Sex Trafficking is a Violation of Human Rights


Slavery is often associated with backwardness and considered a leftover relic from ancient times. However, today it is a harsh reality to many people across the globe who find themselves trapped in exploitative and abusive systems. It is hard to determine the extent of slavery due to its nature. Various human right activist groups around the world estimate the number affected by the different forms of slavery as ranging between 12.3 million and 27 million (Hardy, 2011).

There are many forms of slavery but they all share common characteristics. All forms of slavery involve a person being subjected to forced labor, being owned and manipulated by the employer or any other person, being regarded as a commodity, one’s physical movement is restricted within a perimeter, and being treated in a dehumanizing manner. The slaves are subjected to child labor, sexual servitude and forced work (Armaline, 2011).

A particular form of slavery that is currently proliferating at an alarming rate is sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is a form of slavery and human trafficking. Human trafficking is referred to as illegal sale of people for the purpose of any productive slavery. The trafficking protocol which was adopted by the United Nations (UN) in Palermo in 2000 categorizes human trafficking as an illegal practice (Armaline, 2011). The protocol lays clear punishment for those who engage in human trafficking.

Sex trafficking is the unlawful sale of human beings, particularly women and children, as commodities.  There are two forms of sex trafficking. It could take the form of forced prostitution, which Peter and Robbins define as follows, “A person (normally a woman) being coerced through violence of intimidation to engage in sexual acts in return for money or some payments” (Bales, 2011). In forced prostitution, a woman is unwillingly engaged into sexual activities and compensated for taking part in it. Despite being paid for, it is an illegal activity, since it is done against the will of women and thus is considered a form of rape. This form of slavery is popular in many societies. It is, however, hard to determine its prevalence, since most of the victims try to conceal their involvement due to stigmatization. The next form of human trafficking is sex slavery, which involves women working in brothels and being restricted in their movement by pimps. The pimps collect financial gains from any sexual services these women offer and pay them a small fraction. Referring to this form of sexual exploitation Bales and Robins (2001) write, ”These pimps control the women through physical abuse, threats for physical harm and a state of abject poverty” . Victims of sexual slavery receive no financial gain for services rendered. They are held in slavery solely for the purpose of offering sexual satisfaction. This form is not as popular as the former.

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Reason for Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking is one of the world’s most profitable illegal businesses. In his book, Kara (2011) observed that:

“Hundreds of thousands of women and children are abducted, deceived, seduced, or sold into forced prostitution, coerced to service hundreds if not thousands of men before being discarded. These trafficked sex slaves form the backbone of one of the world's most profitable illicit enterprises and generate enormous profits for their exploiters, for unlike narcotics, which must be grown, harvested, refined, and packaged, sex slaves require no such processing, and can be repeatedly consumed” (2011).

Following his argument, it is evident that this business has massive gains for the perpetrators, and thus is immensely attractive.

Sex Trafficking in the USA

The United States is the world’s most developed country. For this reason, many are under the delusion that human trafficking is non-existent in this developed and modernized society. However, sex trafficking is a serious social problem in the country. Many women are trapped in this form of slavery under the supervision of powerful pimps will numerous connections (Hardy, 2011).

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The U.S State Department reported that there was an estimated one hundred and fifty thousand sex slaves in the country between the year 2001 and 2005 (2011). A further study by the Philadelphia University in the year 2009 revealed that there were approximately 300,000 youths who stood the risk of being exploited sexually (Zachary, 2011). Another non-governmental organization carrying out research on the extent of prevalence of these social issues indicated that there was at least one case of commercial sex exploitation every month in Jackson County (Zachary, 2011). These statistics are a clear indication of the fact that sex trafficking is a social problem in the US. It is estimated that at least 300,000 minors, especially young girls between the age of 6 and twelve, stand the risk of being sexually exploited for financial gain. In addition, it is approximated that more than a hundred thousand women are involved in this social crime. This is backed by the Department of Justice's statistics, which indicate that 360 sex traffickers were prosecuted 238 of whom were convicted in 2006 alone, (Zachary, 2011).

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For many years, illegal immigrants have been a group that is most susceptible to sex and human trafficking in this country. Sex traffickers took advantage of this group by posing as their saviors and giving them a place to lay their heads. Female immigrants are confined within a building which serves as a brothel where customers come for paid sexual services. Pimps give these women food and shelter and in return they are forced to engage in prostitution. Pimps get them to cooperate by threatening forceful deportation should they be found guilty of staying in the country illegally (Neubauer, 2011). Therefore, these women have no other option but to remain sexually enslaved. This practice has been in place since the period of World War Two. Illegal female immigrants were then sexually exploited by a handful of very powerful pimps. Kidnapping and sexually exploiting innocent, young girls has also been common in the country.

In the modern USA, sex trafficking has evolved and taken on a new dimension. Unlike the traditional practice where innocent girls were either seduced, kidnapped or forced into prostitution, today all groups of people face the risk of sex trafficking. Clawson (2009) in his work observed, “Men, women, and children of all ages can fall prey to traffickers for purposes of sex and/or labor”. However, not just anybody is susceptible to sex trafficking. Those who stand this risk share some vulnerability, such as limited economic opportunities inability to meet the basic needs. Traffickers promise to give these individuals employment with decent pay the promised jobs latter turns out to be forced prostitution (Neubauer, 2011).

Most illegal immigrants are trafficked into the country after being promised a well-paid job. The FBI has recently released a report indicating that immigrants stand a high chance of being sexually exploited in the US. The report indicated that:

“They are trapped in lives of misery—often beaten, starved, and forced to work as prostitutes or to take grueling jobs as migrant, domestic, restaurant, or factory workers with little or no pay. We’re working hard to stop human trafficking—not only because of the personal and psychological toll it takes on society, but also because it facilitates the illegal movement of immigrants across borders and provides a ready source of income for organized crime groups and even terrorists” (FBI, 2012).

Dealing with Sex Trafficking in the USA

The government and society at large have realized the importance of fighting this crime. The government has put in place various measures in line with human rights acts to curb this social issue. Private activists in an individual capacity and as non-governmental organizations have also been active in the fight against this crime. Although the contribution of these activists is limited by their jurisdiction, they have a significant impact in the fight (Hart, 2009).

One such popular activist group is the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW). CATW is an international NGO which fights for and promotes women human rights. It has a global network and is affiliated with various individuals and groups. CATW works internationally to combat sexual exploitation in all forms. It is particularly keen on protecting the rights of minors in the society, and especially young girls.

In the US, CATW works as an umbrella body, which coordinates various regional organizations in their fight against sex trafficking. The body collects data and information from the grassroots by liaising with the victims and presents this data to commissions and bodies with powers to take legal action. CATW presents this information before the Congress, law reform commissions, and the UN committees who have the power to bring the desired changes. In addition, “CATW holds Category II Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Members serve as consultants to governmental commissions drafting new legislation on prostitution and sex trafficking, and against the sex industry,” (CATW, 2012).

Laws Governing Sex Trafficking

Many laws on fighting sex trafficking have been adopted in the United States. The 2011 Trafficking Victims Protection Act prohibits all forms of human trafficking, including sex trafficking. The act sets a clear definition of what constitutes human and sex trafficking, which is in line with the provided definition. It also sets out punitive measures that should be taken against the traffickers. The act also gives officers the right to to negotiate child protection (Friends international, 2012). The League of Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1926 prohibits all forms of slavery sex trafficking, including sex trafficking, which it regards as a crime and has legal punishment for the perpetrators (Friends international, 2012).

The international standards and criminal laws also prohibit forced prostitution, which is the most commonplace sex trafficking mode in the USA. According to this law, prostitution is forced when a person is coerced into it due to lack of money. It is, therefore, up to the government to ensure that people are not forced into prostitution due to financial hardships caused by lack of employment. The law on suppression of the kidnapping, trafficking and exploitation of human persons adopted in 1996 has clear definitions for people who are regarded as pimps, and sex traffickers. This law also envisages clear punishment for all persons who act as pimps in the eyes of the law. Similar to this is the Tourism Law of Cambodia which is applicable in the US. Sex trafficking in the US is also prohibited by the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (Friends international, 2012).  The convention defines engaging in any form of human trafficking across the world as illegal. The United States is bound by this convention.

CATW has no power to prosecute under these laws but it has the powers to negotiate for minors and victims of sex trafficking under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The organization also encourages different arms of the government to support financially challenged individuals, thus preventing them from engaging in forced prostitution.


In the United States, sex trafficking is a real social issue which needs to be taken seriously. This social crisis is growing fast and affecting greater numbers of people than ever before (Hart, 2009). Although there are many rules which prohibit this vice, it has not been totally eradicated. This is due to the latency of the government to fully enforce these rules. NGOs such as CATW are in the forefront of the fight against this violation of human rights. Human rights activists should apply more pressure on the government to ensure that all the passed laws are fully enforced.

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