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The Truth About Sex Trafficking

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Imagine a person going to their first day of work at a job. But instead of making it to the job they are instead kidnapped and forced to be a sex slave. This is exactly what happened to a young girl named Brittany. Brittany needed a job and was told by a man that he had one for her. On the first day for the job, the man said he would take her to work. The man then took Brittany to a hotel and drugged her. She was then abused and forced to have sex with many men. Luckily, she was able to escape and contact the authorities (“Survivor Stories”).

Brittany’s story is one of thousands that the victims of sex trafficking are forced to live with. She is one of a few fortunate that was able to escape the grasp of this terrible crime. Unfortunately, sex trafficking is a very real problem here in the U.S. and current laws and regulations do not adequately deal with the problem. The U.S. Government needs to pass stronger laws and provide more awareness and training to help stop sex trafficking. To fully discover this problem, it is imperative to understand the extent of sex trafficking and the current legislation on it. It is also crucial to convince those who do not believe that sex trafficking is a problem just how wrong they are.

According to the U.S. Government sex trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act” (Weitzer 1337). Prostitution is the driving force behind sex trafficking though there are those that are not forced into prostitution. In sex trafficking the prostitution is forced. The people who are carrying out the trafficking are called traffickers, pimps, panderers, and johns. Victims are threatened, abused, and lied to by their trafficker. Traffickers often take advantage of people who are desperate. People in poverty or runaways are usually targeted. Many are given promises of a job or a relationship which lure them in (“Sex Trafficking in the U.S.”). Some of the places that victims are taken or sold in the U.S. are neighborhood brothels, escort services, strip clubs, and truck stops. “The internet”, according to the Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking organization, “has been identified as the number one platform that pimps, traffickers and johns currently use for buying and selling women and children for sex in the United States.” With access to all these resources, traffickers and pimps are able to network and transport victims all over the country (“Sex Trafficking in the U.S.”).

Perhaps the most sickening truth about sex trafficking is how many victims there are. According to a 2008 estimation by the International Labour Organization (ILO), there are 1.39 million sex slaves in the world. Many experts claim this is a low estimation and the number is growing by hundreds of thousands every year (Smith 274). This is obviously a global problem, but it is also very real here in the U.S. Between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year according to a 2007 study (George 563). This does not include those that are trafficked within the country. The reasons behind the growth are quite shocking. The advancement in technology and increased globalization, despite their benefits, have greatly increased sex trafficking. With the world so connected, traffickers are able to take advantage of far more desperate people. Traffickers are able to purchase these people at ridiculously low amounts and make huge profits off of them. To put it in perspective, an average slave in America during the 1800s cost 40 thousand dollars and today people can be bought for less than a hundred (Smith 275). Another sickening reason for this increase is the demand is so big. Even though prostitution is illegal almost everywhere in the U.S., it is an industry that continues to grow. The traffickers are just supplying that demand (George 563).

For the most part, the general public is not aware of this problem. If people were to hear these statistics or the stories of trafficking victims, there would be a bigger movement to stop trafficking. This is the very purpose of the newsletter, “Stop Trafficking! Anti-trafficking Newsletter”. They believe that by being educated on the subject it will provide real change (George 563). Even President Obama has recently addressed the problem of all types of trafficking, sex trafficking included. In his speech he stated, “When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family — girls my daughters’ age — runs away from home or is lured by the false promises of a better life and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists — that’s slavery” (Keiner).

One of the hardest parts about dealing with sex trafficking is identifying it. Many times it is almost impossible to know that it is going on at all. It is a crime that happens in the shadows and has to be sought out to be found. Victims usually do not seek out the help of the authorities out of fear of what their trafficker will do, or fear of revealing what they have done. They feel like there is no hope of changing their situation and they are trapped forever. Since traffickers are able to control their victims with their threats, many times there is not any physical bondage. The only way in most of these cases that anything is discovered is if people start asking around about a person, and even then sometimes it is too late to find them. This makes it extremely difficult for even law enforcement to know what is going on (Cross 401). If there were more programs to educate the public on this issue, many more victims would find the help they need. The victims would know that there are people willing to help. Groups like the Polaris Project offer many resources to assist victims (“Sex Trafficking in the U.S.”).

In order to combat this huge increase, the United States Government has responded in recent years with several pieces of legislation. The law that jump started it all was the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) which passed in 2000. This law helped to define the several crimes that deal with sex trafficking (Farrel 1). It has been reauthorized four times, which has improved the laws ability to protect victims and prosecute criminals. This law even provides for illegal immigrants brought here for sex slavery by providing visas to the victims (Farrel 2). Even though this law was a step in the right direction it has failed to truly slow down the problem. As of 2009, only 1,300 of the tens of thousands of the people smuggled into the U.S. for sex slavery have received visas under this law (George 563).

Another positive the TVPA provided was an increase in resources to combat sex trafficking. The U.S. Department of Justice created a unit to focus on dealing with trafficking crimes and also received an increase in funding (Farrel 2). Even with this increase, the funds spent on dealing with this problem are extremely low and not sufficient to deal with the problem. According to Karen Stauss, director of programs for Free the Slaves, states, “Only a tiny fraction of the nation’s law enforcement resources are directed at slavery and trafficking in the U.S.” (Kiener). The reason behind such low funding is thanks mostly to another big problem, the war on drugs. Siddarth Kara, a human trafficking expert at Harvard University, claims “The federal anti-trafficking budget, about $61 million a year since 2001, is 33 times less than the money the government spends to fight the war on drugs” (Kiener). It is obviously not realistic to expect the same amount of money to be spent on stopping trafficking, but any increase in funding would be a great start.

Increasing funding would help make it possible to train law enforcement officers, the people that will have to deal with this problem on a daily basis. If trafficking training was mandatory for officers, it would increase their awareness and would hopefully help to reduce the problem. It would teach them the signs of sex trafficking and help them to assist the victims (George 563). Teaching the officers to purposefully look for trafficking and helping them to provide victims with the right social services would be an essential part of the training (Cross 398). Using a current model of mandatory training for domestic abuse as an example it would be easy to implement this new training (Cross 417).

Perhaps the strangest part about the legislature and the part that causes the most headaches, is that each state has different laws pertaining to this issue. The Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking organization, ranks states on how well they deal with this issue. They rank them from Tier 1, which is the best, and Tier 4, the worst. Surprisingly, there is only one Tier 4 state, South Dakota. But right next to South Dakota is Minnesota, which is a Tier 1 state, so traffickers are more likely to target South Dakota because there are far fewer laws against trafficking (“Sex Trafficking in the U.S.”). If this problem is to be lessened, each state must make an effort to improve their laws because that is where the majority of the court cases are happening. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “In 2008, approximately 80,000 criminal cases were filed in U.S. federal courts compared to over 21 million criminal cases filed in state courts” (Farrel 3). If the State legislatures are not able to handle the situation, perhaps even a national law is what is needed.

The U.S. Government needs to crack down harder on prostitution. As stated previously, prostitution fuels the modern slavery that is sex trafficking. Some would claim that legalizing prostitution would help the situation. Cari Mitchell, Spokeswoman of the English Collective of Prostitutes, claims, “Prostitution has been pushed further underground and sex workers left more vulnerable to abuse and violence, exploitative working conditions, police illegality, rape and trafficking.” (Kiener). Mitchell believes that prostitutes will be safer and treated better and it will be easier for them to leave. Even if this was the case, the disagreement comes from different peoples’ thoughts of prostitution. Norma Ramos, Executive Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, claims that there is no such thing as “safer prostitution”. People like Ramos believe that prostitution is dehumanizing and turns women into property that can be bought and sold. Ramos states, “The way to address oppression is to end it — not to legalize it, regulate it or make it more tolerable.” (Kiener). Germany, a country that has legalized it, still struggles with keeping it safe and it makes them a bigger target for traffickers (Kiener). On the other hand, in 2001, two years after Sweden passed some anti-prostitution laws, the number of women prostitutes was cut in half and as a result the number of people trafficked was also reduced (“The Link Between”).

Another major issue that experts debate on is the difference between people who “voluntarily” get into prostitution and those that are forced. Under current laws, people who are forced into prostitution are not thought of as victims and do not receive assistance like those that were forced into it (George 563). This makes it extremely hard for those that knew what they were getting into but then were forced to continue. The confusion between voluntary and involuntary also makes it hard prosecute the right person. Author Allison Cross states, “failing to recognize the crime and its players may lead to prosecuting the victim rather than the trafficker” (Cross 402).

Some claim that there are many people who chose to be prostitutes and are content to stay that, but this is not the case. According to a 2003 study published in the Journal of Trauma Practice, “89 percent of women in prostitution want to escape” (“The Link Between”). Even those that do not want to escape cannot argue that the majority of prostitution environments are harmful. Research in several countries, compiled by the U.S Department of State, shows that at least 60 percent of women in prostitution are raped, and 70 to 95 percent are abuse in some way (“The Link Between”).

Implementing new training and awareness programs is obviously not going to be free, which causes many to worry where the new funds will come from. It would first of all have a great initial cost to get officers trained and then there would have to be funds in place to continue the training (Cross 417). Some would argue that there only needs to be training in the heavily trafficked areas, but traffickers would to easily be able to move around. Though these criticisms are valid, it is hard to put them above helping save peoples lives. Author Allison Cross claims, “Mandatory human trafficking training for law-enforcement officers is the best way to provide law enforcement with the tools they need to recognize trafficking and interrupt the trafficking cycle.” (Cross 418). Hopefully with more awareness, the funds needed will more likely be provided.

The tragedy of this modern slavery known as sex trafficking, is that it will only get worse unless there are steps taken to stop it. Sex trafficking is obviously a very real problem and the current legislature is not enough to deal with it. The U.S. Government must pass better laws and provide more awareness in order to combat sex trafficking. Brittany’s story is just one example of story after story of these victims and sometimes it is hard to even rationalize that this is happening all around. After all the debate and legislations, it is essential to remember that these are people, not just statistics or numbers. They are someone’s sister or daughter. They are human beings and should be treated as human beings.

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