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“What would happen to me if I did try to leave and who would believe me if I told them what was going on?” – a Street Outreach Coordinator for Polaris Project and survivor of sex trafficking
Sex trafficking – whether within a country or across national borders – violates basic human rights, including the rights to bodily integrity, equality, dignity, health, security, and freedom from violence and torture.
Survivors of sex trafficking tell stories of daily degradation of mind and body. They are often isolated, intimidated, sold into debt bondage and subject to physical and sexual assault by their traffickers. Most live under constant mental and physical threat. Many suffer severe emotional trauma, including symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and disassociation. This crime epidemic needs to be ended and we as a society need to provide ways for the victims to reclaim their lives.
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Eliminate Sex Trafficking
A Right to Freedom
In 2012, the International Labor Organization estimated that there are 4.5 million sex trafficking victims worldwide. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, sexual exploitation is the most commonly identified form of human trafficking ahead of forced labor.
Sex trafficking is a crime when women, men and/or children are forcefully involved in commercial sex acts.
Worldwide, false promises are a way many traffickers bait and enslave their victims. Many times, people are offered false employment opportunities in major cities. For example, men and boys are sent overseas to work in construction and agriculture but are also forced to perform commercial sex acts. Women and young girls may be offered jobs as models, nannies, waitresses or dancers. Some traffickers operate under the guise of agencies that offer cross-country dating services. However, upon arrival, these individuals are abused, threatened and sold in the sex industry.
There are two primary factors driving the spread of human trafficking: high profits and low risk. Like drug and arms trafficking, human trafficking in the US is a market-driven criminal industry that is based on the principles of supply and demand. Every year, traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits by victimizing millions of people around the world, including here in the United States.
We cannot allow women, men and children be exploited. Every human being has a right to freedom. As an international community we need to put an end to this injustice.
What’s Being Done
Grassroots organizations around the world are working to curb the trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls. Local and survivors’ organizations adopt a broad human rights framework that addresses the exploitative nature of the commercial sex industry.
These organizations are leading the fight in many ways. The National Human Trafficking Hotline has been created to allow the survivors and victims of trafficking in the United States to be heard and seek help. Organizations also seek to end trafficking Globally through legislation and safety nets that protect the victims of trafficking from being prosecuted as criminals. Many bills have been implemented to prosecute the perpetrators of sex trafficking online, such as the recently passed SESTA FOSTA (Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act Fight Online Sex Trafficking). This bill allows websites to be held accountable for offering illicit sex services, many of which may be posted by traffickers forcing their victims (sometimes underaged) to commit these acts.
For those who have escaped trafficking, there is WIN (Women’s Investment Network). This network provides educational and vocational opportunities to women as well as housing to help them reclaim their lives.
Although these are great advancements to prevent sex trafficking and help survivors take their lives back there is still much to be done to end this epidemic completely.
But the Challenges Continue
How do you identify sex-trafficking victims when such cases go largely undetected or unreported?
It’s an issue with which law-enforcement agencies in the U.S. continually struggle. Detective Bill Woolf with the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force has experienced this first hand. Woolf says that young victims of sex trafficking don’t seek help because “they fear law enforcement…because they’re technically committing a crime and that is prostitution.”
We need citizens like you to advocate for the passage of laws to protect juvenile sex trafficking victims in your state from criminalization. If our communities begin to call their elected officials and advocate for bills that protect victims from prosecution more cases of trafficking could be reported.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is the impact of the internet on trafficking. Supply and demand have increased through the years partially due to the internet and the ease with which traffickers and customers can discreetly complete a transaction. Some websites try to screen ads for trafficking; however, the sheer volume of ads makes this process a daunting task. For instance, when the U.S. Craigslist Adult Services Section was available, there were 10,000-16,000 adult services postings per day in the U.S. alone. Additionally, it’s difficult to determine if the person advertising is independently working in the sex industry or is under a trafficker.
A holistic and comprehensive strategy is needed to combat sex trafficking effectively. Efforts must include both eliminating gender discrimination and curbing the demand for commercial sex. Gender inequality and discriminatory laws that trap women in poverty and fail to protect them from violence, render them vulnerable to prostitution and trafficking. It is critical to implement legal safeguards for women and girls to alleviate poverty and create greater possibilities for non-exploitative options for girls and women.
Demand fuels sex trafficking and the commercial sex industry. Holding buyers of commercial sex accountable reduces sex trafficking. Addressing demand also includes eliminating sex tourism. “Sex tourists” are individuals who travel to another country to buy commercial sex or exploit weak legal systems that ignore sexual abuse, especially of girls from poor and marginalized communities.
If we gather together to address these issues and come up with solutions that both prosecute the trafficker and help the victims, we can end this barbaric practice.
A Right to Life
It is vital that we do all we can to end the exploitation of women and children through any means possible. An awareness of this crisis needs to be spread. The more this issue come to light the faster we can implement methods to both prevent trafficking and protect its victims. If our international community works together we can end sex trafficking. The end of sex trafficking means an end to exploitation and abuse granting countless women and children the freedom they deserve.