Sex trafficking is the recruitment and transportation of persons within or across boundaries by force, fraud, or deception for the purpose of sexual exploitation. In simpler words, sex trafficking is sexual slavery. Sex trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry. It includes prostitution, pornography, strip clubs, escort agencies, massage parlors, and online websites. Girls and women are even trafficked on Craigs List.
Facts About Sex Trafficking
- The Department of Justice estimates the most frequent age of entry into the commercial sex industry in the United States is between 12-14 years old.**
- Estimates as high as 98% of prostituted women were sexually abused as children, leaving them conditioned to sexual exploitation.
- 72% of prostituted women are currently or formerly homeless.*
- 78% report being raped an average of 33 times a year by customers.*
- 73% report being physically assaulted by customers, with 83% of these being assaulted with a weapon.*
- 75% in escort prostitution had attempted suicide.*
*Melissa Farley, founding director of Prostitution Research and Education
** GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services), www.gems-girls.org and Department of Justice, www.usdoj.gov
Sex trafficking is a risk to girls and women across the globe. In the United States, each year between 100,000 and 300,000 children, most of them girls, are trafficked.
Runaways, the poor, and girls and women from marginalized groups are the most vulnerable, but anyone can become a victim of trafficking. It is estimated that a runaway girl will be approached by a pimp within the first 48 hours of being out on the streets. But just as common are pimps meeting and befriending girls at the food courts at neighborhood malls.
Studies estimate that as many as 98% of prostituted girls and women are controlled by pimps. Traffickers lure girls into prostitution by preying on their vulnerabilities, isolating them from everything that is familiar or comfortable, and promising them love and security. A trafficker will then manipulate the child’s world view until the child is completely dependant upon her exploiter. Control is maintained through deception and violence.
Yet prostitution and pornography continue to be standard fodder for jokes on mainstream television. Movies like the popular 1990’s movie, “Pretty Woman,” and popular music such as “It’s Hard Out There for a Pimp,” have glamorized the sex industry and convinced many that women entering “the life” or “the game” do so by choice.
Exploited children are often labeled “child prostitutes” or juvenile delinquents and are sentenced to detention facilities while those who buy and sell them most often escape consequences.
Sex trafficking is driven by the demand of the buyers. The trafficker is just the middle man. As long as there is a buyer of commercial sex, there will be child victims of sexual exploitation.
The arrest and prosecution of buyers and sellers of trafficked girls and women must be made a priority in our legal system. We must stop labeling victims of sex trafficking as criminals and instead treat them as the survivors of abuse and exploitation that they are - by providing them with protection from their traffickers and services for their recovery.
If You are a Survivor of Sex Trafficking
- Remember that you are NOT to blame. The perpetrators - the sellers and buyers - of trafficked individuals are responsible.
- Place the blame where it belongs. Guilt or self-blame is a frequent response to being used in the sex industry. Survivors sometimes worry that they could have done something to prevent this from happening to them. In truth, the pimp targets his victims. Choosing to make-out, stay out late, or wear certain clothes does not cause sex trafficking.
- You may have a whole range of feelings, including anger, fear, shame, dirtiness, shock, guilt, helplessness, distrust, disbelief, self-doubt, exhaustion, and depression.
- Nightmares and flashbacks are normal. Nightmares are a common, often terrifying, response to traumatic events. Many survivors also experience flashbacks - intense feelings of re-experiencing the events of being trafficked.
- Seek support. You do not have to deal with this on your own. When you’re ready to talk, contact an advocate, counselor, supportive family member or trusted friend. The CARDV hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (541-754-0110 or 1-800-927-0197)
- Give yourself permission to make your own decisions. Right now it’s important for you to have control over some part of your life. This may be difficult, and you may have mixed feelings about what to do. Give yourself permission to make the decisions that are best and healthiest for you. Talking to CARDV’s hotline is a good way to get non-judgmental support and to find out about local resources.
- You may get lots of advice and questions from other people. Some people may say things that sound like they are judging you, or trying to make you feel responsible for the abuse you have experienced. Remember that no matter what happened, no one deserves to be abused. It was not your fault.
- Have a safety plan. Put together a safety plan. Find others you can turn to for help and support: perhaps a family member or a neighbor. If possible, gather the basic things you will need if you decide to leave: money, documents, medications, clothing, etc. Call CARDV’s 24-hour hotline for support, information, and assistance. (541-754-0110 or 1-800-927-0197)
- It is possible to escape and heal from sex trafficking. It will take time and work, but healing is possible, and it’s worth it. You have already survived the hardest part on your own; you don’t have to do the rest alone.
- Contact CARDV. CARDV offers 24/7 support through our hotline at 541-754-0110 or 1-800-927-0197. CARDV advocates are available to meet with you in person for support or can accompany you to the hospital, to law enforcement if you decide to report, or can attend legal proceedings with you. CARDV also has safe confidential shelter available.
You deserve to have support. You deserve to be safe.
How to Help a Survivor of Sex Trafficking
- Believe her. Let the survivor know that you believe her.
- Listen to her. Offer non-judgmental, non-blaming listening. Listen with compassion without asking questions that begin with why, or imply that she is responsible in any way for the abuse she has survived. Let her express her feelings in a time and manner that is comfortable for her.
- Encourage her to call CARDV’s 24-hour hotline. (541-754-0110 or 1-800-927-0197)
- Ask her how you can help keep her safe. Let her know you are available to drive her somewhere, give her a safe place to stay, help her obtain needed medications or other medical services, make copies of important documents, or any other help you feel you can safely provide.
- Be patient. Don’t try to rush her decision-making process. Give her time.
- Encourage her to seek additional support. Let her know it’s OK to contact an advocate at CARDV or a professional counselor to help her work through the feelings she is experiencing. Helping her build a strong support network is one of the best things you can do.
- Take care of yourself. Supporting someone through a traumatic experience can be emotionally draining. Remember that the CARDV hotline and support services are for you, too.
"If you are a Survivor" and "How to Help" are adapted from resources at the Sexual Assault Recourse Center and the Oregon State University Sexual Assault Support Services.