers or the police who report experiencing much more exploitation and coercion. Although they leave open the possibility that women in other types of commercial sex markets may experience exploitation more in line with our understanding of sex trafficking, they conclude that anti-trafficking policy must be informed by more reliable information about the problem.
Selling Sex Overseas is an important and timely book. It should prompt scholars, policymakers and advocates to reexamine previously held assumptions about sex trafficking and prostitution. Chin and Finckenauer demonstrate that researchers can reach key actors in the sex industry and build the rapport necessary to learn about their experiences. They call on researchers to examine more deeply the market aspects and demand side of commercial sex industries in an effort to provide empirical evidence as opposed to anecdotal accounts or unsubstantiated reports upon which to develop policy.Selling Sex Overseas is an excellent read. It should provoke important conversations about both the nature of the transnational commercial sex industry and the problem of trafficking persons for sex.

Although the importance of a mutually fulfilling sex life has gained greater acknowledgement in China in recent years it is nonetheless a taboo topic. There have been few social surveys on this delicate subject, particularly as regards the degree of sexual satisfaction enjoyed by Chinese women. The 35-question survey on female attitudes to sex, formulated by the Chinese Sexology Society and the Chinese Medical Association, was, therefore, a major breakthrough. Sponsored by and carried out in major Chinese cities from August to September 2004, the survey attracted 400,000 hits and drew 31,482 responses.
The point of the investigation was to analyze Chinese women's sexual behavior and psychology. Intimate questions such as, "Is your sex life satisfying?"; "Have you ever had an extramarital affair?"; and "Do you feel inhibited about aspects of your sex life?" were both asked and answered. Chinese people are reticent when it comes to talking about sex. Only a few decades ago, the main point of sex and marriage was still to continue the family line, and as women did not expect to enjoy sex they did not talk about it. This attitude persists in rural areas, but the survey shows that young urban females are no longer content to maintain silence about their sexual desires. For them, sex and marriage are open topics. A full 90.6 percent of the women that participated in the investigation spoke freely on the topic of their sexual desires, 87 percent of them declared that they expect to enjoy sex. As more and more Chinese women demand equal rights, the quality of their sex life improves.
The importance of good sex for a successful marriage was acknowledged by 93.8 percent of the women that participated in this survey. Many stated that it takes precedence over marital wealth, and that they would not choose to stay in a loveless marriage purely for the sake of the children, as those of the preceding generation might have done.
The investigation also revealed that a surprising high rate --74.1 percent - of Chinese women enhance their sex lives by masturbation. Cao Zeyi, Deputy Director of the Chinese Medical Association, believes that statistics emanating from this net survey are more reliable than others, as being on-line, it dispensed with the need for face-to-face question and response, making participants more likely to answer frankly. He says, "People in China are unwilling to admit to auto-sexual gratification, but clinical statistics show that more than 50 percent of Chinese women practice it, a figure that coheres with investigation results."
Greater Sexual Fulfillment
According to last year's investigation, 87 percent of female respondents enjoy their sex life, 47.5 percent experience frequent orgasms, and 54.1 percent are confident about their sexual prowess. Overall, 82.5 percent of the women investigated regularly experience sexual climax, 49.2 percent of them through sex with their partners and 9.7 percent through masturbation, and 35.6 percent through a combination of both. Only 5.6 percent said they had never experienced orgasm. Sexual fulfillment is an important indication of a successful marriage, and the proportion of Chinese urban women that enjoy sex indicates an overall improvement in their lives in recent years. Four years ago, Professor Pan Suiming of Renmin University carried out a nationwide sample survey on the ratio of men and women that had experienced orgasm. According to its results 62.5 percent of men had, compared with 38.6 percent of the women asked. As Professor Pan stated, the absence or unlikelihood of sexual climax makes Chinese women disinclined to have sex, to the extent that some simply reject their husband's advances. When coerced into having sex, either by guilt or threat of divorce, they naturally feel abused, angry and revengeful. Professor Pan's survey encompassed both rural and urban areas, whereas last year's investigation was limited to big cities. It indicated that urban women are more open about sex than their rural sisters.
Is Sex a Married Privilege?
Most of the women that participated in last year's net investigation were of the ages 21 to 49, and 80 percent had received college education in big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing. Among them, 55 percent were married. Of the 45 percent that were single, 75.5 percent had sexual partners, an indication that economic empowerment has freed women from the constraints of traditional marriage concepts. These days chastity is far less important than sexual compatibility, which is now the main priority as regards choices of marriage partner.
As to the question of extramarital sex, 8.3 percent of married women said that they had frequent affairs, and 32.4 percent that they had had at least one such experience. This rate was much higher than that emanating from the 7 to 13 percent of previous investigations. However, 59.2 percent answered that they had never had an extramarital affair. This liberated sexual attitude is a breakthrough for traditionally inhibited Chinese women, but the rapid increase in unmarried cohabitation and extramarital sex poses a threat to familial solidarity and therefore social stability.
Are Chinese Women Frigid?
A recent report on the Internet stating that 60 percent of Chinese professional women are indifferent to sex provoked tremendous social concern. Yet it must be borne in mind that urban women who responded to Professor Pan Suiming's nationwide sample survey four years ago said that they had sex an average 5 or 6 times per month. This refutes the high percentage of sexual disinclination indicated by the more recent net-based report. Professor Pan Suiming's survey also indicated that 28.7 percent of married and cohabiting partners might pass a month without having sex, and that 6.2 percent had not had sex for a year. These statistics, emanating as they do from a national survey, appear more indicative of the true situation, which takes into account that some men as well as women have a low sex drive.
As China becomes more open, Chinese people gain more knowledge about sex, and their sexual relationships, within marriage or otherwise, improve. More couples realize the importance of sexual harmony, anticipating with pleasure and enjoying the entire love making process, from the intimacy preceding intercourse to the point where both partners reach their climax.
Problems, however, do exist as regards the attitude of a large number of Chinese men to sex. The extent of their sexual knowledge is often confined to what pleases them, satisfying their partners being a matter of irrelevance. In some cases, men may become violent or think nothing of having extramarital affairs, regardless of the feelings of their marriage partners. Consequently, 4.6 percent of Chinese women have never experienced sexual desire, 5.7 percent do not communicate with their husbands on a sexual level, and 18.2 percent resent the absence of foreplay before sex. Among the women investigated, 11.1 percent seldom experience climax, 11.1 percent have never had an orgasm, 19.7 are dissatisfied with their sex life, 5.2 are repulsed by it, and 3.9 percent feel demeaned by sex. There is still a long way to go before the vast majority of Chinese women understand, never mind experience, the joy of sex.
On a more optimistic note, last year's net investigation helped many Chinese women understand that they have just as much right to enjoy sex as men do. Things are hence changing for the better. Greater confidence born of economic independence and a falling away of inhibitions will help Chinese women to enjoy life in all its aspects to the full.
Chen Xinxin is a researcher with Women's Research Institute of All China Women's Federation.


Although intimate partner sexual aggression has been shown to be associated with adverse mental health outcomes, there is scant information about sexual aggression in Chinese intimate relationships in general and about its mental health impact in particular. This article aimed to investigate sexual aggression in Chinese intimate relationships, including the use of force or threat of force and non-physical coercive tactics in unwanted sex.


The quantitative and qualitative data used in this paper were drawn from a prospective cohort study conducted in Hong Kong between September 2010 and September 2012. A total of 745 Chinese women aged 18 or older who had been in an intimate relationship in the preceding 12 months were recruited from sites in all districts of Hong Kong. Multiple logistic regression analysis, ordinary linear regression, and t-tests were used in quantitative analysis. Directed content analysis was used to analyze the transcripts of 59 women who revealed experiences of intimate partner sexual aggression in individual in-depth interviews.


Of the 745 Chinese women in the study, 348 (46.7%) had experienced intimate partner physical violence in the past year, and 179 (24%) had experienced intimate partner physical violence and sexual aggression in the past year. Intimate partner sexual aggression significantly predicted PTSD and depressive symptoms after controlling for intimate partner physical violence. Among the 179 women reporting intimate partner physical violence and sexual coercion in the past year, 75 indicated that their partners used force or threat of force to make them have sex, and 104 of them reported that they gave in to sex because of non-physical coercive tactics used by their partners. Qualitative data revealed a variety of non-physical coercive tactics with different degrees of subtlety used to coerce women into unwanted sex with their partners. Chinese women experiencing physically forced sex had significantly more depressive symptoms and PTSD symptoms.


Our findings indicate that sexual aggression in Chinese intimate relationships has specific mental health consequences over and above those associated with physical violence. Assessment of partner violence in Chinese relationships should include screening for sexual aggression in order to provide appropriate interventions.

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