Human trafficking is an umbrella term for the different forms of exploitation of people. At least 24.9 million people are currently trapped in this modern day slavery and forced into sex work or labor. In the United States, sex trafficking is among the most prevalent in the world.
Local and national news stations are reporting on instances of trafficking that mostly involve children that have gone missing. Police in San Antonio, Texas were able to save a 9-year-old boy after he was kidnapped and on his way to be trafficked in another city. A 4-year-old girl was recovered in Texas with sex traffickers after she was taken out of state by her mother. Aviana Weaver, a 17 year old, from New Jersey was found in Philadelphia just weeks after going missing. Her pictures were found on a trafficking website and the reach of social media contributed to her safe return.
Sex trafficking is more widespread than people believe. The exchange of sex generates billions of dollars worldwide and incentivizes the need to find people to fill the demand. Sexual exploitation brings in nearly $99 billion globally. These transactions are not just taking place in desolate back alleys and strip clubs but at neighborhood parties and on the internet. Prostitution, porn and sex trafficking all go hand in hand. In many cases, victims of trafficking are forced into prostitution or porn.
Nicole Bell a survivor of sex trafficking provided insight into the world of exploitation at the Women in the World Summit.
“We look at prostitution and trafficking as two different things, but most people in prostitution have experienced trafficking in some form,” Bell said. “Most were brought into this before they were old enough to consent to have sex—never mind to being sold for sex.”
Addressing the issue of sexual exploitation means that we as a society have to re-evaluate how we look at the exchange of sex. In order to save victims of trafficking we need to examine what the implications of sex work are and how they effect victims and participants.
Noor Tagouri released a podcast, Sold in America, about the differences between trafficking and ‘legitimate’ sex work. On the show she interviews individuals who were brought into trafficking, chose to work in sex as an adult and people who facilitate and participate in the exchange of sex. Tagouri also talks to law enforcement in different states to see how they are trying to handle and distinguish these differences when prosecuting the illegal sex trade.
Due to the illicit nature of trafficking, exact figures are hard to come by but eighty percent of victims are American and the majority of them are children. Children are especially vulnerable to trafficking because they are easily manipulated and controlled. It is important to educate children of the dangers in society. Not all victims are kidnapped off the street by an unknown assailant. Many victims are groomed and coerced by traffickers. Technology has made it especially easy for people to target children.
While many of the operations of trafficking appear to be underground, they are hidden in plain sight. Identifying victims and traffickers can be easier than people think. Staying vigilant in your community, with loved ones and children is the best way to help reduce sex trafficking in your area.