If you think slavery ended in the 1900s, you are severely mistaken. If you think slavery is confined to one race, you are plain wrong. No gender, ethnicity, race, education level, or socio-economic status is safe from traffickers. Sex traffickers prey on the weak, the vulnerable, and people looking for a better life. Human trafficking is a $32 billion worldwide industry, and an estimated 27 million people are enslaved. America is now the number one destination in the world for child sex trafficking.
Child sex trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery in which the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act is under the age of 18 years.
The average entry age of a prostitute is 12 years old. Can you imagine being a prostitute around the time you were in seventh grade? While most of us were taking dance lessons or playing football, others were being forced to have sex.
Why are women, men, and children sold into this slavery and forced into sex acts? The answer is simple: economics. There is a sick demand by certain individuals for commercial sex. These individuals have created a market, making it profitable for sex traffickers to get rich off the sexual exploitation of children and adults.
In any culture that is tolerant and accepting of sexual exploitation, there will be men who make the demand and women and children who make up the supply. Today’s society plays a big role, especially the mass media, in glamorizing prostitution. That “stripper with a heart of gold” could be one of the many taken from her family, beaten, raped, and forced to work for a pimp.
The media represents women in the sex industry as liberated and empowered women making lots of money quickly, when that is not usually the case. Prostitutes are most often victims, forced into the sex industry by traffickers and pimps.
There are advocates who suggest that legalizing and regulating prostitution can be a way to combat human trafficking. Even Catholic Bishop Vaclav Maly, the Auxiliary Bishop of Prague, made a statement in favor of legalization. But that is not a solution.
In April 2002, Bishop Maly said to Radio Prague, “The chances of eliminating it are practically nil…Under those circumstances, it is better to keep it in check and under control by giving it a legal framework. This is not to say that I approve of brothels—but it seems to me that it would be better to have prostitution take place there—with medical checks-ups and prostitutes paying taxes. It would be the lesser of two evils.”
By legalizing prostitution, a government is passively saying that exploitation of women and children is acceptable because we get a cut of the tax revenue. But legalized prostitution promotes the exploitation and degradation of women and children. If there were no demand for bought sex acts, there would be no victims bought and sold into slavery.
Can’t trafficking victims just ask for help?
The answer is no. The United States Department of Health and Human Services reports that victims of sex trafficking have been “conditioned” into the trade by methods like starvation, rape, physical abuse, forced drug use, and threats of violence to the victims’ families. Traffickers teach the victims how to talk and behave when speaking with law enforcement or social services. No one chooses to be a victim of this type of exploitation. Traffickers steal victims from the streets, feed them ideas for a better life, and then take away everything and strip away their identities.
The United States Department of Justice estimates that 100,000-300,000 American kids are trafficked for the sex trade within the United States every year. These numbers are outrageous, and part of the reason traffickers get away with exploitation is that there is not enough community awareness. Many Americans believe that human trafficking occurs only in places like Thailand, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, but that is not the case. Trafficking happens in the United States and traffickers perceive little risk in the industry because the community is unaware of the issue.
Did you know sex trafficking occurs at truck stops in the United States?
Pimps moving their victims from city to city have identified truck stops as a place to sell their victims, and often force the victims to perform sex acts at truck stops. Oklahoma’s highways I-40, I-44, and I-35 are a prime trade route for pimps and traffickers.
As the head of Oklahomans Against Trafficking Humans, Mark Elam says, “Oklahoma’s children are prime targets for traffickers. Oklahoma is number one in female incarcerations, number one in child abuse, number two in teen pregnancy, and number three in divorce.”
According to Elam, those factors make Oklahoma a heavily recruited area by traffickers because it looks like a broken-down, poor, and uneducated area with many vulnerable children. Other major cities for trafficking are Las Vegas, Houston, and Atlanta.
The way to combat trafficking is awareness, knowing the signs, and getting involved. Organizations like Truckers Against Trafficking and the Polaris Project work to educate and equip people to stop trafficking. Americans can make an impact if they are educated, informed, and aware of the problem. The exploitation of women and children can stop now. When you suspect human trafficking is going on contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline: 1-888-373-7888.