Sex Trafficking
The business model for sex trafficking as described by Swedish anti-sex work activists

Sex trafficking is human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery.[1] Sex trafficking has two aspects of supply and demand. The sex exploitation is based on the interaction between the trafficker selling a victim (the individual being trafficked and sexually exploited) to customers to perform sexual services.[2] Sex trafficking crimes are defined in three ways: acquisition, movement, and exploitation,[1] and includes child sex tourism (CST), domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) or commercial sexual exploitation of children, and prostitution.[2] Sex trafficking is one of the biggest criminal businesses and is "the fastest growing criminal industry in the world." [3]

According to the International Labour Organization, there are 20.9 million people subjected to forced labour, and 22% (4.5 million) who are victims of forced sexual exploitation.[4] However, due to the covertness of sex trafficking, obtaining accurate, reliable statistics is difficult for researchers.[5] The global commercial profits for sexual slavery are estimated to be $99B according to this same source.[6] In 2005, the figure was given as $9B for the total human trafficking industry.[7][8]

Most victims find themselves in coercive or abusive situations from which escape is both difficult and dangerous. Locations where this practice occurs span the globe and reflect an intricate web between nations, making it very difficult to construct viable solutions to this human rights problem.

Defining the issue


In 2000, countries adopted a definition set forth by the United Nations.[9] The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, is also referred to as the Palermo Protocol. The Palermo Protocol created this definition.[9] 147 of the 192 member states of the UN ratified the Palermo Protocol when it was published in 2000;[9] as of September 2017, 171 states are parties.[10] Article 3 of the Palermo Protocol states the definition as:[11]

(a) "Trafficking in persons" shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs;

(b) The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used;

(c) The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered "trafficking in persons" even if this does not involve any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article;

(d) "Child" shall mean any person under eighteen years of age.

Article 5 of the Palermo Protocol then requires the member states to criminalize trafficking based on the definition outlined in Article 3; however, many member states' domestic laws reflect a narrower definition than Article 3.[9] Although these nations claim to be obliging Article 5, the narrow laws lead to a smaller portion of people being persecuted for sex trafficking.[9]

The UN established various anti-trafficking tools, including a Global Report on Trafficking in Persons and an Inter-Agency Coordination Group Against Trafficking in Persons. The Global Report on Trafficking in Person provides new information based on data gathered from 155 countries. It offers first global assessment of the scope of human trafficking and what is being done to fight it. The UN General Assembly passed several resolutions on measuring to eliminate human trafficking. In 2010 the UN Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons was adopted. Various other organizations have engaged in global efforts against sex trafficking. "The UN Protocol's is the bedrock of the international initiatives against human sex trafficking" . The protocol includes several elements the first being: Action which includes recruitment,and transportation. The next element becomes a Means which includes coercion, fraud, or abuse of power towards others. The purpose element is the most concerning which can also be exploitation. This includes exploiting the prostitution, forced labor, slavery, and the removal of organs. The UN requires states and countries to establish the trafficking of humans as a criminal offense.

United States

After members of Prostitutes Anonymous who were survivors of modern domestic sex trafficking spent 13 years doing TV, radio, public appearances, news interviews, etc. and calling out that this country needed to "'do something' about it" – an internationally recognized definition for sex trafficking was finally established with the Trafficking Act of 2000. It was during the same year the Palermo Protocol was enacted, the United States passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) to clarify the previous confusion and discrepancies in regards to the criminalizing guidelines of human trafficking.[12] Through this act, sex trafficking crimes were defined as a situation where in which a "commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age."[13] If the victim is a child under the age of 18 no force, fraud, or coercion needs to be proven based on this legislation.[12] Susan Tiefenbrun, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law who has written extensively on human trafficking, conducted research on the victims addressed in this act and discovered that each year more than two million women throughout the world are bought and sold for sexual exploitation.[5] In order to clarify previous legal inconsistencies in regards to youth and trafficking, the United States took legal measures to define more varieties of exploitive situations in relation to children.[12] The two terms they defined and focused on were "commercial sexual exploitation of children" and "domestic minor sex trafficking." Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is defined as "encompassing several forms of exploitation, including pornography, prostitution, child sex tourism, and child marriage."[12] Domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) is a term that represents a subset of CSEC situations that have "the exchange of sex with a child under the age of 18, who is a United States (US) citizen or permanent resident, for a gain of cash, goods, or anything of value."[12]

According to ECPAT USA, the average age of entry into street prostitution is between 12 and 14 years old. In today's culture, pimps and prostitutes are being glamorized in the media (Frundt). This is extremely dangerous as it constructs a falsified reality of what the sex trafficking industry is really like. In the United States, sex traffickers and pimps often find their victims in malls. Sometimes vulnerable looking girls will be abducted while walking to their cars if they look distracted and are alone, and other times the pimps will go up to a victim and convince them to leave with them, often offering a job of some kind and money. Emotional and physical coercion is used in order for the victim to trust the pimp and build a relationship. A lot of times, the victims are tricked into thinking they will have freedom in the work they are promised along with a large sum of money. However, what ends up happening is they become a sex slave. After the victim has agreed to the pimp's offer, they are forced into not leaving by forcing addictive drugs, with-holding money and physical/sexual abuse. It is very common in the United States for pimps to own a business or store, especially nail salons and massage parlors. It is also very common for sex slavery businesses to be conducted near U.S. military bases, because of the business soldiers bring. [14]


There is not one simple factor that perpetuates sex trafficking, rather a complex, interconnected web of political, socioeconomic, governmental, and societal factors.[15] The causes of sex trafficking which have been identified lie at the intersections of these factors. There are three types of causes which have been identified: gender hierarchies, migration for work (pull factors), and neoliberal globalization (push factors).

Many scholars critique the power hierarchies based on gender, race, and class which underlie economic systems as perpetuators of women's vulnerability to sex trafficking. Copley argues that women in underdeveloped countries are powerless due to these hierarchies of power.[16] Matusek also argues this point, noting that globalization spreads power hierarchies while spreading economic policy.[17] Ideas of gender are thus perpetuated though globalization, leaving women vulnerable.[17] Matusek cites masculinity as privileged with power and control in these hierarchies.[17] Femininity, she notes, is associated with submissive and passive qualities.[17] Femininity's lack of power leaves women to be used by men and consequently be seen as disposable.[17] This view of women is perpetuated through the globalization of power hierarchies, which Matusek argues justifies and normalizes violence and power against women.[17] This normalization of violence and power is a key player in the existence and continuation of sex trafficking.[17] Vesna Nikovic-Ristanovic also cites this normalization of violence and power as a cause of sex trafficking.[18]

Nikovic-Ristanovic analyzes the role of perceived femininity in women's vulnerability to sex trafficking, by specifically looking at the links between militarism and female sexuality.[18] Nikovic-Ristanovic cites a connection between war rapes and forced prostitution and sex trafficking.[18] The way women's bodies are used in war relate to the normalization of violence and power against women.[18] Nikovic-Ristanovic argues that military presence, even in times of peace, promote ideas of gender which render women vulnerable.[18] These ideas concern hegemonic masculinity, which Nikovic-Ristanovic defines as the hyper sexuality of men and the submissiveness or passivity of women and girls.[18] Nikovic-Ristanovic notes that the global acceptance of this definition justifies exploitation and violence against women since women are viewed as sex objects for the fulfillment of male's sexual desire.[18] This Western ideal of heteronormative sexuality, Nikovic-Ristanovic argues, is also perpetuated through media and advertisements, in which women are encouraged to appear sexually attractive for men.[18]

Kim Anh Duong argues that social narratives about women which arise from power hierarchies, coupled with women's economic realities, render women vulnerable to exploitation and sex trafficking.[19] Duong identifies the prevailing narrative of women as the disadvantaged victim.[19] She cites powerlessness as the result of this narrative, which is further perpetuated by social and economic realities which result from development process which leave women dependent on men.[19] This overall powerlessness, according to Duong, makes women easy targets of exploitation and violence.[19]

Susan Tiefenbrun, like Duong, notes women's lower status of power and consequential dependence on men.[20] Tiefenbrun, unlike Duong, cites cultural norms as the cause of this vulnerability.[20] She argues that cultural norms deprive women of access to and time for receiving an education or learning skills to improve employment opportunities.[20] This lack of education and access to employment results in women's dependence on men.[20] Tiefenbrun argues that women's dependence renders them more vulnerable to traffickers.[20]

Another school of thought attributes women's migration for work in a context of strict immigration controls as the primary factor in women's vulnerability in becoming trafficked for sex. There has been an increase in women migrating within and across borders. Duong cites a demand for women migrant workers which encourages migration.[19] The globalization of neoliberalism has shifted the global economy's focus to export production- Duong notes that there is a demand for women in export production because employers are able to pay them the lowest wages.[19] Another reason for the demand of women workers is that there is a demand for care work.[19] Since care work is gendered as women's work, Duong argues that women are encouraged to migrate in order to fill this demand.[19]Janie Chuang is one scholar who notes the strict border controls which leave women who migrate for work in informal labor sectors, such as for care work, with little opportunity for legal migration.[21] Chuang notes that women are thus more vulnerable to being taken advantage of by sex traffickers who provide opportunities for illegal migration.[21] Strict immigration laws are also cited by Tiefenbrun as a key factor in individuals entering sex trafficking because women will agree to debt bondages and sex traffickers' incentives in order to flee their social and economic realities.[20]

One cause for women's migration that is widely agreed upon by scholars is the economic pressure upon women due to neoliberal globalization. Siddharth Kara argues that globalization and the spread of Western Capitalism drive inequality and rural poverty, which are the material causes for sex trafficking.[1] Dong-Hoon Seol points out unequal development between countries as an effect of the globalization of neoliberalism.[22] He argues that the growing disparity of wealth between developed and underdeveloped countries leads to migration of women from underdeveloped countries.[22]

Duong cites structural adjustment programs (SAPs), an aspect of development policies in the globalization of neoliberalism, as a cause for women's poverty, unemployment, and low wages which promote migration.[19] SAPs affect men and women differently, she argues, because men and women experience poverty differently.[19] This is known as the feminization of poverty.[19] Much of women's time is spent doing unpaid labor such as housework and care work, leading to an overall lower income.[19] Duong further argues that women are placed at a greater disadvantage due to their lack of access to land and other resources.[19] Matusek also argues that the unequal distribution of resources and power lead to both push and pull factors of migration.[17] According to Matusek, women are pushed to migrate on account of a lack of education and employment opportunities.[17]

Other scholars focus on the demand for sex itself as a cause of sex trafficking. The pull factor comes from globalization creating a market around sex.[17] Matusek cites the commodification aspect of capitalism as the cause for the industrialization of sex.[17] The pull factor comes from globalization creating a market around sex.[17] Seol also cites the globalization of the commodification aspect of capitalism as a cause of sex trafficking.[22]


Anyone is permitted to contact The National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1(888)-373-7888. The hotline is beneficial since providers are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to assist victims and provide information for those who are at risk. There are a variety of ways in order to help prevent trafficking. One must be aware of the indicators to identify victims: abnormal behavior, poor physical health, lack of control, and work and living conditions.[23] However, these signs may only be shown through a number of people - there may be more severe, serious indicators of sex trafficking. If you are a huge supporter in anti-trafficking, you can host events in the community to raise awareness of how people are targeted and who. [24]

One of the main causes of sex trafficking is the lack of knowledge, especially in young girls. It is extremely important to educate the youth in possible prevention methods. As social media can be a large form of "recruiting" victims, it can also be a useful tool in preventing sex trafficking (Kempadoo). Since teenagers are constantly going through Twitter and Instagram, posting possible prevention methods and information on the topic is a great way to inform your peers. It is also a fast way of posting potential dangerous/suspicious areas to avoid. One of the most common forms of abduction/coercion are in parking lots, especially if it's dark outside and not many people around. It is important to always be looking at your surroundings if you are in this position. One of the most common ways that young girls get abducted if they are walking to their car while they are looking at their phone, looking for their keys, or just distracted by something. A common tactic of the attacker will follow a girl to her car and waits to see if she doesn't leave right away. If she is on her phone it is an easy way to get in the passenger seat and often times the victim will be held at gunpoint until they drive to the demanded location. Small but crucial safety tips like these should be taught in school and at home in order for children to be more cautious and aware of their surroundings when they could be in danger. For women who started as either strippers or escorts, it is extremely important to be informed of the serious danger of getting into sex-trafficking. It starts off as voluntary, but once the pimps have a relationship and they like the victim trusts them, that is when it goes downhill. Once the pimps know the girl trusts them, is when all emotions are turned off and starts treating them as slaves. Again, informing the masses is key to preventing sex-trafficking. [25]

Profile and modus operandi of traffickers

Pimp-controlled trafficking

In pimp-controlled trafficking, the victim is controlled by a single trafficker, sometimes called a pimp. The victim can be controlled by the trafficker physically, psychologically, and/or emotionally. In order to obtain control over their victims, traffickers will use force, drugs, emotional tactics as well as financial means. In certain circumstances, they will even resort to various forms of violence, such as gang rape and mental and physical abuse. Traffickers sometimes use offers of marriage, threats, intimidation, brainwashing and kidnapping as means of obtaining victims.

A common process is for the trafficker to first gain the trust of the victim, called the grooming stage. They seek to make the victim dependent on them.[26] The trafficker may express love and admiration, make lofty promises such as making the victim a star, offer them a job or an education or buy them a ticket to a new location.[27] The main types of work offered are in the catering and hotel industry, in bars and clubs, modeling contracts, or au pair work. Once the victim is comfortable, the pimp moves to the seasoning stage, where they will ask the victim to perform sexual acts for the pimp, which the victim may do because they believe it is the only way to keep the trafficker's affection. The requests progress from there and it can be difficult for the victim to escape.[26]

Another tactic is for traffickers to kidnap their victims, and then drug them or secure them so they cannot escape.[28] Traffickers may seek out potential victims who are traveling alone, are separated from their group, or seem like they have low self-esteem. They may go to places likes malls where they are more likely to find girls without parents.[29]

Traffickers are using social media at an increasing rate to find victims, research potential victims, control their victims and advertise their victims.[30][31] Traffickers often target people who post things that indicate that they are depressed, have low self-esteem or are angry with their parents.[32] Traffickers also use social media posts to establish patterns and track the locations of potential victims.[33]

After the victim has joined the offender, various techniques are used to restrict the victim's access to communication with home, such as imposing physical punishment unless the victim complies with the trafficker's demands and making threats of harm and even death to the victim and their family.[27] Sometimes, the victims will succumb to the Stockholm Syndrome because their captors will pretend to "love" and "need" them, even going so far as promise marriage and future stability. This is particularly effective with younger victims, because they are more inexperienced and therefore easily manipulated.[34]

In India, those who traffic young girls into prostitution are often women who have been trafficked themselves. As adults they use personal relationships and trust in their villages of origin to recruit additional girls.[35] Also, some (migrating) prostitutes (See: migrant sex work) can become victims of human trafficking because the women know they will be working as prostitutes; however, they are given an inaccurate description by their "boss" of the circumstances. Therefore, they consequently get exploited due to their misconception of what conditions to expect of their sex work in the new destination country.[36][37]

Gang-controlled trafficking

Gang-controlled sex trafficking and Pimp-controlled sex trafficking run their operations in very similar ways. The largest difference between the two is that gang-controlled trafficking is run by a large group of people whereas pimp-controlled trafficking is run by only one person.[38] In general, gang members are expected or forced to participate in tasks that involve illegal and violent activity. Some of these criminal behaviors may include: distributing drugs, robbery, trafficking drugs, extortion, and murder.[39] One money making source that many people do not necessarily associate with gangs is human sex trafficking. Gangs are now turning to sex trafficking as it is seen as safer and more lucrative than drug trafficking.[40]

The gangs can make larger amounts of money quicker by selling other people's bodies, and are less likely to get caught.[41] In certain circumstances, gangs may team up with other gangs in the area, and work together as a sex ring. There are a number of different reasons that gangs make this decision. One reason is that it enables them to increase profits by trading different girls, women, boys or men. This gives their client, also known as a john, a greater variety of options to choose from. Clients are often willing to pay a larger price for a sexual experience with someone new. Another reason that gangs will share females is because this makes it more difficult for law enforcement to keep track of the victims, ultimately preventing them from making a positive identification.[39]

When people think or talk about sex trafficking a very common question people will ask is, "where do they find people to traffic?". In many cases, gang members will scope girls out at malls, skip parties, online and through social media. In addition, they often will seek out female runaways from their neighborhood. Many of the girls they look for have been physically or sexually abused, have low self-esteem, struggle with drug and alcohol dependency, or are seeking a home/family environment.[42]

In order for the gang to sex traffic an individual, the first thing they need to do is gain that person's trust. They shower the victim with praise and attention, making her feel important and desired. This is referred to as the Romeo Method. It consists of different manipulation techniques. A member will take her to a fancy restaurant, flounder her with lavish gifts, and take her to parties where they are provided with endless supplies of drugs and alcohol. They also learn their weaknesses at the same time, find his or her vulnerabilities and once they find that soft spot they can use it against them.[43]

Gang members often wear certain types of clothing or colors to prove their commitment or loyalty to the gang. It is also very common to represent your gang by branding your body with tattoos.[42] Unfortunately, many victims of sex trafficking are being branded as well. By forcing a tattoo onto their victims they are essentially marking their territory and officially displaying ownership of that person.[44] In the short film, Unbranded: Sex Trafficking Tattoo Removal, Vice Media dives deep into the recovery stages of a young girl who was trafficked for three years. During her time of being exploited, she was forced to receive a tattoo by her trafficker.[45][46]

Familial trafficking

In familial trafficking, the victim is controlled by family members who allow them to be sexually exploited in exchange for something of value, such as drugs or money. For example, a mother may allow a boyfriend to abuse a child in exchange for housing. Usually, it begins with one family member and spreads from there. Familial trafficking may be difficult to detect because these children often have a larger degree of freedom and may still attend school and after-school functions. These children may not understand that they are being trafficked or may not have a way out. Familial trafficking is considered by some to be the most prevalent form of human sex trafficking within the United States. [26]


This form of trafficking is also extremely common outside of the United States. Many families from impoverished areas (India, Thailand, Philippines, etc.) find themselves in situations where debt or tradition calls for the selling of a loved one, most commonly female. In Thailand there is a tradition known as bhun kun,which establishes the youngest daughter as financially responsible for her parents as they grow old. Author Kara Siddharth interviewed a Thai victim who stated that, though she hated the men she was with, "she was proud to fulfill her duty to her parents in the form of tiny payments that the brothel owner sent to her father after her trafficking debts were repaid". This is just one of the many countries whose lower class turn to this form of income. Many children are sold to repay debts, or merely to put food on the table for their family for a month.[48][49]

Forced marriage

A forced marriage is a marriage where one or both participants are married without their freely given consent.[50]Servile marriage is defined as a marriage involving a person being sold, transferred or inherited into that marriage.[51] According to ECPAT, "Child trafficking for forced marriage is simply another manifestation of trafficking and is not restricted to particular nationalities or countries".[52]

A forced marriage qualifies as a form of human trafficking in certain situations. If a woman is sent abroad, forced into the marriage and then repeatedly compelled to engage in sexual conduct with her new husband, then her experience is that of sex trafficking. If the bride is treated as a domestic servant by her new husband and/or his family, then this is a form of labor trafficking.[53] Forced Marriage: Approximately 140 million girls who are under the age of 18, which is about 39,00 a day, are forced into early marriages. Forced marriage, which is identified by the United Nations as "contemporary form of slavery," occurs without full consent of the man or women and is associated with threats by family members or the bride/groom. Forced Marriage occurs not only in foreign countries but as well in the U.S.A. The service providers in the United States cannot successfully respond to the forced marriage cases because they lack clarity and a true definition of what a forced marriage is. [47]

Survival sex

In survival sex, the victim is not necessarily controlled by another person but feels they have to perform sexual acts in order to obtain basic commodities to survive. In addition to money, persons engaging in survival sex may trade sexual favors for food, shelter, or drugs [26][54] The most reported cases are the youth that perform sexual acts for shelter or a place to sleep. Within the youth experiences of survival sex, 8.1% of females, males, and transgender are victims. Those who perform the trafficking include immediate family, boyfriends, employers, and strangers. [55] Those who are at a higher risk of survival sex include runaways, homeless, foster kids, and orphans. [56]

Profile of victims

There is no single profile for victims of human trafficking. Most are women, though it is not uncommon for males to be trafficked as well. Victims are captured then exploited all around the world, representing a diverse range of ages and backgrounds, including ethnic and socioeconomic. However, there is a set group of traits associated with a higher risk of becoming trafficked for sexual exploitation. Persons at risk include homeless and runaway youth, foreign nationals (especially those of lower socioeconomic status), and those who have experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, violent trauma, neglect, poor academic success, and inadequate social skills.[2][57] Also, a study of a group of female sex workers in Canada found that 64 percent of the women had been in the child welfare system as children (this includes foster and group homes).[2] This research conducted by Kendra Nixon illustrates how children in or leaving foster care are at a higher risk of becoming a sex worker.[2]

In the United States, research has illustrated how these qualities hold true for victims, even though none can be labeled as a direct cause.[12] For example, more than 50 percent of domestic minor sex trafficking victims have a history of homelessness.[12] Familial disruptions such as divorce or the death of a parent place minors at a higher risk of entering the industry, but home life in general influences children's risk. In a study of trafficked youth in Arizona, 20 to 40 percent of female victims identified with experiencing abuse of some form (sexual or physical) at home before entering into the industry as a sex slave.[12] For the males interviewed, a smaller proportion, 0 to 30 percent, reported former abuse in the home.[12]

Children are at risk because of their vulnerable characteristics; naïve outlook, size, and tendency to be easily intimidated".[2] The International Labor Organization estimates that of the 20.9 million people who are trafficked in the world (for all types of work) 5.5 million are children.[58]

Children do not need to be forced into sexual exploitation according to the Victims Protection Law to be considered victims of Sex Trafficking. Under this act a child is defined as anyone under the age of 18, however the exploitation of children under the age of 14 carries a harsher punishment, though this is rarely enforced. The Bureau of Justice Statistics states that 100,000 children who fall under the age of 18 are trafficked daily in the United States, and only 150 child trafficking cases have been brought to court. Many children who are trafficked are also at higher risk of turning to prostitution, a crime that many of them face criminal charges for, even under the age of 18.[59]

The main motive of a woman (in some cases, an underage girl) to accept an offer from a trafficker is better financial opportunities for herself or her family. A study on the origin countries of trafficking confirms that most trafficking victims are not the poorest in their countries of origin, and sex trafficking victims are likely to be women from countries with some freedom to travel alone and some economic freedom.[60]

There are numerous fake businesses that sound realistic that convince people to apply for the job. Some places have a reputation for holding an illegal business in order to attract their victims. Not only do fake businesses attract victims but those who are in relationships are even in danger. Men will find vulnerable women and start dating them. As the relationship progresses, the boyfriend will tell his girlfriend that no one else would basically love her like he did and soon convince her that she needs to go to place to place to get trafficked.[]

Consequences to victims

Sex trafficked people face similar health consequences to women exploited for labor purposes, people who have experienced domestic violence, and migrant women.[61] Many of the sex workers contract sexual transmitted infections (STIs).[12] In a study conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, "only one of 23 trafficked women interviewed felt well-informed about sexually transmitted infections or HIV before leaving home."[61] Without knowledge about this aspect of their health, trafficked women may not take the necessary preventative steps and contract these infections and have poor health seeking behavior in the future.[61] The mental health implications range from depression to anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the abuse and violence victims face from their pimps or "Johns".[12] With such a mindset many individuals develop alcohol or drug addictions and abusive habits.[12] Also, traffickers commonly coerce or force their sex workers to use alcohol or drugs when they are in childhood or adolescence.[2] Many victims use these substances as a coping mechanism or escape which further promotes the rate of addiction in this population.[2] In a 30-year longitudinal study conducted by J. Potterat et al., it was determined that the average lifespan for women engaged in prostitution in Colorado Springs was 34 years.[12]

Mental/Emotional Impact

McTavish argues that the psychological impact that victims experience, are often times more severe than the physical repercussions.  The majority of sex trafficking victims, develop post-traumatic stress disorder since they begin to experience disassociation and depression. Other psychological symptoms that victims of sex trafficking develop, also include: anxiety, panic disorder, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, depression, as well as Stockholm Syndrome.  According to Shirley Julich, Stockholm Syndrome is very likely to develop for victims of sex trafficking because there is a clear and evident threat to their physical survival. In some instances, the victim experiences emotional abuse, which bonds the victim to the abuser. Sex trafficking victims become dependent on their abusers and feel responsible for the safety of their families since they are also used as a threat at times.

Most victims often times do not ask for help because they do not identify themselves as victims initially. The psychological trauma associated with trafficking and performing sexual acts under coercion can be destructive. Understanding the mental harm that sex trafficking inflicts on victims will help establish a system that will provide care and help for victims to recover. Psychologists that work with sex trafficking victims highlight that the trauma recovery is crucial to a victim's competence to be able to sustain themselves in society.

Physical Impacts

Globally, millions of women victims fall into human trafficking and are forced into sex work. McTavish argues that women who are victims of sex trafficking suffer serious physical problems. Survivors report a significant number of reproductive issues as a result of being sex trafficked. Most notably, more than half of the women who were victims contracted some form of sexually transmitted diseases or infections. Survivors reported high rates of STDs like gonorrhea and chlamydia, which was higher than the reports of hepatitis C. Over half of survivors also report that they had pain during sex, urinary tract infections, and vaginal discharge, among the most common symptoms. The statistics of the physical implications that these women endure is a reflection of how the sexual abuse impacts their ability to function.

According to the Annuals of Health Law, the prevalence of having abortions is becoming more frequent for victims of sex trafficking. The research noted that forced abortions were the reality for many victims outside of the United States, and one study even reflected that forced abortions were taking place in domestic trafficking. A large majority of survivors reported that these abortions were against their free-will.

Additionally, according to a study by Janice Raymond, while undergoing barbaric living conditions, victims may experience an improper diet or starvation. Victims suffer from malnutrition because it is their abusers way of manipulating and punishing them. Another tactic used to scare and abuse victims, is through physical force and torture. Victims suffer from broken bones, burns, scars, broken teeth, and much more. According to Deshpande, these physical injuries are often times left untreated, which lead to bigger health affects. Since victims suffer from constant beatings, they can also experience brain injuries, both major and minor. Many victims will experience head aches, migraines, dizziness and in some cases even memory loss.

Family/Social Impacts

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, victims of sex trafficking frequently fear returning back to their communities of origin because of the stigma that is attached to their experience as victims of sex trafficking. For some cultures, victims' families are at risk for being shunned because of their past. This keeps victims distant from their communities as well as from their families.

Family support is important for victims to rehabilitate, and most families do not acknowledge that victims were used as a commodity against their will. However, according to Brunovskis, and Surtees, many victims do not have support from their families when the return home. The victims struggle to reintegrate back into their households since often times families hold resentment because of there absence. At a general level, victims are held to a certain expectation with their families, and this creates tension making it harder for victims to reintegrate. This is particularly true when family members have cared for the victim's child(ren) in her absence.

Around the world


Sex trafficking of women and children is the second most common type of trafficking for export in Africa.[62] In Ghana, "connection men" or traffickers are witnessed regularly at border crossings and transport individuals via fake visas. Women are most commonly trafficked to Belgium, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, the Netherlands, Nigeria, and the United States.[62] Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United States are also common destination countries for trafficked Nigerian women.[62] In Uganda, the Lord's Resistance Army, traffics individuals to Sudan to sell them as sex slaves.[62] The Nigerian syndicates dominate sex trades in multiple territories. The syndicates recruit women from South Africa and send them to Europe and Asia, where they are forced into prostitution, drug smuggling, or domestic violence. Law enforcement reported that sex traffickers force drug use to persuade these unwilling women.[63]

Human trafficking was placed on Africa's national policy agenda between the years of 2000 to 2003 by the South African children's rights organization Molo Songolo (MS) and the International Organization for Migration (Gould, 183). In 2005, the U.S. Department of State's office deemed South Africa as a "country of concern"; until recently in 2009 South Africa was listed on the Tier-2 Watch List (Gould,183). Being on the Tier-2 Watchlist indicates that the State Department considers South Africa as a source and destination for victims of human trafficking and there is little being done to alleviate this growing problem (Gould, 183). According to the US Trafficking in Persons Report, 38 African countries were listed on Tier 2 category which indicated some commitment toward eradicating trafficking (Onuoha, 151). As of now, no African country was featured among Tier 1; meaning being fully dedicated to eradicating trafficking altogether. (Onuoha, 151). Although the government has attempted to protect trafficking victims, many obstacles hinder them from receiving full protection and justice in South Africa. (person report). According to Howard Neil, In the past 15 years, trafficking has become an international issue ( Neil, 125). UNICEF estimated nearly 200,000 children have been trafficked each year in West and Central Africa (Adepoju, 77). Traffickers follow a methodical process to make children dependent on them, and it begins with isolating a child putting them through the "seasoning process"' in which they are brutalized repeatedly to instill fear and submission (O'Connell- Davidson, 2011). Some victims are gang-raped or killed in route to their final destinations for resisting. Children are often trafficked from within their home countries by local traffickers, while in other cases traffickers are foreigners a part of large criminal organizations. For example, Mozambican traffickers are mainly local women working with South African men who transport trafficked victims from Maputo to Johannesburg or Durban (Adepoju, 78)

It is important to break down the misconception that boys are exempt from being trafficked. Boys who are trafficked are placed into voluntary migration and are forced to engage in prostitution as a means of survival (Onoucha, 153). Tourists from Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK use gifts and money to attract young boys and girls under the age of 18 to perform g pornographic sex acts. (Adepoju, 80). These children are later put the films on the Internet and end up as sex slaves to the traffickers or are distributed into the pedophile network (Adepoju, 80).

Prostitution under any circumstances is illegal in South Africa. The 1957 Sexual Offenses Act works to criminalize soliciting prostitutes, brothels, living off the money made during prostitution, and the procurement of women as prostitutes. The purchase of sex was criminalized in 2007 under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offenses and Related Matters) Amendment Act. (Gould, 185). Those in prostitution may be subjected to resale more than Once (Onuoha, 153). Despite the laws and regulations against prostitution implemented by the government victims to continue to be exploited and sold for monetary gains. The motto in the trafficking industry is that women are useful for cheap labor because selling a woman is not a huge loss to society (Tienfenbrun, 2002).


The key hubs for both source transportation and destination of the sub-region of Asia include India, Japan, South Korea and Thailand.[62] India is a major hub for trafficked Bangladeshi and Nepali women.[62] In India itself, there are an estimated 3 million sex workers and 40% of those sex workers are trafficked children, mostly girls from ethnic minorities and lower castes. In Thailand, 800,000 children under the age of 16 were involved in prostitution in 2004.[64] Also, according to UNICEF and the International Labour Organization there are 40,000 child prostitutes in Sri Lanka.[64] Thailand and India are in the top five countries with the highest rates of child prostitution.[64] The 2014 Global Slavery Index (GSI) says that there are about 36 million victims of trafficking in the world, and nearly two-thirds of the people are from Asia. Pakistan, Thailand, China, India, and Bangladesh are in the top 10 for countries with the largest number of trafficking victims around the world. India is at the top of the list with 14 million victims, China comes in second with 3.2 million victims, and Pakistan comes in at third with 2.1 million victims.[65] Cambodia is also a transit, source, and a destination country for trafficking.[66] 36% of trafficked victims in Asia are children, while 64% are adults.[67]


Europe has the highest number of sex slaves per capita in the world.[68][unreliable source?] In general, countries who are members of the European Union are destinations for individuals to be sex trafficked whereas the Balkans and Eastern Europe are source and transit countries.[62] Transit countries are picked for their geographical location. This is because the locations the traffickers pick usually have a weak border control, the distance from the destination countries, corrupt official, or the organized crime groups are in on the sex trafficking.[69] In 1997 alone as many as 175,000 young women from Russia, as well as the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, were sold as commodities in the sex markets of the developed countries in Europe and the Americas[70] The European Union reported that from 2010-13 30,146 individuals were identified and registered as human trafficking victims.[71] Of those registered, 69 percent of the victims were sexually exploited and more than 1,000 were children.[71] Although many sex trafficked individuals are from outside of Europe, two-thirds of the 30,146 victims were EU citizens.[71] Despite this high proportion of domestic sex slaves, the most common ethnicities of women who are trafficked to the United Kingdom are Chinese, Brazilian, and Thai.[62] Moldova is a known country in Europe for women, children and men to be subjected to sex trafficking.[72] Girls from Moldova become sex slaves starting at the age of 14. On average, they have sex with 12 to 15 men per day.[73] The national Bureau of Statistics in Moldova says that in 2008 there were almost 25,000 victims of trafficking. When the women from Moldova are being trafficked for sex, they are most likely to be sent to countries such as, Russia, Cyprus, Turkey, and other Middle Western and Eastern European countries.[74] This is because, in Russia, it is said that the government is well aware about people being sex trafficked and maybe even promote it.[75] 85 percent of the victims leave their country to find a better job to support their family, but they are tricked into becoming a sex slave and are forced to become a prostitute.[74] The International Organization for Migration (IOM) asked victims what country they came from and sixty one percent of the victims came from Moldova, 19 percent came from Romania, and the rest came from Albania, Bulgaria, Russia, and Ukraine. More than 60 percent of the victims had a secondary school education or better, and 21 was the age average.[74]


Iran is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Iranian girls between the ages of 13 and 17 are targeted by traffickers for sale abroad; younger girls may be forced into domestic service until their traffickers consider them old enough to be subjected to child sex trafficking. An increase in the transport of girls from and through Iran en route to other Gulf States for sexual exploitation has been reported from 2009-2015; during the reporting period, Iranian trafficking networks subjected Iranian girls to sex trafficking in brothels in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Organized criminal groups kidnap or purchase and force Iranian and immigrant children to work as beggars and street vendors in cities, including Tehran. These children, who may be as young as 3, are coerced through physical and sexual abuse and drug addiction; reportedly many are purchased for as little as $150.[76] Dozens of girls from Iran are brought to Pakistan to be sold as sex slaves every day.[77] Most of these women have already been raped within the first 24 hours of their departure.[78] It was also said in the Tehran newspapers that senior figures from the government have been involved in buying, selling, and abusing young women and children. Runaway girls in Iran are sought out for by the traffickers because it is incredibly easy to put them in the sex trafficking market since they have no home.[77] There are about 84,000 women and girls in prostitution in Tehran. Most of them are on the streets, while others are in the 250 brothels.[78]


The trafficking of women into prostitution in Israel began in the early 1990s.[79] An estimate of three thousand women were being trafficked in the 1990s and early 2000s. Many of the women came from "post-Soviet states particularly Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and many more." The women ended up in brothels where they worked seven days a week and served up to 30 clients a day. The traffickers used physical violence and threats to dissuade the women from leaving, they also confined women behind locked doors and barred windows. Throughout the 1990s the Israeli authorities failed to view sex trafficking as a problem, they simply viewed it as prostitution. They failed to interfere with brothel operations. If a case was filed the trafficker would have had a plea bargain with light punishment. The women who were being trafficked on the other hand were classified as illegal alien or criminals since they entered Israel illegally, so authorities concentrated on catching the women rather than the traffickers. Usually the victims of trafficking are vulnerable because they live in poverty, or they are not educated. Trafficking affects the mental health of the victim as well as physical health. Israel has become a country of destination for women who had been trafficked from surrounding countries.

Israel was ranked Tier 1 in the 2016 U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report.[80] Tier 1 is the highest ranking given to a government that has acknowledged human trafficking and has made efforts to solve the problem. Israel has tried to improve and protect the victims affected by sex trafficking. Israel has been providing victims of human sex trafficking with shelter and protection against the sex traffickers. These have been some of many steps taken to lower the number of women who have been affected by the traffickers. Although many say that the shelters that they provide are not sufficient for the victims, it has been seen that the number of women affected has declined since 2006. The anti-trafficking law of 2006 describes penalties of up to 16 years of imprisonment for trafficking an adult, 20 years for trafficking a child, 16 years for slavery and up to seven years for forced labor.

Public health response

Healthcare interventions

There are many public health initiatives that are being implemented to identify victims of sex trafficking. There are few professionals that are likely to encounter victims of sex trafficking, but healthcare providers are a unique group because they are more likely to come into contact with individuals that are still in captivity[81]. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center provides guidelines to aid healthcare providers in identifying victims of sex trafficking. They provide general guidelines to indicate human trafficking (i.e. inconsistent/scripted history, unwillingness to answer questions about illness or injury, etc.), but also includes indicators to hone in on sex trafficking[82]. In addition, this network has created a framework for sex trafficking protocols in healthcare settings once a victim is suspected or identified. The goal of the protocol is to provide those interacting with the patient step-by-step instructions on how to proceed once a potential trafficking victim has been identified[83]. Additionally, an initiative known as the HEAL Trafficking and Hope for Justice Protocol Toolkit is being made accessible to healthcare providers[84]. The goal of the toolkit is to provide a uniform medical response to trafficking. The toolkit combines known policies and procedures with tenets of trauma informed care. The toolkit is intended for the use of different healthcare providers such as community health workers, social workers, mental health counselors, nurses, and many others. A second initiative was taken on by the Centers for Disease Control. They have started to implement new fields of data collection through International Classification of Diseases (ICD) in order to better identify and categorize cases of sex trafficking. The new fields are ICD-10-CM codes. These are further categorized into T codes and Z codes. The T codes are further subcategorized into specific diagnoses that are used to indicate suspected and confirmed cases of trafficking. In addition, Z codes are also further categorized, but will be used for examination or observation of trafficking victims for other reasons[85].

Approximately 87.8% of trafficking victims have come in contact with a healthcare professional either during of after their time of exploitation and labor. On February 26, 2018, the Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTIP) under the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services passed the SOAR to Health and Wellness Act of 2018.[86] SOAR which is an acronym which stands for Stop, Observe, Ask, and Respond is a training program which aims to properly equip professionals with the necessary resources and methods to identify victims of human trafficking. The training aids to help others recognize key indicators and characteristics of human trafficking as well as aid in key communication techniques that are effective for everyone involved. Response tactics can be key to identifying victims without causing harm and putting them in increased danger. The trainings also provide key communities with the support and resources they may need to bring attention to a crime which may be heavily impacting that area. The training can either be taken online or in person and can be personalized based the role of the professional. SOAR is available to anyone who who may be interested in learning how to identify victims or situations of human trafficking in a healthcare setting. The training can either be taken online or in person and can be personalized based the role of the professional. SOAR is available to anyone who who may be interested in learning how to identify victims or situations of human trafficking in a healthcare setting. Trainings are available for social workers, medical and public health professionals, and even educators.

Physicians against the trafficking of humans (PATH) is a program of the American Medical Women's Association (AMWA) that was started in 2014 with efforts to encourage medical professionals including physicians, residents, and medical students to become more aware of human trafficking.[87]. The initiative was initially brought into discussion by Dr. Gayatri Devi in 2012 who was the president of AMWA at the time. She identified human sex trafficking as a key issue to be addressed. This discussion then progressed into forming a Human Trafficking Committee to handle the issue. PATH has since been creating content for hospitals and other medical facilities to use in order to educate professionals and students on the identification and advocacy for human trafficking. PATH has also been featured in many media outlets such as Politico and TEDx.

There are three main tactics social workers use to aid in the recovery of sex trafficking survivors: ecological, strengths-based, and victim-centered[88]. Using the ecological approach, the social worker evaluates their client's current environment and goals for reintegration into the community. By examining how justice systems, legal, and medical services impact their client, they can help them look into areas of future employment, gaining legal status, and reuniting with family. The strengths-based approach aims to create a bond of trust between the social worker and their client to build confidence as well as autonomy and leadership skills. Lastly, when using the victim-centered approach, social workers develop services and plans for the future specifically catered to their client's individual needs. These services are developed through a survivor's lens, which allows social workers to easily meet the needs of their clients. All three methods have proven to be effective in the recovery of sex trafficking survivors[88].

Control tactics to facilitate intervention

There are many control tactics used by sex traffickers in order to control their victims such as: threats, physical and sexual assault, confiscating legitimate travel and immigration documents, and verbalizing threats against the victims family[89]. The University of Minnesota Duluth published the power and control wheel to help target domestic abuse intervention[90]. The wheel identifies eight different mechanisms of power and control used on victims including: intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, denying, blaming, and minimizing, sexual abuse, physical abuse, using privilege, economic abuse, as well as coercion and threats. The wheel was developed to be used in counseling and education groups for victims of sex trafficking. The wheel breaks down the tactics used against victims so the cycle of violence may become visible and stopped.

Abbreviated version of the Power and Control Wheel

A second mechanism used to understand control is the BITE Model created by Steven Hassan. The BITE Model describes four categories of coercion used on sex trafficking victims: behavior control, information control, thought control, and emotional control[91]. He describes that it is essential to understand the loss of identity victims experience in order to help them get out or recover from sex trafficking.

Anti-sex trafficking efforts

History of international legislation

International pressure to address trafficking in women and children became a growing part of the social Reform movement in the United States and Europe during the late nineteenth century. International legislation against the trafficking of women and children began with the conclusion of an international convention in 1901, and the International Agreement for the suppression of the White Slave Traffic in 1904. (The latter was revised in 1910.) The first formal international research into the issue was funded by American philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, through the American Bureau of Social Hygiene. The League of Nations, formed in 1919, took over as the international coordinator of legislation intended to end the trafficking of women and children. An international Conference on White Slave Traffic was held in 1921, attended by the 34 countries that ratified the 1901 and 1904 conventions.[92] Another convention against trafficking was ratified by League members in 1922, and like the 1904 international convention, this one required ratifying countries to submit annual reports on their progress in tackling the problem. Compliance with this requirement was not complete, although it gradually improved: in 1924, approximately 34 percent of the member countries submitted reports as required: this rose to 46 percent in 1929, 52 percent in 1933, and 61 percent in 1934.[93] The 1921 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children was sponsored by the League of Nations. In 1923, a committee from the bureau was tasked with investigating trafficking in 28 countries, interviewing approximately 5,000 informants and analyzing information over two years before issuing its final report. This was the first formal report on trafficking in women and children to be issued by an official body.[92]

Efforts to combat sex trafficking are often linked to efforts against prostitution; however, this is often problematic in regards to legal recourse of sex trafficking victims. While prostitutes are nominally working by choice, sex trafficking victims do so under duress. Recognizing this, many states have passed legislation that allows sex trafficking victims amnesty under prostitution laws, however many fail to do so due to legal illiteracy and institutional prejudices.[94] As such, sex trafficking victims often risk legal persecution when alerting authorities to their situation.

Jane Addams was one of the most notable reformers during the Progressive Era and refined the still early concepts of white slavery and sex work in her book "A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil". She, among others, fought to classify all people coerced into prostitution as victims of sexual slavery, and believed that all sex work was sexual exploitation of women by more powerful men. Addams also believed that abolishing white slavery would bring more women into the suffrage movement. Alex Smolak, a physician, has studied many of the health risks faced by women in white slavery during the Progressive era. She says in her article titled "White Slavery, Whorehouse Riots, Venereal Disease, and Saving Women..."[95] that "The Progressive Era was a time when society was rapidly changing, with influences stemming from urbanization, industrialization, commercialization, immigration, and civilizing morality, all interacting with one another to fuel both prostitution and the anti-prostitution movement." Along with "The U.S. White Slave act of 1910", the "International Agreement for the Suppression of the White Slave Trade" was ratified by 13 nations, including the United States in 1904. Throughout the next 45 years the International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children was adopted by the League of Nations and the term white slavery was replaced by trafficking, the word used commonly today.

Wanted 60,000 girls to take the place of 60,000 white slaves who will die this year

The first formal international research into the scope of the problem was funded by American philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, through the American Bureau of Social Hygiene.

United Nations

The first international protocol dealing with sex slavery was the 1949 UN Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and Exploitation of Prostitution of Others.[96] This convention followed the abolitionist idea of sex trafficking as incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person. Serving as a model for future legislation, the 1949 UN Convention was not ratified by every country, but came into force in 1951. These early efforts led to the 2000 Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, mentioned above. These instruments contain the elements of the current international law on trafficking in humans.

In 2011, the United Nations reported that girl victims made up two-thirds of all trafficked children. Girls constituted 15 to 20 percent of the total number of all detected victims, whereas boys comprised about 10 percent. The UN report was based on official data supplied by 132 countries.[97]

In 2013, a resolution to create the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons was adopted by the United Nations.[98] The first World Day against Trafficking in Persons took place July 30, 2014, and the day is now observed every July 30.[98]

Current international treaties include the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage, and Registration of Marriages, entered into force in 1964.

In the United States

Louise Slaughter testifies at a Ways & Means Human Resources Subcommittee hearing on October 23, 2013. Louise testified in strong support of a bill she has co-sponsored with Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) that address the high rate of children in foster care being recruited into sex trafficking within the United States. (10445204615)

In 1910, the U.S. Congress passed the White Slave Traffic Act of 1910 (better known as the Mann Act), which made it a felony to transport women across state borders for the purpose of "prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose". Its primary stated intent was to address prostitution, immorality, and human trafficking particularly where it was trafficking for the purposes of prostitution, but the ambiguity of "immorality" effectively criminalized interracial marriage and banned single women from crossing state borders for morally wrong acts. In 1914, of the women arrested for crossing state borders under this act, 70 percent were charged with voluntary prostitution. Once the idea of a sex slave shifted from a white woman to an enslaved woman from countries in poverty, the US began passing immigration acts to curtail aliens from entering the country in order to address this issue. (The government had other unrelated motives for the new immigration policies.) Several acts such as the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and Immigration Act of 1924 reduced the number of emigrants from Europe and Asia from entering the United States. Following the increased restrictions of the 1920s (which were significantly relaxed by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965), human trafficking was not considered a major issue until the 1990s.[99][100][dubious ]

The Commercial Sex Act[101] makes it illegal to recruit, entice, obtain, provide, move or harbor a person or to benefit from such activities knowing that the person will be caused to engage in commercial sex acts where the person is under 18 or where force, fraud or coercion exists.[102][103]

Under the George W. Bush Administration, fighting sex slavery worldwide and domestically became a priority with an average of $100 million spent per year, which substantially outnumbers the amount spent by other countries. Before President Bush took office, Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). The TVPA strengthened services to victims of violence, law enforcement's ability to reduce violence against women and children, and education against human trafficking. Also specified in the TVPA was a mandate to collect funds for the treatment of sex trafficking victims that provided them with shelter, food, education, and financial grants. Internationally, the TVPA set standards that governments of other countries must follow in order to receive aid from the U.S. to fight human trafficking. Once George W. Bush took office in 2001, restricting sex trafficking became one of his primary humanitarian efforts. The Attorney General under President Bush, John Ashcroft, strongly enforced the TVPA. The Act was subsequently renewed in 2004, 2006, and 2008. It established two stipulations an applicant has to meet in order to receive the benefits of a T-Visa. First, a trafficked victim must prove/admit to being trafficked and second must submit to prosecution of his or her trafficker. In 2011, Congress failed to re-authorize the Act. The State Department publishes an annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which examines the progress that the U.S. and other countries have made in destroying human trafficking businesses, arresting the kingpins, and rescuing the victims.[104][105][106]

Council of Europe

Complementary protection is ensured through the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (signed in Lanzarote, 25 October 2007). The Convention entered into force on 1 July 2010.[107] As of September 2018, the Convention has been ratified by 44 states, with another 3 states having signed but not yet ratified.[108] The goal of the Convention is to provide the framework for an independent and effective monitoring system that holds the member states accountable for addressing human trafficking and providing protecting to victims.[109] To monitor the implementation of this act, the Council of Europe established the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA).[110] The Convention address the structure and purpose of GRETA and holds the group accountable to publish reports evaluating the measures taken by the states who have signed the Convention.[110]

Other government actions

Actions taken to combat human trafficking vary from government to government.[111] Some government actions include:

  • introducing legislation specifically aimed at criminalizing human trafficking;
  • developing co-operation between law enforcement agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs) of numerous nations; and
  • raising awareness of the issue.

Raising awareness can take three forms. First, governments can raise awareness among potential victims, particularly in countries where human traffickers are active. Second, they can raise awareness amongst the police, social welfare workers and immigration officers to equip them to deal appropriately with the problem. And finally, in countries where prostitution is legal or semi-legal, they can raise awareness amongst the clients of prostitution so that they can watch for signs of human trafficking victims. Methods to raise general awareness often include television programs, documentary films, internet communications, and posters.[112]


Many countries have come under criticism for inaction, or ineffective action. Criticisms include the failure of governments to properly identify and protect trafficking victims, enactment of immigration policies which potentially re-victimize trafficking victims, and insufficient action in helping prevent vulnerable populations from becoming trafficking victims.[] A particular criticism has been the reluctance of some countries to tackle trafficking for purposes other than sex.[]

Studies of sex work and anti-sex trafficking efforts, intended to combat sex trafficking or provide support to victims, have raised concerns over the unintended effects of certain national and international policies, law enforcement strategies, and activist efforts on both sex-trafficked individuals and non-trafficked sex workers. For example, The United States' Tier 2 assessment of Japan on its 2004 TIP Report [113] encouraged the Japanese government to add additional constraints to its procedures and policies for obtaining an entertainer visa, sometimes used by migrant workers seeking employment at businesses within the sex industry.[114] However, these regulations provided opportunities for some third-party facilitators of these visas to exploit migrants while also limiting migrants' ability to leave employers with poor working conditions or overly restrictive practices, such as holding their passports or limiting their ability to leave the premises of the business.[115][116] Practices of law enforcement officers in some countries have also been criticized for incentivizing non-trafficked sex workers to declare themselves to be trafficking victims and enter aid and rehabilitation programs in order to avoid prison sentences for prostitution charges.[117]

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

Many NGOs work on the issue of sex trafficking. One major NGO is the International Justice Mission (IJM). IJM is a U.S.-based non-profit human rights organization that combats human trafficking in developing countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. IJM states that it is a "human rights agency that brings rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression." It is a faith-based organization since its purported goal is to "restore to victims of oppression the things that God intends for them: their lives, their liberty, their dignity, the fruits of their labor."[118] The IJM receives over $900,000 from the US government.[119] The organization has two methods for rescuing victims: brothel raids in cooperation with local police, and "buy bust" operations in which undercover agencies pretend to purchase sex services from an underage girl. After the raid and rescue, the women are sent to rehabilitation programs run by NGOs (such as churches) or the government.

There are also national Non-governmental organizations working on the issue of human trafficking, including sex trafficking. In Kenya for example, Awareness Against Human Trafficking (HAART) works on ending all human trafficking in the country.[120] HAART has also participated in the UNANIMA International Stop the Demand campaign [121]

In India, J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam has opened a school called School for Justice. Here, survivors of sex trafficking are educated to become lawyers. The entire program is expected to take five to six years for each girl to complete. The women will graduate with law degrees, with a special focus on commercial sexual exploitation cases. JWT hopes that one day they may become prosecutors, or even judges, empowered to combat the criminals who once exploited and abused them.[122]

NGOs often have the best of intentions when combating sex-trafficking. NGOs are often funded by the West and are implemented in countries that have a very different culture. Research shows that employees of the Western NGOs are slow to adapt to the culture of the community they are providing services to. This often leads to a disconnect between the NGO and the community. Employees of NGOs hold the responsibility of relaying the narrative of sex-trafficked people. This can create a hierarchical structure that makes the voice of Western NGOs as more legitimate than the voice of the people they are serving. Thus, reinforcing the essentialized notion of third-world women as backwards and other.[123]

Japan is a popular place for sex-trafficking. Japan has a long history with the trade of women for sex. For a good part of the countries history, sex work was legal in Japan. This makes it difficult for the government to decipher between legal sex work and illegal prostitution. This is where NGOs step in to assist the government. NGOs provide services in countries where the government policies are failing to combat a specific issue. However, in Japan it is difficult for NGOs focused on issues with women to receive local funding. This weak political support makes the work for NGOs in Japan much more difficult. Japan's lack of support for women's rights shows why the role of NGOs is so important in that country.  [124]

Campaigns and initiatives

Public information campaigns are defined  "...government-directed and sponsored effort to communicate to the public or a segment of the public in order to achieve a policy result" (Majic 2017; Weiss & Tschirhart 1994).[123]

In the past ten years, Spain has seen a surge of sex trafficking. In light of this crisis, social movements, organizations and government institutions have enacted policies like the Second National Plan against Sex Trafficking and Anti-Trafficking laws. Campaigns to fight against sex trafficking in Spain between 2008-2017 have been examined by researchers. Their research showed that that many campaigns focus on the narrative of the victim as vulnerable and weak, rather than focusing on the actual crime of sex trafficking and the economic system that allows it to flourish. According to the research these narratives disempower sex trafficked people through repeated language of vulnerability and innocence. The researchers explain that the lack of information provided in these campaigns hinders their success. Campaigns will throw out huge numbers of women exploited into sex work but gives no context to the system that allows sex trafficking to flourish.[125]

In 1994, Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women was established to combat trafficking in women on any grounds. It is an alliance of more than 100 non-governmental organizations from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and North America.[126]The Demi and Ashton (DNA) Foundation was created by celebrity humanitarians Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher in 2009 in their efforts to fight human trafficking (specifically focusing on sex trafficking of children) in the U.S. In September 2010, the pair announced the launch of their "Real Men Don't Buy Girls" campaign to combat child sex trafficking alongside other Hollywood stars and technology companies such as Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook. "Real Men Don't Buy Girls" is based on the idea that high-profile men speaking out against child sex trafficking can help reduce the demand for young girls in the commercial sex trade. The popular TV channel MTV started a campaign to combat sex trafficking. The initiative called MTV EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) is a multimedia initiative produced by MTV EXIT Foundation (formerly known as the MTV Europe Foundation) to raise awareness and increase prevention of human trafficking.[127][128]

Another campaign is the A21 Campaign, Abolishing Injustice in the 21st Century, which focuses on addressing human trafficking through a holistic approach.[129] They provide potential victims with the education and valuable information on how to best reduce their likelihood of being trafficked through strategies that reduce their vulnerability. The organization also provides safe environments for victims and runs restoration programs in their aftercare facilities.[129] In addition, they provide legal council and representation to victims so they can prosecute their traffickers. Another key component of the campaign is to help influence legislation in order to enact more comprehensive laws that place more traffickers in prison.[129]

Not For Sale girl.jpeg

The Not for Sale (organization) Campaign works in the United States, Peru, the Netherlands, Romania, Thailand, South Africa, and India to help victims of human trafficking. In 2013 alone, they provided 4,500 services to 2,062 individuals.[130] The vast majority of victims who received assistance were from the Netherlands and the number of victims served increased by 42 percent from 2012. The campaign allocates the majority of their funds to providing victims health and nutritional care and education. Not for Sale provides a safe shelter for victims and empowers them with life skills and job training.[130] This helps trafficked individuals re-enter into the workforce through a dignified form of work. In the organization's 2013 Annual Impact Report, it was determined that 75 percent of the victims had been sexually exploited.[131]

While globalization fostered new technologies that may exacerbate sex trafficking, technology can also be used to assist law enforcement and anti-trafficking efforts. A study was done on online classified ads surrounding the Super Bowl. A number of reports have noticed increase in sex trafficking during previous years of the Super Bowl.[132] For the 2011 Super Bowl held in Dallas, Texas, the Backpage website for the Dallas area experienced a 136 percent increase on the number of posts in the Adult section that Sunday. Typically, Sundays were known to be the day of the week with the lowest amount of posts in the Adult section. Researchers analyzed the most salient terms in these online ads and found that most commonly used words suggested that many escorts were traveling across state lines to Dallas specifically for the Super Bowl. Also, the self-reported ages were higher than usual which conveys that an older population of sex workers were drawn to the event, but since these are self-reported the data is not reliable. Twitter was another social networking platform studied for detecting sex trafficking. Digital tools can be used to narrow the pool of sex trafficking cases, albeit imperfectly and with uncertainty.[133]

'End Demand'

End Demand refers to the strategy and efforts of different institutions that seek to end sex trafficking by eliminating and criminalizing the demand for both voluntary and involuntary commercial sex. End Demand is very popular in some countries including the United States and Canada.[134] Proponents of the End Demand strategy support initiatives such as "John's schools" that rehabilitate johns, increased arrests of johns, and public shaming (e.g. billboards and websites that publicly name johns who were caught).[134][135][136] John's Schools were pioneered in San Francisco in 1995 and now used in many cities across the U.S. as well as other countries such as the UK and Canada. Some compare John's Schools programs to driver's safety courses, because first offenders can pay a fee to attend class(es) on the harms of prostitution, and upon completion, the charges against the john will be dropped. Another initiative that seeks to end demand is the cross-country tour "Ignite the Road to Justice," launched by the 2011 Miss Canada, Tara Teng. Teng's initiative circulates a petition to end the demand for commercial sex that drives prostitution and sex trafficking. End Demand efforts also include large-scale public awareness campaigns. Campaigns have started in Sweden, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Atlanta, Georgia. The Atlanta campaign in 2006 was titled "Dear John," and ran ads in local media reaching out to potential johns to discourage them from buying sex. Massachusetts and Rhode Island also had legislative efforts that criminalized prostitution and increased end demand efforts by targeting johns.[134]

The Dear John campaign in Atlanta, Georgia ran from 2006-2008. It aims to end the demand for buying sex. The focus of this campaign is clearly centered around the John. The campaign mimics a "Dear John Letter" which is apparently a letter that a women sends to her partner when she is ending the relationship. A "John" refers to a man who purchases sex. In the 1990s, there was specific media attention paid to sex trafficking of women outside the United States. The feminist reaction to this at the time was a call for harsher punishments for Johns and social services for trafficked people. This was an aim to "end" the demand for prostitution. Critics of the Dear John campaign focus on the 'male demand' aspect of the campaign and find that this style of campaign reinforces gendered, racialized and sexualized assumptions about Johns and trafficked women. The historical discourse in the U.S. concerning Johns is racially charged. An example of this racialized nature is associated with the temptations of Thai massage parlors. Despite these objections, lawmakers have found this messaging morally compelling. The campaign was run by locals of Atlanta. Advocates for the campaign informed citizens through media that young women were the ones being arrested while the Johns were not.[125]

It is common for victims to have an initmate relationship with their pimp. This makes it difficult for prosecutors to charge traffickers because the victim will not testify against their pimp. Contextual analysis research has shown the essentialized nature of the campaign. The Dear John campaign posters define women in terms of there relationship to sex. They also only depict white girls in the images inferring that the only victims worth caring about are young white and innocent.[125]

It is interesting to note that there are no images of Johns in the campaign posters. A plausible explanation for this would be an effort by the campaign to widen the scope of the messaging and to avoid racial stereotypes. Conversly, the racial stereotypes of trafficked girls is made clear. This excludes a majority of victims who do not identify with the image that the poster conveys. Lawmakers in Atlanta were fully behind the campaign as a statement to the public that they will not tolerate the purchasing of sex. These public statements are in stark contrast to the actual amount of funding that the city gave to organizations who provide housing and services for victims. The city did no research into the effectiveness of the campaign and therefore there is no data on its actual impact on the city. It is also important to note that the campaign ads were only in English and many people are not familiar with the Dear John reference. Lawmakers believe that the campaign was effective in bringing awareness to the issue and therefore shaped public opinion and policy.[125]

Recognition of males in the global fight against trafficking

The lack of conversation, advocacy, legal/social support services, and academic work around the sexual exploitation of men and boys can be traced to larger social discourses surrounding male sexuality, dominance, and behavior. Media representations of masculinity and sexual dominance contribute to the idea that men cannot be victims, especially in regards to sex-related crimes. The lack of public knowledge and attention to male victimhood and vulnerability is strongly reflected in the quality of services and strength of legal frameworks available to male victims of sex trafficking .[137] Experts describe the "perceived agency and resilience in young males" to be a strong force in deterring male victims from seeking the support they need, and discouraging male-inclusive anti-trafficking service and support networks from forming in the first place. [138] Within the spare support frameworks for male victims that do exist, the specific vulnerabilities of different populations in different areas around the world-- regarding nationality and migration status, sexual orientation, drug use, socio-economic status, health status, family structure, and more-- are often unaddressed, leaving crucial groups' needs unmet. The double stigma that surrounds male victims of sex trafficking, involving homosexuality and sex work more broadly-- makes it incredibly difficult for male victims to come forward and seek help, or even to self-organize. Some scholars report that male victims have also faced higher rates of police violence and brutality than female victims in regards to contact with law enforcement. [139]

Criminalizing and legalizing prostitution

Laws regarding the purchase and sale of voluntary and involuntary sex vary greatly across the developed world. Their effects on sex trafficking are difficult to discern. Proponents of various forms of criminalization, legalization, or regulation of prostitution, may all argue their model decreases sex trafficking.[140]

The Dutch model of legalization and regulation and the Swedish model of criminalizing purchasers and pimps but not prostitutes are often discussed. The difference of these models casts the prevention of trafficking against the rights of voluntary sex workers and purchasers. It is argued that a hybrid model of licensing sex workers and criminalizing the purchase of unlicensed sex would reduce trafficking without crushing civil rights.[140]

2017 Giving Day

Numerous international organizations have partnered to create an anti-human trafficking Giving Day to raise awareness and funds on July, 30th 2017. This is the day designated by the United Nations as the World Day against Trafficking in Persons. The Giving Day is being hosted by, a crowdfunding platform for non-profits.[141]

The General Assembly in 2010, adopted the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, encouraging Governments around the world to undergo drastic measures in order defeat human trafficking. The goal was to put the fight against human trafficking into the United Nation's programmes to strengthen positive development and security around the world. A main section of the plan is to place a United Nations Trust Fund for the women and children who fell victim of trafficking. The Trust Fund in the plan ensures to assist and protect the victims of trafficking through grants to certified NGOs. In the future, the goal is to make the victims a priority who are come were victims and had issues with migration. It also places a focus on the aid to victims who were trafficked by their perpetrator for the goal of sexual relations, organ removal, forced begging, forced criminality, and emerging exploitative reasons.

The General Assembly in the year 2013, gathered a meeting to go over the world's plan of action. Numerous states also declared July 30 as the World Day against Trafficking in Persons. The came to the conclusion that day of remembrance and awareness was crucial to remember the victims, the right's they possess and their protection. [142]

Common misconceptions

There are a number of misconceptions about sex trafficking. Sex trafficking and human trafficking are not to be confused with human smuggling. Although human trafficking for sexual or non-sexual labor may involve transporting victims across international borders as in human smuggling, international borders do not need to be crossed for a person to be considered trafficked. Trafficking differs from smuggling in that it includes exploiting an individual after coercing or deceiving them and does not necessarily involve transporting individuals across national borders.[143] Human trafficking and sex trafficking are often used as synonyms. However, Trafficking of people to engage in non-sexual labor may be more prevalent than trafficking of people for the purpose of forcing them to perform sexual labor.[144] However, accurate estimates of trafficking rates are extremely difficult to obtain.[145][146][144]Sex trafficking tends to receive more attention from aid organizations and donors due to the greater public outrage that forced sexual labor and abuse evoke compared to forced non-sexual labor and thus incidents of sex trafficking are more frequently reported.[145]

Sex trafficking is also commonly conflated with non-coerced sex work criminalized as prostitution.[147] This misconception stems primarily from two sources: academic anti-prostitution scholars and prostitution abolitionist activists. A minority of feminist scholars argue that all prostitution is coerced due to the prevalence of Compulsory heterosexuality and social and economic pressures stemming from Neoliberalism and patriarchy.[147][148] These arguments are often at odds with the views of sex workers who work independently, or consensually with third parties such as brothels and club owners, who see the higher remuneration and flexibility of sexual labor as preferable to poorer paying and inflexible mainstream employment where they are subject to sexual harassment and assault by male employers and colleagues.[149][150][151] A number of activist organizations seeking to provide services to trafficking victims, lobby for anti-trafficking legislation, and generally raise awareness about sex-trafficking also advocate for the criminalization of sex work that is consensual.[147] The practices of some anti-sex trafficking programs and initiatives is that they provide intensives for non-trafficked sex workers to identify as victims of trafficking to gain access to resources such as shelters only if they claim to be victims of trafficking.[149] Law enforcement agencies also incentivize non-trafficked sex workers to claim that they have been trafficked by threatening them with jail time if they admit they are working by choice as opposed to attending training workshops and no jail time if they claim they are trafficked.[149] Such policies, though beneficial to actual trafficking victims, inflate reported rates of trafficking by incentivising non-trafficked sex workers to identify report themselves as trafficking victims.

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