Human trafficking for sexual exploitation is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. Innocent women and children beings are sold for money to amoral people who base their lives on the principles of supply and demand.
According to the organization Equality Now at minimum 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual enslavement, forced labor and warranted labor.” The highest percentage of sex trafficking happens in the Middle East and in Northern Africa but it happens all over the world, including the United States. Sex trafficking is an unjust, inhumane violation of basic human rights. This issue needs to be eradicated.
Women and girls make up 98 percent of sex trafficking victims. Most of these women and young girls are traded in brothels, houses where men can pay to be with prostitutes. Kolab, a sex trafficking survivor from Cambodia, said of her experiences, “they forced me to sleep with as many as 50 customers a day. I had to give [the pimp] all my money. If I did not [earn a set amount] they punished me by removing my clothes and beating me with a stick until I fainted, electrocuting me, cutting me.”
In addition to the emotional Trauma of being forced into sex work, a high percentage of women and girls contract sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. Many also become pregnant and are forced to abort, often in non-sterile conditions. These girls are often isolated, intimidated, and are victims to physical and sexual assault by their traffickers.
Many victims of sex trafficking live in poverty. For example, a thirteen-year-old girl, from the Karen tribe whose home was in Burma was persecuted because of where she lived. Her parents were killed when her village was burned down by the Burmese military. She had nowhere to go. Seeking protection, she ran into the forest with her older cousins, and traveled to Mae Sot, Thailand, where she thought she might be safer.
Her older cousin then sold her. “I was told I was going to work in a restaurant. I was taken to a house where an old man was waiting for me. He told me that he paid a lot of money for me he could do whatever he wanted. He beat me and raped me three times. Afterwards, a woman picked me up and took me to the “darling home.” I wasn’t allowed to go out or look outside of the windows. I got beaten if I did. I was given a number tag, which became my name. One day some clients took me away. I thought I would die, they had machetes and I cried for them to release me. They took me to a tent, where I was used by six men. I escaped and dragged myself into the street to look for help. When the police came I thought I was rescued. But they arrested me and took me back to the prostitute home. They accused me of trying to run away, and locked me in a room with no food for 10 days. I escaped when one of the prostitutes felt sorry for me and brought me food. I went to the top of the building, and jumped. But I didn’t die. So I got up and ran…”
Many are too afraid to attempt escape because the police are no help. In these high-risk areas, many children travel alone and become victims of human, or even drug trafficking. Children fleeing violence in high-risk areas like Burma are tricked into being sold. The Burmese military have destroyed fields, burned villages, stolen livestock, relocated communities, and practiced forced labor. Like in other countries, the Burmese government does little to nothing to help this issue and often enables trafficking operations. The government needs to realize the horrific impact of these actions, and take a stand to end sex trafficking.
Though some believe sex trafficking is an other-worldly problem, it is also happening in the United States today. According to the U.S. State Department, 600 to 800 thousand people are trafficked across international borders every year, 80 percent of whom are female and half of whom are children. The average age a teen is traded ranges from between 12-years-old to 14-years-old. In America, like in Asia, many girls are more vulnerable to being trafficked because of unstable living arrangements. Many victims are runaway girls who were sexually abused as children.
California and Texas have a particularly high percentage of sexual exploitation. According to the FBI, California holds three of the thirteen highest child sex trafficking areas in the nation—Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. Furthermore, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, they receive more calls from Texas than any other state in the United States, fifteen percent of the calls coming from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
A major contributor to this problem is that people do not realize that young girls who look like “normal teenage girls” are being sexually exploited on the spot. For instance, Keisha, a 16-year-old African American female originally from Florida, was raised by an aunt until she was 10 years old and then placed in the foster care system. At the age of 14, Keisha first ran away to avoid sexual harassment from one of her foster family's relatives. During that time, she met "Mastur D", a 26-year-old man who offered to help her get back to her biological family. He said he would pay some of the expenses to get them there, but she needed to help support them financially by engaging in commercial sex with some of his friends. With no money or other options Keisha took him up on his offer. He drove her back to Florida but when they arrived, he insisted that she had not earned enough money to cover their hotel and gas costs. He physically assaulted her and told her she would never see anyone else in her family if she did not engage in sex with other men of his choosing. She felt she had no other choice and continued to earn money for Mastur D to pay him back. Keisha was arrested for solicitation in Florida and after serving time in a juvenile detention center was returned to her foster family and was therefore returned to sexual harassment. Keisha ran away again a year later and called Mastur D to help her get back to Florida. He agreed to help. She was arrested again. As we have seen elsewhere in the world, authorities don’t understand the situation and often make matters worst. Even imagining the plight of these girls is heartbreaking. No girl should ever have to go through the fear and torture of something like this simply because they tried to run away from the terror that lies in their own homes—the one place they should feel safe. Sex trafficking is happening here and now and needs to be annihilated.
What many of us may not be aware of is that we can help. Perhaps, more awareness will put pressure on State and National governments to pass stronger laws, or to put resources into enforcing existing laws. Readers can support reform aimed at addressing the root causes: poverty and breakdown in family structure. Awareness can help the public recognize the warning signs, and contact the authorities for help. Anyone can also donate to organizations striving to stop this issue. Most organizations have a place on their webpage where you can donate. If you are aware of someone who is currently being sex trafficked or at risk for sex trafficking, you can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888. Every little bit of help could make a big change.
Sex trafficking is not something that should be increasing at such a rapid rate. Human trafficking touches every country and countless industries worldwide. Yes, there are many individuals and organizations working globally to help end this problem, but everyone’s help is needed to tackle an issue as large as this. Human sex trafficking is devastating to women and young children everywhere, this is a crime that needs to be stopped.
[Sources: National Human Trafficking Resource Center; Polaris; Give Way To Freedom; Equality Now; CNN; UNODC]