The “Industrialization” of Sexual Exploitation, Imperialist Globalization, and the Descent Into Hell

by Raymond Lotta

Updated August 19, 2021

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August 2, 2021 | Read the full article at

This research paper examines the dimensions of, and explores key dynamics and historical factors driving, the global growth of prostitution and trafficking of women into prostitution. “Sex work” is a profoundly and obscenely misleading term—what is involved is sexual exploitation: the marketed degradation and organized sexual submission of women to male domination. The “industrialization” of sexual exploitation refers to the fact that this sexual exploitation is globalized, large-scale, and organized. The “sex industry” encompasses brothel, street, and escort prostitution; strip clubs and massage parlors; pornography; military prostitution; and global “sex tourism” sites. This sexual exploitation has become increasingly normalized.

*By current estimates, there are 40 million prostitutes worldwide, 75 percent of whom are 13 to 25 years old. What is referred to as the “global sex industry,” or the “global sex trade,” has evolved into a hugely profitable segment of individual national economies and the world imperialist economy taken as a whole.

*The contemporary “global sex industry” cannot be comprehended simply or mainly as the continuation of the “ages-old practice” of prostitution within modern patriarchal society. The current-day forms and magnitude of sexual subjugation and degradation of women have been profoundly shaped, massively magnified, and globally integrated by the workings of late imperialism as a world system of exploitation in which the division between rich oppressor countries and poor oppressed countries is a defining feature of imperialist accumulation—with its plunder of resources in the Third World, penetration of markets, and super-exploitation of labor—and by social-cultural factors bound up with the world system of capitalism-imperialism.

*The paper discusses major dislocations in the Third World and how they have affected the lives of women. Rural poverty; agribusiness-led transformation and ruin of small-peasant and farmer agriculture; environmental stresses on land, water, and resources; and military conflict have profoundly altered traditional work and family patterns and fueled massive migrations of humanity out of the countryside of the global South. Migration across borders has become essential to the survival strategies of women displaced from traditional economies. And these streams of migration “drive up” the supply of “potential sex slaves” to be exploited at low cost.

*The research paper digs deeply into an historical and social-economic phenomenon of great importance of the last 50 years. There has been a modern-day form of the (often violent) separation of laborers (small-holding peasants and farmers) from the means of production (mainly land)…devastating the lives of hundreds of millions of rural dwellers in the Third World. As late as 1983, the majority of the world’s laborers were still in agriculture (overwhelmingly in the global South). By the start of the 2010s, only 25 percent of the world’s workers were in agriculture.

*But the ongoing reality for the displaced of the global South is that new jobs outside of agriculture—especially in industry—are not being created anywhere on the scale to absorb those being separated from the land.

*This process of dispossession has been linked to an historically unprecedented process of breakneck and chaotic urbanization in the Third World and the emergence of “mega-cities,” with massive slums and surrounding corridors of squatter settlements inhabited by migrants from the countryside.

*Prostitution in its legal and illegal forms, as forced or “voluntary” labor, is an integral element of the global informal economy of unregulated and irregular labor (without set pay, hours, or protections) that is the dominant form of employment and survival in the cities of the oppressed countries of the global South.

*“Sex tourism” is a major feature of the economies of Thailand and the Philippines, as well as other countries—and the governments of many poor countries have deliberately developed “sex tourism” as a strategy of development. Western capital is a prime beneficiary: hotel chains, airlines, banks and credit card companies, the Internet.

*The development of the “sex tourism industry” in Asia from the 1970s onward was substantially aided by the groundwork put in place by U.S. military prostitution. It began in the same sites where prostitution had been developed to service the U.S. military: 400,000-500,000 Vietnamese women and girls were prostitutes in South Vietnam during the 10 years of America’s genocidal war of 1965-75. Thailand became a major site of sex “rest and recreation” for U.S. soldiers on leave.

*Sex trafficking takes place on a huge scale on the planet. Some five million human beings, 99 percent of them women and children, are trafficked (forced) into sexual exploitation, over one million of whom are children. It is immensely profitable—generating $99 billion a year at the start of the 2010s. The research paper tells of the horrors of young women from Nigeria and Myanmar, including Rohingya refugees, who have lived this nightmare.

*There is a vicious cycle in the sphere of sexual exploitation: a woman is recruited in Thailand for overseas work as a domestic; she then gets trafficked to other countries and is coerced into prostitution…she becomes a slave. Even though most of her “earnings” is apportioned to a pimp or trafficker, she is able to send some funds home to her family in a rural village…in a country that thrives on “sex tourism.”

*Foreign and migrant prostitutes, many of whom are trafficked, play a major role in the “sex industries” (street prostitution, pornography, “sex tourism,” etc.) in Western Europe. The U.S. is the world leader of the pornography industry: its production, global proliferation, and mainstreaming.

*Globalized and “industrialized” sexual exploitation is a concentrated expression of the extreme and horrific commodification of the female body under imperialism.