Sex sells. Human traffickers know this and have capitalized on this fact: according to UNICEF, human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise in the world; the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime reports that 79% of human trafficking involves sexual exploitation. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines sex trafficking as a “commercial sex act” attained through the use of “force, fraud, or coercion.” In addition, minors engaged in a commercial sex acts are considered victims of sex trafficking.
The majority of trafficking victims are female, many of them are children, and they may be found in almost every country in the world, including the United States. While some are physically forced into servitude – sold by family members or kidnapped – many victims know their traffickers. They may call them friends or boyfriends because that is how the traffickers initially present themselves: as caring individuals who promise to provide exactly what their targeted victims are missing from their lives.
And what are these women, men, boys and girls missing from their lives? It may be the tangibles: money, a home, food. Poverty is a shadow in many sex trafficking victims’ lives. They may also be missing intangibles, such as secure relationships, love, feelings of stability. Sex traffickers target vulnerable individuals. They lure their victims away from their communities, their towns and even their countries with promises of love, adoration and a comfortable life. Once ensnared in these webs of deception, victims find it nearly impossible to escape. They are physically and emotionally abused by the very people they thought they could trust. Their boyfriends become their pimps. Their friends sell them into the sex industry. Using threats and coercion, sex traffickers force their victims to sell their bodies while they collect the profits.
Traffickers control every aspect of their victims’ lives. Their power is so absolute that their victims themselves do not always identify as such. In her article for The Guardian, Elizabeth Day profiles Megan Stephens, a sex trafficking survivor. Recalling her experiences, Stephen says, “I want people to understand it’s not as easy as getting up and leaving… It’s actually like [traffickers have] taken over what identity you have and turned you into their property, a thing to be controlled.” Sex trafficking survivors do not often know that another way of life is available or possible for them. A report by the Anaheim Police Department, addressing prostitution in their Orange County, CA town, notes that many of the prostitutes they encountered were human trafficking victims. In interviews, these women expressed the belief that “selling themselves was the only way to survive.” Outside intervention and aid is often the only way trafficking survivors escape sexual servitude.
Sex traffickers exploit their victims through a wide range of mediums. According to UNICEF, sex trafficking occurs in brothels, strip clubs, escort services, massage parlors, prostitution controlled by pimps, on the streets and on the internet. Sex trafficking is not a rare event happening in a far-off land. It is happening here, in our communities, on the streets we live and work on. As the sex trafficking industry grows, so does the likelihood that someone we know has been or will become a victim of sexual servitude. If you or a loved one is a survivor of sex trafficking and would like to explore how the civil justice system can help, please contact one of our experienced attorneys for a free consultation.
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