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By Robert Wilonsky. For almost a decade, for-lease s hung in giant windows displaying blank interiors.
We chatted on Friday about the state of sex trafficking in Dallas, how it has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and how she is creating new employment opportunities for survivors. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. What do you see as some of the biggest problems locally in terms of sex trafficking? Dallas definitely has a big problem. It spans the gamut from illicit massage businesses, to strip clubs, to trafficking of minors, to online prostitution.
There is not an aspect of the underground sex economy that Dallas does not have and have in relatively large quantities.
How do you get your data? Is it coming from the victims themselves or is it coming from law enforcement? That came from a research group called Heyrick. They focus their energy on the illicit massage industry.
Have you also been looking at how minors are being affected? I am actually on the board of Traffick ; they serve minors. So any minor that has been recovered by law enforcement, they come in and Traffick provides advocacy services for those .
This is a growing problem. and for now, at least, dallas has just 12 vice officers tasked with eradicating it.
Traffick in particular has been talking about how the kids that have been recovered during this time, they have indicated that they are now being forced to do live interactive web-based videos. Are undocumented workers especially at risk, now that they may not even be able to generate an income for the traffickers? In the illicit massage industry in Dallas, the victim workers, if you will, are adults and foreign nationals by and large. The illicit massage industry is very, very savvy about getting fake visas for the people that come in.
There have also been cases of getting visas on the basis of religious persecution. So some of them have legitimate visas but under fraudulent circumstances, and others have just straight-up fraudulent visas. How do you draw the line between sex trafficking and voluntary sex work? That is such a good question. If you really want to scrutinize that definition, you can actually make arguments for how transactional sex and hookup culture in college is sex trafficking. That definition is so broad, and when you scrutinize it, it can apply to so many different things.
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Which is why we prosecute only severe forms of sex trafficking. For it to be a severe form of sex trafficking, there has to be force, fraud, or coercion. Part of the difficulty is that some women voluntarily engage in sex work, but others may choose it simply because it is the only way for them to make a viable living, because they may not have educational or other employment opportunities.
How did that start? InI started taking students to India on a study abroad for transactional human trafficking. And every time we go, we partner with the same NGOs. So it was during a study abroad that we were sitting on the floor of a medical clinic in the red light district in Delhi. You act like you care.
And I heard that, and it really resonated with me. I could completely understand how she would feel that way. How did you follow through on your promise?
I connected with dozens and dozens of companies that existed in other parts of India that are employing survivors all across the country, and nobody knew of anything in Delhi. So six months later, I decided that I would need to start something. What we decided to do was to form Savheraan essential oil business.
And the reason we decided on essential oils was really threefold. The first reason was that we wanted something that was deeply rooted in Indian culture and tradition. And essential oils are really rooted in the Ayurvedic healing traditions that originate in India. So that was one reason.
The second reason for essential oils was we wanted to do a health and wellness product that was consumable, because we felt like the whole purpose behind our company was to facilitate the restoration and wellness of women coming out of prostitution. And then the third criteria was we wanted to be in a market that was anticipated to grow on a trajectory over the next decade. So we decided on essential oil, and we hired our first survivor employees in Delhi in October of Now we are employing seven survivors in Delhi, plus we have two managers. The hardest.
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Where have all the massage parlors gone? sex trafficking in the era of covid