Home / America’s Dirty Little Secret: Sex Trafficking

America’s Dirty Little Secret: Sex Trafficking

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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.

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  • Ron

    The argument about whether adult prostitution can be voluntary will never end but there are 12, 13 and 14 year old girls whose pimps inflict unspeakably sadistic violence on them if they don’t bring in enough money or try to leave. I would hope that there can be agreement that these children don’t stay in the business voluntarily.

  • Not sure what you mean, Kris. If two adults are consenting then why is someone getting paid? Sounds like they are either being used by someone or having sex because they need money to survive rather than because they want to.

    I definitely think that the average age of trafficking victims can be lower because it takes into account children trafficked for pornographic reasons and not just prostitution.

    I dare anyone who wants to legalize prostitution to explain to me how that helps the sick issue of child prostitution. There are sick, evil men out there who want to have sexual contact with children. Are you proposing we legalize that as well?

    My 12 year old sister was adopted from Chennai, India. If you have a loved one who was inches from being a street orphan in one of the most exploited areas of the world you don’t pretend that trafficking isn’t a problem.

  • If you any of you would investigate, you will find that the US Government report from April 2011, stated that between January 2008 to June 2010, there were 2,515 reported human trafficking cases (nationwide) of which 38% were found NOT to be human trafficking, 30% were confirmed human trafficking and the rest were undetermined at the end of the study period. This averages to about 754 over the 2 and a half year period or 301 per year. That’s nationwide, and includes other labor trafficking such as domestic servitude and garment manufacturing- people who are invisible to individuals like you who only see the victims they want to see- that is, prostitutes.

    While it ought to concern us that people are being trafficked into all sorts of labor, where is the concern for the victims of rape? Did you know that there are between 400,000 to 500,000 untested rape kits languishing in police evidence lockers because there are no resources to test them? And if they were tested, there are no resources to pursue the alleged rapists? And if they were caught, there are no resources to prosecute and incarcerate these alleged rapists?

    And further, the US Government’s studies on the characteristics of child sexual exploitation predators show that 90% of those predators are someone whom the child knows and trusts, like coaches and teachers and preachers and priests and even cops… and that 68% are family members… parents, step parents, siblings, uncles etc.

    Contrary to the lies spread by the rabid anti- prostitution folks, the majority of us prostitutes (I am retired now- at age 60 but am a sex worker rights activist and have been for 29 years), are adults and do not have pimps, drug habits and are not victims of sex trafficking. If you really care about victims, decriminalize consenting adult commercial sex, and allow sex workers to turn in those who abuse or traffick anyone into ANY area of labor.

    Oh yes, the US Government also reports that there are approx. 4.8 MILLION incidents of intimate partner violence (domestic violence and spousal abuse) per year.

    Also, around the world, the area of labor into which the majority of trafficking victims are forced is domestic servitude, so while the hotels are looking out for child prostitutes, who is looking out for the trafficked maid, housekeeper, laundry worker, restaurant staff, etc.? Why no outrage for those victims?

  • Ron

    More on awareness. Its important that the people who are made aware of the child prostituion problem are the people who can actually take action. A group that is rarely mentioned is hotel employees. More than half the incidents of child prostitution occur in hotels. Radisson Hotels has trained it’s staff to recognize child prostitutes and their pimps and to call the police to effect a rescue and/or arrest. Hilton is developing a similar program and will be rolling it out at eight corporate-owned properties by January with other properties coming on board later. Wyndham (6000 hotels in the US) is developing a program to be rolled out starting next spring.

    These hotel companies have adopted a Code of Conduct for the travel industry developed by an international organization called ECPAT. When you travel, try to use hotels such as Radisson, Hilton and Wyndham. The US State Department is having a meeting and chose a Hilton hotel specifically because it has adopted the ECPAT code.

  • Melanie Thoreen

    Well spoken, well said. I applaud the writer for bolding speaking about this issue that most people can’t fathom discussing.

    I also believe in citing sources, however we will never truly know the actual numbers of women and children (including boys) trafficked and sold in this country. Let’s keep educating others, paying no mind to the negative feedback.

    Good work!

  • amy

    …how can the US be the number one destination? That seems absurd.

  • Ron

    A study of about 250 child prostitutes (boys and girls) working the streets of New York found this:
    Age of Initiation
    Many of the professionals who offered guidance to the John Jay research team believed that the average age of entry for girls was much younger than for boys, but boys and girls differed only slightly in our sample. The average age of entry for females was 15.15 years and males 15.28 years, but a higher percentage of boys (19%) entered the market under the age of 13 than girls (15%). And transgender youth tended to start out later in their teens (16.16 years) than boys or girls. Where boys, girls and transgendered youth differed the most was not in their age of
    entry, but in how they entered the market.
    A similar study of 100 prostitutes under 25 in Chicago found this:
    Among those interviewed, the average age of entry into regular involvement in the sex trade was 16.4 years. Thirty-three percent of the sample entered the sex trade between the ages of 12 and 15, and 56 percent entered at ages 16 or younger.
    In an indictment of a pimp in Los Angeles there is the following description of how the pimp treated his victim. Did the victim accept this voluntarily? “On or between August 10, 2010 and September 10, 2010, in the County of Los Angeles, the crime of MAYHEM, in violation of PENAL CODE SECTION 203, a Felony, was committed by LEROY BRAGG, who did unlawfully and maliciously deprive KRYSTINA C. of a member of the body and did disable, disfigure and render it useless and did cut and disable the tongue, and put out an eye and slit the nose, ear and lip of said person.”

  • HHIC

    Many strongly agree and appreciate your insight. However, WHERE are you getting your facts please ? The sex industry is clearly not some form of career choice by teens and the dirty little secret thrives for the billion dollar deman. Please, are your serious in supporting your statement – “The average entry age of a prostitute is 12 years old” – ??? REALLY ??

  • debi

    1. Most situations where the john believes it’s “consenting” it is not.
    2. Have you ever watched Pretty Woman? How about the rapper who won a grammy for claiming it’s rough to be pimp
    3. Hmmm, seems to me Sweden did that. Then changed as it totally backfired on them.

  • Kris

    Trafficking for any reason, such as sex or labor, is despicable and should be stopped. However, this article is filled with nonsensical arguments.

    1. Commercial sex, in and of itself, is not “sick.” If two CONSENTING adults choose to exchange money for sex there is nothing wrong with it.

    2. I have never seen the media glamorize prostitution and portray prostitutes as “liberated and empowered women making lots of money quickly.”

    3. Legalization could actually reduce the “exploitation and degradation” of women and children. And, boys, who go unmentioned in your diatribe.