Sex trafficking—an international form of slavery—is quietly stripping away the freedom and dignity of the most vulnerable among us. Sex traffickers are snatching victims from Asia, the former Soviet Union, Central and South America, the Middle East, and Western Europe.
“Each year, an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 human beings are bought, sold, or forced across the world’s borders,” said President Bush in addressing the UN General Assembly on September 23, 2003. “Among them are hundreds of thousands of teenage girls and others as young as 5, who fall victim to the sex trade.”
How does it happen?
Just the promise of a good job or a false marriage proposal may be enough to lure victims to another country. Often transported in shipping containers, the illegal aliens are frequently told they must work in the sex trade to pay for living expenses and transportation. These victims of sex traffickers are forced into prostitution, pornography, stripping, live-sex shows, mail-order brides, military prostitution, and sex tourism.
Sex trafficking may be visible on the streets but underground systems such as brothels in homes also exist. Sex trafficking may include escort and massage services, private dancing, drinking and photographic clubs, major sporting and recreational events, major cultural events, conventions, or tourist destinations.
Why not just leave?
To ensure the victims’ compliance, sex traffickers use starvation, confinement, beatings, physical abuse, rape, or threats of violence to victims or their families or threats to expose their activities to their families and friends.
Victims of sex trafficking risk drug and alcohol addiction, physical injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, and forced or coerced abortions. Psychological effects on victims may include mind/body separation, shame, grief, fear, distrust, self-hatred, hatred of men, suicide, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the United States
Sex trafficking is escalating in the United States. Victimized children are often runaway or unwanted youth who live on the streets. According to a 2001 report by Richard J. Estes and Neil Alan Weiner, approximately 55% of street girls were engaged in formal prostitution and about 75% worked for pimps. The average age for the girls is 12–14 and the average age for boys and transgender youth is 11–13.
Parents should warn their children about criminals who target victims through the Internet. Parents who are aware of online predators should document online activities and report the activity to local or state law enforcement or to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In order to regain their self-esteem and rebuild their lives, victims of sex trafficking need nurturing, non-judgmental, unconditional love. Victims also need guidance in exploring alternatives to these destructive lifestyles and/or professional counseling. Non-US citizens who are victims of sex trafficking can access benefits and services including food, healthcare, and employment assistance through the US Department of Health and Human Services.
If you come in contact with a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888. This hotline will help you identify local resources available in your community to help victims and will help coordinate local service organizations.
Mission Service Corps missionary Shirley Cox writes from her home in Mt. Vernon, Kentucky.