October 31, 2023
NEW DELHI – There is one category of lucrative business ventures that is not talked about in business schools. That is the sex business. This is not a cottage industry but a rather large business empire consisting of multiple branches: pornographic movies and magazines, prostitution, escort services, sex slaves, strip clubs, sexual toys and other paraphernalia, etc.
My purpose in this essay is not to judge moral, legal and political issues associated with this business but to examine its appeal as a business with human trafficking being a key component and offer hope about how this trafficking can perhaps be brought to an end. The basic principle of the business world is simple. Wealthy people hire poor people to put together items for the consuming public in exchange for an hourly or monthly salary and sell those items at a price higher than the cost.
Typically, they end up making a net profit even after paying all the expenses including salaries of workers and other costs of running the business. If the demand for these items is strong and keeps on growing, the business flourishes and the owner expands it by opening more facilities. The profit and wealth of the owner grows exponentially. In communist and socialist countries, the government intervenes and regulates the businesses so that there is some fairness in the compensation system.
There are three key requirements for any business to flourish: a) demand for the product must continue if not increase indefinitely; b) the profit margin in selling the product must be high and c) raw material needed to make the product must be available in abundance. If these conditions are not met, the business eventually dies, and the owner moves on to some new venture.
We have seen the extinction of many products over the years for lack of demand because of the emergence of new technology: fax machines, cassette players, movie projectors, typewriters, dial-up telephones, Polaroid cameras and so on. The unique and attractive aspect of the sex business is that the demand will not only always be there but most likely increase with time as society becomes more permissive and there is no competing business.
Profitability depends on the selling price and cost; the higher the price and lower the raw material and operational cost, the more profitable the business is. To sell at a high price, the business should be conducted where customers are wealthy and willing to pay good money for the enjoyment. Sex business thrives in large cities in prosperous liberal countries. Some cities like Amsterdam in the Netherlands have earned nicknames of “sex capital”.
In this business, the main raw material is young female bodies (and often, male bodies as well). While many women enter this business out of financial necessity, to support drug habits or to escape troubled family situations most are brought into the business by human trafficking. They are available more readily and cheaply in poor countries in Central America and Asia Asia. Transporting these girls to wherever the business is conducted is the logical way to ensure adequate supply.
Human trafficking is reportedly the second most profitable criminal business in the world, next only to drug trafficking. To get girls at the lowest possible prices, the business entrepreneurs target young girls from poor and/or broken families so that they can be “groomed”; girls are enticed with a promising future.
The young girls are ideal because typically they are impressionable and not mature enough to develop their own principles and aspirations. The cost of running the business is low. Capital investment is minimal and consists of housing arrangements for the crew of young girls and possibly a few vehicles.
There is no need for any heavy machinery or computerdriven technologies. Monthly maintenance expenses should include medical care and check-up, apart from food and clothing. Security guards are needed to keep unwanted intruders away and to prevent girls from escaping. Attorneys and medical doctors should be on staff on a retainer’s basis to address any unwanted situation.
The business plan must also address what to do with the women once they get too old to serve the customers. Some money must be set aside for marketing expenses depending on marketing strategy such as websites, billboards, newspaper/magazine ads etc. Local laws and ordinances must be followed to make sure that cops do not invade the place and shut it down.
The never-ending demand for the product and potentially endless supply of raw material in the sex business parallels similar situations in the agricultural business. However, the profit margin is much higher and necessary investments are low. Unlike agricultural businesses which must be operated at fixed locations, sex trafficking allows the business to be conducted anywhere in the world.
Despite the moral degradation and abuse of women involved, there is a general acceptance of the sex business all over the world and a general resignation about any attempt to eliminate it with the admission that “men will be men”. They will always find means to satisfy their carnal desire and there will be suppliers giving them the opportunity.
Conspiracy theorists have raised alarms over thousands of children disappearing every year, sex trafficking across the US-Mexico border and linked Jeffrey Epstein’s “Lolita Island” to a virtual “Who’s Who” of US society.
Yet, I have not seen any in-depth investigation into any of these allegations. Some even argue that intimacy between consenting adults is not a criminal act. However, pedophilia certainly is a crime and one of the most shameful aspects of human behaviour. Even if we cannot eliminate sex business, is there a way to drastically reduce human trafficking of underage girls which feeds the business?
Moral or religious teaching will not work, and any large-scale forced reduction of male libido, such as chemical castration, is out of the question A possible solution lies in the work of Japanese engineers who are busy in fabricating female humanoid robots which are not only anatomically correct but fully functional. Sex dolls have been around for decades, but these robots reportedly feel just like real women in physical contact and can carry out interactive meaningful conversations, thanks to ChatGPT software and artificial intelligence (AI).
The software allows them to react differently to different approaches. Japan had to come up with this idea because young Japanese women are no longer interested in marriage and traditional domestic life, leading to a whole generation of frustrated males. These humanoids are not commercially available yet but developments are in the final stage.
The sexual excitement of men does not last long, and most of them will conceivably be satisfied with brief encounters with these “life-like” robots without complaining about lack of emotional connection or inability to produce children. Even if the individual robots are expensive, they are reusable; using them will be more cost-effective than human trafficking of underage girls without any worries about risk of criminal prosecution. Introduction of such robots could also reduce incidents of rape, incest and other sex crimes.
The sex business will, of course, continue but without exploiting young girls. Manufacturers of these robots will, of course, make a killing. Just like any other business, introduction of AI is likely to cause massive layoffs among sex workers and that will be a good outcome in this case.
(The writer, a physicist who worked in academia and business, is a Bengali settled in America.)