The term “sex trafficking” often feels far removed in America – it is commonly described as a pressing issue overseas that is not recognized in the United States. However, the sex trade, and sexual exploitation, is not only experienced by women and children in other countries. While these instances occur and many slaves are brought into the United States for the same purposes, a staggering number of Americans are trafficked by other Americans. Not only are American women forced into the sex trade, children are victims of sexual exploitation for commercial uses – and the sex trafficking industry has flourished for many years.
Sex Trafficking in the United States
- According to the U.S. Department of State, almost 300,000 American children are at risk for trafficking into the sex industry.
- According to the U.S. Department of Justice, girls as young as five or six years old are forced into the sex industry in the United States.
- In 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 people had been made sex slaves in the United States since 2001.
- The ECPAT USA anti-trafficking agency [End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes] states that on average, the “age of entry into street prostitution is between 12 and 14 years old, though there have been cases of girls as young as nine years old.”
What is sex trafficking?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “After drug dealing, trafficking of humans is tied with arms dealing as the second-largest criminal industry in the world.”
Sex trafficking occurs when individuals are forced or manipulated into the commercial sex trade against their will. This form of human trafficking exists at a much larger scale than most people understand, soliciting sexual exploitation in residential brothels, hostess clubs, online escort services, strip clubs, false massage parlors, on the streets and in many other areas.
Sex traffickers generally target vulnerable individuals through the use of:
- Fake promises
- Bondage to debt
Individuals who are trafficked are often vulnerable and have clear histories of abuse. Because of the high level of manipulation involved with sex trafficking, many instances are veiled in ambiguity, making it difficult for prosecutors to convict alleged traffickers. NBC News reports on a current case of a father and son running a prostitution ring in New York who were acquitted of sex-trafficking charges after three out of five prostitutes testified in their defense.
Thankfully, there is forward movement and justice being done regarding this complex issue. For instance, a report in The Houston Chronicle highlights an Iowa man convicted of commercial sex trafficking in South Dakota. The man was thankfully sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for his crimes.
Potential indicators of sex trafficking
Sex trafficking is not just a world problem – it occurs in both suburban and urban communities, and affects people of all ages, backgrounds and socioeconomic levels. The following are possible red flags in determining whether or not someone you know is involved in sex trafficking.
- The person is unable to physically leave a certain location whenever he or she wishes.
- The individual is under 18 and is soliciting commercial sex acts.
- The person in question is not allowed breaks and/or owes a large sum of debt that continues to increase.
- He or she demonstrates abnormal behavior such as fear, anxiety, submission and more.
- The person is unable to verify where he or she lives, revealing signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint and a lack of health care.
- The individual was led under false promises regarding the nature of his or her work.
How to take action
If you believe someone you know is a victim of sex trafficking or you are aware of a potential trafficking situation, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) immediately.
- Call 911 if you or someone you know is in danger.
- Submit a tip online for the NHTRC to review and forward to specialized law enforcement.
- Contact the NHTRC call specialist 24-hour hotline at 1-888-3737-888. All reports are confidential and information is welcome regarding any potential trafficking victim information, suspicious behavior or suspected areas of trafficking.
You can gather additional training and resources pertaining to sex trafficking through NHTRC.
Safe Harbor Christian Counseling is dedicated to helping the victims of sex trafficking and sex abuse find hope and encouragement, and provides coping and healing resources to the families and friends of victims. For more information on Safe Harbor’s counseling and therapy services, visit http://www.safeharbor1.com. Additionally, we invite you to join in with the faith-based dialogue that we offer by visiting our Facebook page and following Safe Harbor Christian Counseling on Twitter.