Sex trafficking is human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery.[1] Sex trafficking has two aspects of supply and demand. The sex exploitation is based on the interaction between the trafficker selling a victim (the individual being trafficked and sexually exploited) to customers to perform sexual services.[2] Sex trafficking crimes are defined in three ways: acquisition, movement, and exploitation,[1] and includes child sex tourism (CST), domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) or commercial sexual exploitation of children, and prostitution.[2]

According to a 2012 UN report, there were 2.4 million people around the world who are victims of human trafficking at any given time.[3] In this annual US$32 billion industry, 80% of victims are sexually exploited.[3]

According to the International Labour Organization, there are 20.9 million people subjected to forced labour, and 22% (4.5 million) who are victims of forced sexual exploitation.[4] However, due to the covertness of sex trafficking, obtaining accurate, reliable statistics is difficult for researchers.[5]

Most victims find themselves in coercive or abusive situations from which escape is both difficult and dangerous. Locations where this practice occurs span the globe and reflect an intricate web between nations, making it very difficult to construct viable solutions to this human rights problem.

Defining the issue


In 2000, countries adopted a definition set forth by the United Nations.[6] The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, is also referred to as the Palermo Protocol. The Palermo Protocol created this definition.[6] 147 of the 192 member states of the UN ratified the Palermo Protocol when it was published in 2000;[6] as of September 2017, 171 states are parties.[7] Article 3 of the Palermo Protocol states the definition as:[8]

(a) "Trafficking in persons" shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs;

(b) The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used;

(c) The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered "trafficking in persons" even if this does not involve any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article;

(d) "Child" shall mean any person under eighteen years of age.

Article 5 of the Palermo Protocol then requires the member states to criminalize trafficking based on the definition outlined in Article 3; however, many member states' domestic laws reflect a narrower definition than Article 3.[6] Although these nations claim to be obliging Article 5, the narrow laws lead to a smaller portion of people being persecuted for sex trafficking.[6]

The UN established various anti-trafficking tools, including a Global Report on Trafficking in Persons and an Inter-Agency Coordination Group Against Trafficking in Persons. The Global Report on Trafficking in Person provides new information based on data gathered from 155 countries. It offers first global assessment of the scope of human trafficking and what is being done to fight it. The UN General Assembly passed several resolutions on measuring to eliminate human trafficking. In 2010 the UN Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons was adopted. Various other organizations have engaged in global efforts against sex trafficking. "The UN Protocol's is the bedrock of the international initiatives against human sex trafficking" . The protocol includes several elements the first being: Action which includes recruitment,and transportation. The next element becomes a Means which includes coercion, fraud, or abuse of power towards others. The purpose element is the most concerning which can also be exploitation. This includes exploiting the prostitution, forced labor, slavery, and the removal of organs. The UN requires states and countries to establish the trafficking of humans as a criminal offense.

United States

After members of Prostitutes Anonymous who were survivors of modern domestic sex trafficking spent 13 years doing TV, radio, public appearances, news interviews, etc. and calling out that this country needed to "'do something' about it" – an internationally recognized definition for sex trafficking was finally established with the Trafficking Act of 2000. It was during the same year the Palermo Protocol was enacted, the United States passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) to clarify the previous confusion and discrepancies in regards to the criminalizing guidelines of human trafficking.[9] Through this act, sex trafficking crimes were defined as a situation where in which a "commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age."[10] If the victim is a child under the age of 18 no force, fraud, or coercion needs to be proven based on this legislation.[9] Susan Tiefenbrun, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law who has written extensively on human trafficking, conducted research on the victims addressed in this act and discovered that each year more than two million women throughout the world are bought and sold for sexual exploitation.[5] In order to clarify previous legal inconsistencies in regards to youth and trafficking, the United States took legal measures to define more varieties of exploitive situations in relation to children.[9] The two terms they defined and focused on were "commercial sexual exploitation of children" and "domestic minor sex trafficking." Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is defined as "encompassing several forms of exploitation, including pornography, prostitution, child sex tourism, and child marriage."[9] Domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) is a term that represents a subset of CSEC situations that have "the exchange of sex with a child under the age of 18, who is a United States (US) citizen or permanent resident, for a gain of cash, goods, or anything of value."[9]


There is not one simple factor that perpetuates sex trafficking, rather a complex, interconnected web of political, socioeconomic, governmental, and societal factors.[11] Siddharth Kara argues that globalization and the spread of Western Capitalism drive inequality and rural poverty, which are the material causes for sex trafficking.[1] Kara also emphasizes that there are factors on both the supply and demand sides of sex trafficking, which contribute to its continued practice. Natural disasters, sex and gender discrimination, personal problems which increase vulnerability, and cultural norms which discriminate certain populations serve as factors which support the supply side of sex trafficking.[1] In regards to the demand for sex trafficking, Kara believes that the demand for inexpensive labor, strict immigration laws and policies, and the involvement of corrupt government officials in trafficking rings act as promoting factors of the industry.[1] Strict immigration laws are also cited by Susan Tiefenbrun as a key factor in individuals entering this industry because "poor women seeking to better their economic situations by emigration resort to the financial assistance of unscrupulous loan sharks and traffickers."[5]

In Susan Tiefenbrun's work on sex trafficking, she cites high poverty rates, a societal norm for minimal respect for women, a lack of public awareness on this issue, limited educational and economic opportunities for women, and poor laws to prosecute exploiters and traffickers, as the major factors present in the "source countries" of sex trafficking.[5] However, the destination countries to which sex workers are sent tend to be much wealthier compared to the source countries.[5]

As shown in this research and many other papers, sex trafficking is the result of a combination of various factors than the simple desire of individuals wanting to reap the profits from exploiting others through based on the demand for inexpensive sexual acts.[1]

Profile and modus operandi of traffickers

Pimp-controlled trafficking

In pimp-controlled trafficking, the victim is controlled by a single trafficker, sometimes called a pimp. The victim can be controlled by the trafficker physically, psychologically, and/or emotionally. In order to obtain control over their victims, traffickers will use force, drugs, emotional tactics as well as financial means. In certain circumstances, they will even resort to various forms of violence, such as gang rape and mental and physical abuse. Traffickers sometimes use offers of marriage, threats, intimidation, brainwashing and kidnapping as means of obtaining victims.

A common process is for the trafficker to first gain the trust of the victim, called the grooming stage. They seek to make the victim dependent on them.[12] The trafficker may express love and admiration, make lofty promises such as making the victim a star, offer them a job or an education or buy them a ticket to a new location.[13] The main types of work offered are in the catering and hotel industry, in bars and clubs, modeling contracts, or au pair work. Once the victim is comfortable, the pimp moves to the seasoning stage, where they will ask the victim to perform sexual acts for the pimp, which the victim may do because they believe it is the only way to keep the trafficker's affection. The requests progress from there and it can be difficult for the victim to escape.[12]

Another tactic is for traffickers to kidnap their victims, and then drug them or secure them so they cannot escape.[14] Traffickers may seek out potential victims who are traveling alone, are separated from their group, or seem like they have low self-esteem. They may go to places likes malls where they are more likely to find girls without parents.[15]

Traffickers are using social media at an increasing rate to find victims, research potential victims, control their victims and advertise their victims.[16][17] Traffickers often target people who post things that indicate that they are depressed, have low self-esteem or are angry with their parents.[18] Traffickers also use social media posts to establish patterns and track the locations of potential victims.[19]

After the victim has joined the offender, various techniques are used to restrict the victim's access to communication with home, such as imposing physical punishment unless the victim complies with the trafficker's demands and making threats of harm and even death to the victim and their family.[13] Sometimes, the victims will succumb to the Stockholm Syndrome because their captors will pretend to "love" and "need" them, even going so far as promise marriage and future stability. This is particularly effective with younger victims, because they are more inexperienced and therefore easily manipulated.[20]

In India, those who traffick young girls into prostitution are often women who have been trafficked themselves. As adults they use personal relationships and trust in their villages of origin to recruit additional girls.[21] Also, some (migrating) prostitutes (See: migrant sex work) can become victims of human trafficking because the women know they will be working as prostitutes; however, they are given an inaccurate description by their "boss" of the circumstances. Therefore, they consequently get exploited due to their misconception of what conditions to expect of their sex work in the new destination country.[22][23]

Gang-controlled trafficking

Gang-controlled sex trafficking and Pimp-controlled sex trafficking run their operations in very similar ways. The largest difference between the two is that gang-controlled trafficking is run by a large group of people whereas pimp-controlled trafficking is run by only one person.[24] In general, gang members are expected or forced to participate in tasks that involve illegal and violent activity. Some of these criminal behaviors may include: distributing drugs, robbery, trafficking drugs, extortion, and murder.[25] One money making source that many people don’t necessarily associate with gangs is human sex trafficking. Gangs are now turning to sex trafficking as it is seen as safer and more lucrative than drug trafficking.[26]

The gangs can make larger amounts of money quicker by selling other people’s bodies, and are less likely to get caught.[27] In certain circumstances, gangs may team up with other gangs in the area, and work together as a sex ring. There are a number of different reasons that gangs make this decision. One reason is that it enables them to increase profits by trading different girls, women, boys or men. This gives their client, also known as a john, a greater variety of options to choose from. Clients are often willing to pay a larger price for a sexual experience with someone new. Another reason that gangs will share females is because this makes it more difficult for law enforcement to keep track of the victims, ultimately preventing them from making a positive identification.[28]

When people think or talk about sex trafficking a very common question people will ask is, “where do they find people to traffic?” In many cases, gang members will scope girls out at malls, skip parties, online and through social media. In addition, they often will seek out female runaways from their neighborhood. Many of the girls they look for have been physically or sexually abused, have low self-esteem, struggle with drug and alcohol dependency, or are seeking a home/family environment.[29]

In order for the gang to sex traffic an individual, the first thing they need to do is gain that person's trust. They shower the victim with praise and attention, making her feel important and desired. This is referred to as the Romeo Method. It consists of different manipulation techniques. A member will take her to a fancy restaurant, flounder her with lavish gifts, and take her to parties where they are provided with endless supplies of drugs and alcohol. They also learn their weaknesses at the same time, find his or her vulnerabilities and once they find that soft spot they can use it against them.[30]

Gang members often wear certain types of clothing or colors to prove their commitment or loyalty to the gang. It is also very common to represent your gang by branding your body with tattoos.[29] Unfortunately, many victims of sex trafficking are being branded as well. By forcing a tattoo onto their victims they are essentially marking their territory and officially displaying ownership of that person.[31] In the short film, Unbranded: Sex Trafficking Tattoo Removal, Vice Media dives deep into the recovery stages of a young girl who was trafficked for 3 years. During her time of being exploited, she was forced to receive a tattoo by her trafficker.[32][33]

Familial trafficking

In familial trafficking, the victim is controlled by family members who allow them to be sexually exploited in exchange for something of value, such as drugs or money. For example, a mother may allow a boyfriend to abuse a child in exchange for housing. Usually, it begins with one family member and spreads from there. Familial trafficking may be difficult to detect because these children often have a larger degree of freedom and may still attend school and after-school functions. These children may not understand that they are being trafficked or may not have a way out. Familial trafficking is considered by some to be the most prevalent form of human sex trafficking within the United States. [12]

Forced marriage

A forced marriage is a marriage where one or both participants are married without their freely given consent.[34] Servile marriage is defined as a marriage involving a person being sold, transferred or inherited into that marriage.[35] According to ECPAT, "Child trafficking for forced marriage is simply another manifestation of trafficking and is not restricted to particular nationalities or countries".[36]

A forced marriage qualifies as a form of human trafficking in certain situations. If a woman is sent abroad, forced into the marriage and then repeatedly compelled to engage in sexual conduct with her new husband, then her experience is that of sex trafficking. If the bride is treated as a domestic servant by her new husband and/or his family, then this is a form of labor trafficking.[37]

Survival sex

In survival sex, the victim is not necessarily controlled by another person but feels they have to perform sexual acts in order to obtain basic commodities to survive. In addition to money, persons engaging in survival sex may trade sexual favors for food, shelter, or drugs [12][38]

Profile of victims

There is no single profile for victims of human trafficking. Most are women, though it is not uncommon for males to be trafficked as well. Victims are captured then exploited all around the world, representing a diverse range of ages and backgrounds, including ethnic and socioeconomic. However, there is a set group of traits associated with a higher risk of becoming trafficked for sexual exploitation. Persons at risk include homeless and runaway youth, foreign nationals (especially those of lower socioeconomic status), and those who have experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, violent trauma, neglect, poor academic success, and inadequate social skills.[2][39] Also, a study on a group of female sex workers in Canada found that 64 percent of the women had been in the child welfare system as children (this includes foster and group homes).[2] This research conducted by Kendra Nixon illustrates how children in or leaving foster care are at a higher risk of becoming a sex worker.[2]

In the United States, research has illustrated how these qualities hold true for victims, even though none can be labeled as a direct cause.[9] For example, more than 50 percent of domestic minor sex trafficking victims have a history of homelessness.[9] Familial disruptions such as divorce or the death of a parent place minors at a higher risk of entering the industry, but home life in general influences children's risk. In a study of trafficked youth in Arizona, 20 to 40 percent of female victims identified with experiencing abuse of some form (sexual or physical) at home before entering into the industry as a sex slave.[9] For the males interviewed, a smaller proportion, 0 to 30 percent, reported former abuse in the home.[9]

Children are at risk because of their vulnerable characteristics; naïve outlook, size, and tendency to be easily intimidated".[2] The International Labor Organization estimates that of the 20.9 million people who are trafficked in the world (for all types of work) 5.5 million are children.[40]

The main motive of a woman (in some cases, an underage girl) to accept an offer from a trafficker is better financial opportunities for herself or her family. A study on the origin countries of trafficking confirms that most trafficking victims are not the poorest in their countries of origin, and sex trafficking victims are likely to be women from countries with some freedom to travel alone and some economic freedom.[41]

Consequences to victims

Sex trafficked people face similar health consequences to women exploited for labor purposes, people who've experienced domestic violence, and migrant women.[42] Many of the sex workers contract sexual transmitted infections (STIs).[9] In a study conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, "only one of 23 trafficked women interviewed felt well-informed about sexually transmitted infections or HIV before leaving home."[42] Without knowledge about this aspect of their health, trafficked women may not take the necessary preventative steps and contract these infections and have poor health seeking behavior in the future.[42] The mental health implications range from depression to anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the abuse and violence victims face from their pimps or "Johns".[9] With such a mindset many individuals develop alcohol or drug addictions and abusive habits.[9] Also, traffickers commonly coerce or force their sex workers to use alcohol or drugs when they are in childhood or adolescence.[2] Many victims use these substances as a coping mechanism or escape which further promotes the rate of addiction in this population.[2] In a 30-year longitudinal study conducted by J. Potterat et al., it was determined that the average lifespan for women engaged in prostitution in Colorado Springs was 34 years.[9]

Around the world


Sex trafficking of women and children is the second most common type of trafficking for export in Africa.[11] In Ghana, "connection men" or traffickers are witnessed regularly at border crossings and transport individuals via fake visas. Women are most commonly trafficked to Belgium, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, the Netherlands, Nigeria, and the United States.[11] Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United States are also common destination countries for trafficked Nigerian women.[11] In Uganda, the Lord's Resistance Army, traffics individuals to Sudan to sell them as sex slaves.[11] The Nigerian syndicates dominate sex trades in multiple territories. The syndicates recruit women from South Africa and send them to Europe and Asia, where they are forced into prostitution, drug smuggling, or domestic violence. Law enforcement reported that sex traffickers force drug use to persuade these unwilling women.[43]


The key hubs for both source transportation and destination of the sub-region of Asia include India, Japan, South Korea and Thailand.[11] India is a major hub for trafficked Bangladeshi and Nepali women.[11] In India itself, there are estimated 3 million sex workers and 40% of those sex workers are trafficked children, mostly girls from ethnic minorities and lower castes. In Thailand, 800,000 children under the age of 16 were involved in prostitution in 2004.[44] Also, according to UNICEF and the International Labour Organization there are 40,000 child prostitutes in Sri Lanka.[44] Thailand and India are of the top five countries with the highest rates of child prostitution.[44] The 2014 Global Slavery Index (GSI) says that there are about 36 million victims of trafficking in the world, and nearly two-thirds of the people are from Asia. Pakistan, Thailand, China, India, and Bangladesh are in the top 10 for countries with the largest amount of tracking victims around the world. India is at the top of the list with 14 million victims, China comes in second with 3.2 million victims, and Pakistan comes in at third with 2.1 million victims.[45] Cambodia is also a transit, source, and a destination country for trafficking.[46] 36% of trafficked victims in Asia are children, while 64% are adults.[47]


Europe has the highest number of sex slaves per capita in the world.[48][unreliable source?] In general, countries who are members of the European Union are destinations for individuals to be sex trafficked whereas the Balkans and Eastern Europe are source and transit countries.[11] Transit countries are picked for their geographical location. This is because the locations the traffickers pick usually have a weak border control, the distance from the destination countries, corrupt official, or the organized crime groups are in on the sex trafficking.[49] In 1997 alone as many as 175,000 young women from Russia, as well as the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, were sold as commodities in the sex markets of the developed countries in Europe and the Americas[50] The European Union reported that from 2010–13 30,146 individuals were identified and registered as human trafficking victims.[51] Of those registered, 69 percent of the victims were sexually exploited and more than 1,000 were children.[51] Although many sex trafficked individuals are from outside of Europe, two-thirds of the 30,146 victims were EU citizens.[51] Despite this high proportion of domestic sex slaves, the most common ethnicities of women who are trafficked to the United Kingdom are Chinese, Brazilian, and Thai.[11] Moldova is a known country in Europe for women, children and men to be subjected to sex trafficking.[52] Girls from Moldova become sex slaves starting at the age of 14. On average, they have sex with 12 to 15 men per day.[53] The national Bureau of Statistics in Moldova says that in 2008 there were almost 25,000 victims of trafficking. When the women from Moldova are being trafficked for sex, they are most likely to be sent to countries such as, Russia, Cyprus, Turkey, and other Middle Western and Eastern European countries.[54] This is because, in Russia, it is said that the government is well aware about people being sex trafficked and maybe even promote it.[55] 85 percent of the victims leave their country to find a better job to support their family, but they are tricked into becoming a sex slave and are forced to become a prostitute.[54] The International Organization for Migration (IOM) asked victims what country they came from and sixty one percent of the victims came from Moldova, 19 percent came from Romania, and the rest came from Albania, Bulgaria, Russia, and Ukraine. More than 60 percent of the victims had a secondary school education or better, and 21 was the age average.[54]


Iran is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Iranian girls between the ages of 13 and 17 are targeted by traffickers for sale abroad; younger girls may be forced into domestic service until their traffickers consider them old enough to be subjected to child sex trafficking. An increase in the transport of girls from and through Iran en route to other Gulf States for sexual exploitation has been reported from 2009-2015; during the reporting period, Iranian trafficking networks subjected Iranian girls to sex trafficking in brothels in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Organized criminal groups kidnap or purchase and force Iranian and immigrant children to work as beggars and street vendors in cities, including Tehran. These children, who may be as young as 3, are coerced through physical and sexual abuse and drug addiction; reportedly many are purchased for as little as $150.[56] Dozens of girls from Iran are brought to Pakistan to be sold as sex slaves every day.[57] Most of these women have already been raped within the first 24 hours of their departure.[58] It was also said in the Tehran newspapers that senior figures from the government have been involved in buying, selling, and abusing young women and children. Runaway girls in Iran are sought out for by the traffickers because it is incredibly easy to put them in the sex trafficking market since they have no home.[57] There are about 84,000 women and girls in prostitution in Tehran. Most of them are on the streets, while others are in the 250 brothels.[58]


The trafficking of women into prostitution in Israel began in the early 1990s.[citation needed] An estimate of three thousand women were being trafficked in the 1990s and early 2000s. Many of the women came from “post-Soviet states particularly Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and many more.” The women ended up in brothels where they worked 7 days a week and served up to 30 clients a day. The traffickers used physical violence and threats to dissuade the women from leaving, they also confined women behind locked doors and barred windows. Throughout the 1990s the Israeli authorities failed to view sex trafficking as a problem, they simply viewed it as prostitution. They failed to interfere with brothel operations. If a case was filed the trafficker would have had a plea bargain with light punishment. The women who were being trafficked on the other hand were classified as illegal alien or criminals since they entered Israel illegally, so authorities concentrated on catching the women rather than the traffickers. Usually the victims of trafficking are vulnerable because they live in poverty, or they aren't educated. Trafficking affects the mental health of the victim as well as physical health. Israel has become a country of destination for women who had been trafficked from surrounding countries.

Israel was ranked Tier in the 2016 U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report[59] Tier 1 is the highest ranking given to a government that has acknowledged human trafficking and has made efforts to solve the problem. Israel has tried to improve and protect the victims affected by sex trafficking. Israel has been providing victims of human sex trafficking with shelter and protection against the sex traffickers. Which have been one of many steps taken to lower the number of women who have been affected by the traffickers. Although many say that the shelters that they provide are not sufficient for the victims, it has been seen that the number of women affected has declined since 2006. The anti trafficking law of 2006 describes penalties of up to 16 years of imprisonment for trafficking an adult, 20 years for trafficking a child, 16 years for slavery and up to 7 years for forced labor.


History of international legislation

International pressure to address trafficking in women and children became a growing part of the social Reform movement in the United States and Europe during the late nineteenth century. International legislation against the trafficking of women and children began with the conclusion of an international convention in 1901, and the International Agreement for the suppression of the White Slave Traffic in 1904. (The latter was revised in 1910.) The first formal international research into the issue was funded by American philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, through the American Bureau of Social Hygiene. The League of Nations, formed in 1919, took over as the international coordinator of legislation intended to end the trafficking of women and children. An international Conference on White Slave Traffic was held in 1921, attended by the 34 countries that ratified the 1901 and 1904 conventions.[60] Another convention against trafficking was ratified by League members in 1922, and like the 1904 international convention, this one required ratifying countries to submit annual reports on their progress in tackling the problem. Compliance with this requirement was not complete, although it gradually improved: in 1924, approximately 34 percent of the member countries submitted reports as required: this rose to 46 percent in 1929, 52 percent in 1933, and 61 percent in 1934.[61] The 1921 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children was sponsored by the League of Nations. In 1923, a committee from the bureau was tasked with investigating trafficking in 28 countries, interviewing approximately 5,000 informants and analyzing information over two years before issuing its final report. This was the first formal report on trafficking in women and children to be issued by an official body.[60]

Efforts to combat sex trafficking are often linked to efforts against prostitution; however, this is often problematic in regards to legal recourse of sex trafficking victims. While prostitutes are nominally working by choice, sex trafficking victims do so under duress. Recognizing this, many states have passed legislation that allows sex trafficking victims amnesty under prostitution laws, however many fail to do so due to legal illiteracy and institutional prejudices.[62] As such, sex trafficking victims often risk legal persecution when alerting authorities to their situation.

Jane Addams was one of the most notable reformers during the Progressive Era and refined the still early concepts of white slavery and sex work in her book "A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil”. She, among others, fought to classify all people coerced into prostitution as victims of sexual slavery, and believed that all sex work was sexual exploitation of women by more powerful men. Addams also believed that abolishing white slavery would bring more women into the suffrage movement. Alex Smolak, a physician, has studied many of the health risks faced by women in white slavery during the Progressive era. She says in her article titled “White Slavery, Whorehouse Riots, Venereal Disease, and Saving Women..."[63] that “The Progressive Era was a time when society was rapidly changing, with influences stemming from urbanization, industrialization, commercialization, immigration, and civilizing morality, all interacting with one another to fuel both prostitution and the anti-prostitution movement.” Along with “The U.S. White Slave act of 1910”, the “International Agreement for the Suppression of the White Slave Trade” was ratified by 13 nations, including the United States in 1904. Throughout the next 45 years the International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children was adopted by the League of Nations and the term white slavery was replaced by trafficking, the word used commonly today.

Wanted 60,000 girls to take the place of 60,000 white slaves who will die this year

The first formal international research into the scope of the problem was funded by American philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, through the American Bureau of Social Hygiene.

United Nations

The first international protocol dealing with sex slavery was the 1949 UN Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and Exploitation of Prostitution of Others.[64] This convention followed the abolitionist idea of sex trafficking as incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person. Serving as a model for future legislation, the 1949 UN Convention was not ratified by every country, but came into force in 1951. These early efforts led to the 2000 Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, mentioned above. These instruments contain the elements of the current international law on trafficking in humans.

In 2011, the United Nations reported that girl victims made up two-thirds of all trafficked children. Girls constituted 15 to 20 percent of the total number of all detected victims, whereas boys comprised about 10 percent. The UN report was based on official data supplied by 132 countries.[65]

In 2013, a resolution to create the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons was adopted by the United Nations.[66] The first World Day against Trafficking in Persons took place July 30, 2014, and the day is now observed every July 30.[66]

Current international treaties include the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage, and Registration of Marriages, entered into force in 1964.

In the United States

Louise Slaughter testifies at a Ways & Means Human Resources Subcommittee hearing on October 23, 2013. Louise testified in strong support of a bill she has co-sponsored with Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) that address the high rate of children in foster care being recruited into sex trafficking within the United States. (10445204615)

In 1910, the U.S. Congress passed the White Slave Traffic Act of 1910 (better known as the Mann Act), which made it a felony to transport women across state borders for the purpose of "prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose". Its primary stated intent was to address prostitution, immorality, and human trafficking particularly where it was trafficking for the purposes of prostitution, but the ambiguity of "immorality" effectively criminalized interracial marriage and banned single women from crossing state borders for morally wrong acts. In 1914, of the women arrested for crossing state borders under this act, 70 percent were charged with voluntary prostitution. Once the idea of a sex slave shifted from a white woman to an enslaved woman from countries in poverty, the US began passing immigration acts to curtail aliens from entering the country in order to address this issue. (The government had other unrelated motives for the new immigration policies.) Several acts such as the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and Immigration Act of 1924 reduced the number of emigrants from Europe and Asia from entering the United States. Following the increased restrictions of the 1920s (which were significantly relaxed by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965), human trafficking was not considered a major issue until the 1990s.[67][68][dubious ]

The Commercial Sex Act[69] makes it illegal to recruit, entice, obtain, provide, move or harbor a person or to benefit from such activities knowing that the person will be caused to engage in commercial sex acts where the person is under 18 or where force, fraud or coercion exists.[70][71]

Under the George W. Bush Administration, fighting sex slavery worldwide and domestically became a priority with an average of $100 million spent per year, which substantially outnumbers the amount spent by other countries. Before President Bush took office, Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). The TVPA strengthened services to victims of violence, law enforcement's ability to reduce violence against women and children, and education against human trafficking. Also specified in the TVPA was a mandate to collect funds for the treatment of sex trafficking victims that provided them with shelter, food, education, and financial grants. Internationally, the TVPA set standards that governments of other countries must follow in order to receive aid from the U.S. to fight human trafficking. Once George W. Bush took office in 2001, restricting sex trafficking became one of his primary humanitarian efforts. The Attorney General under President Bush, John Ashcroft, strongly enforced the TVPA. The Act was subsequently renewed in 2004, 2006, and 2008. It established two stipulations an applicant has to meet in order to receive the benefits of a T-Visa. First, a trafficked victim must prove/admit to being trafficked and second must submit to prosecution of his or her trafficker. In 2011, Congress failed to re-authorize the Act. The State Department publishes an annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which examines the progress that the U.S. and other countries have made in destroying human trafficking businesses, arresting the kingpins, and rescuing the victims.[72][73][74]

Council of Europe

Complementary protection is ensured through the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (signed in Lanzarote, 25 October 2007). The Convention entered into force on 1 July 2010.[75] As of December 2016, the Convention has been ratified by 42 states, with another 5 states having signed but not yet ratified.[76] The goal of the Convention is to provide the framework for an independent and effective monitoring system that holds the member states accountable for addressing human trafficking and providing protecting to victims.[77] To monitor the implementation of this act, the Council of Europe established the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA).[78] The Convention address the structure and purpose of GRETA and holds the group accountable to publish reports evaluating the measures taken by the states who have signed the Convention.[78]

Other government actions

Actions taken to combat human trafficking vary from government to government.[79] Some government actions include:

  • introducing legislation specifically aimed at criminalizing human trafficking;
  • developing co-operation between law enforcement agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs) of numerous nations; and
  • raising awareness of the issue.

Raising awareness can take three forms. First, governments can raise awareness among potential victims, particularly in countries where human traffickers are active. Second, they can raise awareness amongst the police, social welfare workers and immigration officers to equip them to deal appropriately with the problem. And finally, in countries where prostitution is legal or semi-legal, they can raise awareness amongst the clients of prostitution so that they can watch for signs of human trafficking victims. Methods to raise general awareness often include television programs, documentary films, internet communications, and posters.[80]


Many countries have come under criticism for inaction, or ineffective action. Criticisms include the failure of governments to properly identify and protect trafficking victims, enactment of immigration policies which potentially re-victimize trafficking victims, and insufficient action in helping prevent vulnerable populations from becoming trafficking victims. A particular criticism has been the reluctance of some countries to tackle trafficking for purposes other than sex.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

Many NGOs work on the issue of sex trafficking. One major NGO is the International Justice Mission (IJM). IJM is a U.S.-based non-profit human rights organization that combats human trafficking in developing countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. IJM states that it is a "human rights agency that brings rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression." It is a faith-based organization since its purported goal is to "restore to victims of oppression the things that God intends for them: their lives, their liberty, their dignity, the fruits of their labor."[81] The IJM receives over $900,000 from the US government.[82] The organization has two methods for rescuing victims: brothel raids in cooperation with local police, and "buy bust" operations in which undercover agencies pretend to purchase sex services from an underage girl. After the raid and rescue, the women are sent to rehabilitation programs run by NGOs (such as churches) or the government.

There are also national Non-governmental organizations working on the issue of human trafficking, including sex trafficking. In Kenya for example, Awareness Against Human Trafficking (HAART) works on ending all human trafficking in the country.[83] HAART has also participated in the UNANIMA International Stop the Demand campaign [84]

In India, J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam has opened a school called School for Justice. Here, survivors of sex trafficking are educated to become lawyers. The entire program is expected to take five to six years for each girl to complete. The women will graduate with law degrees, with a special focus on commercial sexual exploitation cases. JWT hopes that one day they may become prosecutors, or even judges, empowered to combat the criminals who once exploited and abused them.[85]

Campaigns and initiatives

In 1994, Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women was established to combat trafficking in women on any grounds. It is an alliance of more than 100 non-governmental organizations from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and North America.[86] The Demi and Ashton (DNA) Foundation was created by celebrity humanitarians Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher in 2009 in their efforts to fight human trafficking (specifically focusing on sex trafficking of children) in the U.S. In September 2010, the pair announced the launch of their "Real Men Don't Buy Girls" campaign to combat child sex trafficking alongside other Hollywood stars and technology companies such as Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook. "Real Men Don't Buy Girls" is based on the idea that high-profile men speaking out against child sex trafficking can help reduce the demand for young girls in the commercial sex trade. The popular TV channel MTV started a campaign to combat sex trafficking. The initiative called MTV EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) is a multimedia initiative produced by MTV EXIT Foundation (formerly known as the MTV Europe Foundation) to raise awareness and increase prevention of human trafficking.[87][88]

Another campaign is the A21 Campaign, Abolishing Injustice in the 21st Century, which focuses on addressing human trafficking through a holistic approach.[89] They provide potential victims with the education and valuable information on how to best reduce their likelihood of being trafficked through strategies that reduce their vulnerability. The organization also provides safe environments for victims and runs restoration programs in their aftercare facilities.[89] In addition, they provide legal council and representation to victims so they can prosecute their traffickers. Another key component of the campaign is to help influence legislation in order to enact more comprehensive laws that place more traffickers in prison.[89]

Not For Sale girl.jpeg

The Not for Sale (organization) Campaign works in the United States, Peru, the Netherlands, Romania, Thailand, South Africa, and India to help victims of human trafficking. In 2013 alone, they provided 4,500 services to 2,062 individuals.[90] The vast majority of victims who received assistance were from the Netherlands and the number of victims served increased by 42 percent from 2012. The campaign allocates the majority of their funds to providing victims health and nutritional care and education. Not for Sale provides a safe shelter for victims and empowers them with life skills and job training.[90] This helps trafficked individuals re-enter into the workforce through a dignified form of work. In the organization's 2013 Annual Impact Report, it was determined that 75 percent of the victims had been sexually exploited.[91]

While globalization fostered new technologies that may exacerbate sex trafficking, technology can also be used to assist law enforcement and anti-trafficking efforts. A study was done on online classified ads surrounding the Super Bowl. A number of reports have noticed increase in sex trafficking during previous years of the Super Bowl.[92] For the 2011 Super Bowl held in Dallas, Texas, the Backpage website for the Dallas area experienced a 136 percent increase on the number of posts in the Adult section that Sunday. Typically, Sundays were known to be the day of the week with the lowest amount of posts in the Adult section. Researchers analyzed the most salient terms in these online ads and found that most commonly used words suggested that many escorts were traveling across state lines to Dallas specifically for the Super Bowl. Also, the self-reported ages were higher than usual which conveys that an older population of sex workers were drawn to the event, but since these are self-reported the data is not reliable. Twitter was another social networking platform studied for detecting sex trafficking. Digital tools can be used to narrow the pool of sex trafficking cases, albeit imperfectly and with uncertainty.[93]

'End Demand'

End Demand refers to the strategy and efforts of different institutions that seek to end sex trafficking by eliminating and criminalizing the demand for both voluntary and involuntary commercial sex. End Demand is very popular in some countries including the United States and Canada.[94] Proponents of the End Demand strategy support initiatives such as "John's schools" that rehabilitate johns, increased arrests of johns, and public shaming (e.g. billboards and websites that publicly name johns who were caught).[94][95][96] John's Schools were pioneered in San Francisco in 1995 and now used in many cities across the U.S. as well as other countries such as the UK and Canada. Some compare John's Schools programs to driver's safety courses, because first offenders can pay a fee to attend class(es) on the harms of prostitution, and upon completion, the charges against the john will be dropped. Another initiative that seeks to end demand is the cross-country tour "Ignite the Road to Justice," launched by the 2011 Miss Canada, Tara Teng. Teng's initiative circulates a petition to end the demand for commercial sex that drives prostitution and sex trafficking. End Demand efforts also include large-scale public awareness campaigns. Campaigns have started in Sweden, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Atlanta, Georgia. The Atlanta campaign in 2006 was titled "Dear John," and ran ads in local media reaching out to potential johns to discourage them from buying sex. Massachusetts and Rhode Island also had legislative efforts that criminalized prostitution and increased end demand efforts by targeting johns.[94]

Criminalizing and legalizing prostitution

Laws regarding the purchase and sale of voluntary and involuntary sex vary greatly across the developed world. Their effects on sex trafficking are difficult to discern. Proponents of various forms of criminalization, legalization, or regulation of prostitution, may all argue their model decreases sex trafficking.[97]

The Dutch model of legalization and regulation and the Swedish model of criminalizing purchasers and pimps but not prostitutes are often discussed. The difference of these models casts the prevention of trafficking against the rights of voluntary sex workers and purchasers. It is argued that a hybrid model of licensing sex workers and criminalizing the purchase of unlicensed sex would reduce trafficking without crushing civil rights.[97]

2017 Giving Day

Numerous international organizations have partnered to create an anti-human trafficking Giving Day to raise awareness and funds on July, 30th 2017. This is the day designated by the United Nations as the World Day against Trafficking in Persons. The Giving Day is being hosted by Charidy.com, a crowdfunding platform for non-profits.[98]

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External links