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When the topic of human sex trafficking is mentioned, some people get mental pictures of sex slaves in foreign countries and remote places of the world. The reality is that human sex trafficking is a major problem even in developed nations like the United States. Human trafficking is a term that refers to the trade of humans, and it is most commonly done for forced labor, sexual slavery, or commercial sexual exploitation. The United States is a technologically and legally developed nation. Despite the sophistication of the United States, human sex trafficking is still an issue. Each year, people come in and out of the United States for the purpose of illegal human sex work.
In the discussion of human sex trafficking, it is important to consider who the victims are. The crime has multiple victims. The main victims are the actual people who are forced, tricked, or coerced into a life in the sex trade. Many of the sex workers are beaten, threatened, and forced to use addictive drugs (Walker-Rodriguez & Hill, 2011). The most common victims of sex trafficking are young females, but there are also older victims and male victims as well (Walker-Rodriguez & Hill, 2011). There are also other victims. Society at large is worsened by the presence of the illegal sex trade. Some parents and families may have their children or siblings coerced into the sex trade. Taxpayers also pay the price in the form of prison sentences, drug rehab programs, and also the crimes (such as theft) that are frequently committed by people involved in the sex trade.
The main victims of sex trafficking are the individuals who are forced to work in the sex trade. In some countries around the world, corrupt law enforcement and government are the main forces that prevent the victims from speaking out against the criminals (Bernat, 2013, p. 57). Under such circumstances, even if a victim went to law enforcement, the law enforcement may look the other way or even contact the pimp or other person working with the victim in order to punish them for attempting to speak out. The victim is then in a dangerous situation. They cannot speak out about the crime for fear of retaliation, so they are forced to accept whatever poor working conditions they are offered. In many cases, the person forcing them into the sex trade will take almost all of whatever money the victim earns through sex work (Bernat, 2013).
In the United States, victims are in a slightly different situation. Many individuals are forced into the sex trade out of desperation (Walker-Rodriguez & Hill, 2011). Some young people that are homeless or disowned by their family are targeted by pimps and other people involved in the human sex trafficking world (Walker-Rodriguez & Hill, 2011). The criminals may give the young person a place to stay temporarily, and then force them to engage in sex work as a way of making money. If the victim has low levels of education and income, then they have few, if any, alternatives. This is particularly true if they are staying at a homeless shelter or somewhere that is unpleasant. The pimp or sex criminal may entice them with lies about a more comfortable life. They may initially give them their own place to stay, food, and other amenities, only to later take those things away if the victim refuses any of their demands.
Central to the discussion of human sex trafficking and the sex trade in general are the issues of drugs and violence. Illegal drugs are used as a powerful tool to gain compliance and prevent sex workers from seeking help from law enforcement. In the United States, a pimp could take a homeless young girl and coerce her into the world of prostitution. However, without the use of drugs or violence, that prostitute could theoretically report the pimp at any time and disrupt the operation. Drugs make the situation different. Highly addictive drugs like heroin and cocaine are used frequently in the illegal sex trade (Tiefenbrun, 2000). This is true both domestically and internationally. In some major international sex trafficking rings, victims are first given large amounts of addictive drugs like heroin when they enter the sex trade (Tiefenbrun, 2000). The purpose of giving them such drugs is to get them addicted. Once the victim is addicted to the drug, they have less of an incentive to report the sex traffickers or pimps, because they rely on them in order to get more of the drug. Even in cases where they are terrible mistreated, they may continue to return to the traffickers or pimps in order to get another dose of their drug of choice.
Drugs and alcohol are also used as a coping method. The sex trade often involves violence, verbal and physical abuse, and other traumatic things that can have a major impact on an individual’s psychological wellbeing (Tiefenbrun, 2000). Even if victims of the sex trade are not forced into abusing drugs or alcohol, they may turn to them as a way of coping with the difficulties of working in the sex trade. Illegal drugs play a major role in the entire industry of illegal human sex trafficking.
Violence and threats of violence are major components in the world of human sex trafficking. Some situations exist in which someone is kidnapped and physically forced into the world of human sex trafficking (Oram et al., 2012). Such situations are more common in underdeveloped nations. A young person may be physically kidnapped and then transported or sold to someone in a different country (Oram et al., 2012). Although such situations are less common in developed nations, they do still occur (Oram et al., 2012). In developed nations, it is easier for a victim to reach out to law enforcement and report their kidnapper. However, some situations exist in which the kidnapper keeps the person locked up for a period of time and gets them addicted to drugs. After that, the person then has less of an incentive to report the kidnapper as a result of their desire to continue using an illegal drug. The kidnapper may also use violence or threats of violence in order to scare the victims. They may fear that the kidnapper, pimp, or sex trafficker will kill them if they choose to report the issue. Even if such threats are not real, the mere presence of such threats may be enough to gain compliance from the victim.
Language barriers represent another challenge for victims of human sex trafficking. In many cases, the human trafficker will bring a victim to a different country that they are unfamiliar with. As a result, the victim may not understand the language of the country they are brought to. If they cannot understand or speak the language, then they are severely limited and dependent on the human trafficker (Baldwin et al., 2011). This is true for several reasons. For one, they may be unable to obtain any type of job if they cannot even understand or speak the language. This means that the sex trade would be one of their only options for making some type of money. In addition, it also limits their ability to report the trafficker. If they cannot even speak the language, then the process of looking up laws, finding their way to a law enforcement office, and reporting the crime can be daunting. The traffickers also frequently lie to the victims. For example, they may traffic them to the United States and tell them that law enforcement will torture or harm them if they discover that they are involved in the sex trade. Although such stories are untrue, the victim may not have knowledge of law in the United States. Such threats may be even more credible if the victim comes from a country with a different legal system that does not give as many rights to people who are accused of committing a crime. Language barriers are also an issue with groups and individuals in the United States that work against sex trafficking. They may publish information, post ads, or do other things in order to give victims information about their rights. However, the victims may be unable to read or understand such information if they are not fluent in English.
The individuals forced or coerced into human trafficking and the sex trade are the main victims, but there are also other people who are negatively impacted. The families of victims of kidnapping suffer when their children or siblings are taken away from them and forced into a depressing and dangerous life in the world of sex trafficking and prostitution. Even in situations where a family disowns their child or kicks them out of their house, they may still be saddened to discover that their child has turned to the world of the sex trade or is a victim of human sex trafficking.
In addition, society at large is also subjected to negative outcomes associated with human sex trafficking. Taxpayers are the ones who fund the legal system and incarceration for individuals that commit crimes. As a result, taxpayers must pay the price when someone is caught in human trafficking and prosecuted. In many cases, the human trafficker is punished more severely than the victim who was forced or coerced into it. Even if the victim is not prosecuted, they may still be in need of assistance from the government. Many victims are in need of things like psychological counselling, drug rehab programs, and financial assistance from the government. Since those things are funded by taxpayer money, human sex trafficking has a major negative impact on the economy in the United States. The money that is spent on those programs and on prosecuting human traffickers could otherwise have been spent on things like education and infrastructure development.
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