Ever since I went on that trip to Cambodia when I was 12, I have been passionate about ending human trafficking. This was because while I was there, I wandered off and noticed a few signs hung up. I stopped and saw that they were translated to English with an image of a girl being abducted. The top simply read “Do not leave your children unattended” while the bottom read “Sex Trafficking” in big bold letters. I looked around only to see homeless women, men, and children everywhere. It didn’t take much for me to figure out that they were more at risk compared to others.
I was finally able to put a name to this crime.
What is sex trafficking?
“Sex trafficking is a form of modern day slavery in which someone coerces another person into commercial sex or exploits a child in the commercial sex trade. Simply, it is sexual violence as a business.” (“IJM: Sex Trafficking,” n.d.).
“Slavery still exists? Not in America, right?”
Many people are misinformed about human trafficking. When one thinks of slavery, they tend to think it’s a relic of the past. That couldn’t be further away from the truth. In fact, did you know that there are more slaves today than at any point in human history? An estimate of 27 million human beings are being held bondage across the globe today for manual and sexual labor against their will.
Another misconception people may have about trafficking is that it only exists in foreign countries. Although there are more risks involved in foreign countries, it doesn’t mean that it’s not happening close to home. It’s important to bring this fact to light because many people will claim that just because it’s not happening in the US means that it’s none of their business. While I personally disagree with that, I would like to point out that there is trafficking most likely going on in your own neighborhood.
In reality, 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the US annually. A third of adolescents on the street will be enticed toward prostitution within the first 48 hours of running away from home. Another sickening reality is that victims who are minors are sold an average of 10-15 times a day, six days a week.
How are they even captured? What are the risk factors?
Various tactics are used by traffickers to claim their victims. These include but are not limited to promising them false jobs, education, marriage, or citizenship in a foreign country. It is common for a woman to become romantically involved with a man who then forces or manipulates them into selling herself.
Although victims come from diverse ethnic backgrounds, social status, and gender, there are other possible risk factors that can leave someone more vulnerable to sex trafficking. This can be age, runaway and homeless youths, the LGBTQ+ community, victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, and gender. The average age of a victim ranges from 12-14 years old.
Youths may flee for many reasons, such as coming from a home that was abusive, poor, or did not accept them. Roughly 26% of LGBTQ+ adolescents are rejected and kicked out simply for being who they are. Studies have suggested that the LGBTQ+ youth are up to five times more likely than heterosexual and cisgender youths to fall prey to sex traffickers. Females are especially at a significantly higher risk. Women and girls make up 98% of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.
What are the signs of a sex trafficking victim?
There are numerous red flags that can tell you if one is a victim. A few of these include a person who is not free to come and go as they please, owes a huge amount of debt and is unable to pay it off, and has little to no control over their finances, ID, passport, etc. A victim will most likely have poor mental and physical health and have a fear of law enforcement. Another red flag would be if they refuse to speak and has to have someone else talk for them and/or translate for them.
Unfortunately, prostitution is one of the many ways sex traffickers use their victims. Most of the time, when caught by the police, the woman is the one to be arrested instead of the men who are buying and/or selling her. According to the Massachusetts State Police, out of 920 prostituted arrests, 70% of the arrests were women instead of men.
Instead of punishing women, we should provide rescue and restoration for them. Luckily, since August 2014, there have been 236 trafficking bills passed and there has been more focus on training law enforcement and others to recognize the difference between voluntary prostitution and sex trafficking victims.
How can we end sex trafficking?
This isn’t an easy question to answer, but we have to look at why sex trafficking exists in the first place. There is a demand for more sexual services such as prostitution, pornography, live sex-shows, mail order brides, and sex tourism. Although both males and females can be victims, the majority of victims are women while men are predominantly buyers and sellers. Deep-rooted gender inequalities that permit the market for sex slaves is what causes sex trafficking.
Along with promoting women’s civil, political, economic, and social rights, we can start the end to sex trafficking by:
- Educating ourselves and law enforcement more about these issues and how to identify a victim.
- Speaking up against gender violence.
- Getting involved with organizations that focus on sex trafficking.
- Supporting organizations that help with prevention, protection, and prosecution.
Slavery is real and present. A person is not meant to be taken and sold for others’ pleasure, let alone 20 million of them. No one is entitled to anyone’s body, period. If you suspect someone to be a victim of trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (1-888-373-7888).
We can stop this.
Ellen is a 4th year undergrad majoring in Sociology and plans to attend physical therapy school after graduating. She is half Hispanic and half Asian. She was born and raised in Houston, TX and moved to Minnesota with her mom and sister in 2010. Ellen is a hardcore feminist and is passionate about social justice. She enjoys talking about topics such as race, gender and gender violence, LGBTQ+, class, ability, and mental health. When Ellen is not at school or work, she loves to spend her time running ultra-marathons, doing yoga, meditating, gardening, playing the oboe and piano, playing video games, listening to people’s life stories over coffee/tea, spending time with family, volunteering, annoying her sister, and playing with her birds. Associate editor and email consultant.