Who purchases trafficked women and girls?
Many believe that sex trafficking is something that occurs “somewhere else.” However, many of the biggest trafficking consumers are developed nations, and men from all sectors of society support the trafficking industry. There is no one profile that encapsulates the “typical” client. Rather, men who purchase trafficked women are both rich and poor, Eastern and Western. Many are married and have children, and in some cases, as was reported in one New York Times article, men have sex with trafficked girls in lieu of abusing their own young children.
One reason for the proliferation of sex trafficking is because in many parts of the world there is little to no perceived stigma to purchasing sexual favors for money, and prostitution is viewed as a victimless crime. Because women are culturally and socially devalued in so many societies, there is little conflict with the purchasing of women and girls for sexual services. Further, few realize the explicit connection between the commercial sex trade, and the trafficking of women and girls and the illegal slave trade. In western society in particular, there is a commonly held perception that women choose to enter into the commercial sex trade. However, for the majority of women in the sex trade, and specifically in the case of trafficked women and girls who are coerced or forced into servitude, this is simply not the case.
In addition, sex tourism—that is, the practice of traveling or vacationing for the purpose of having sex—is a billion dollar industry that further encourages the sexual exploitation of women and girls. Many sex tours explicitly feature young girls. The tours are marketed specifically to pedophiles who prey on young children, and men who believe that having sex with virgins or young girls will cure sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Often, these men spread HIV and other STDs to their young victims, creating localized disease epidemics.
Trafficking has a harrowing effect on the mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of the women and girls ensnared in its web. Beyond the physical abuse, trafficked women suffer extreme emotional stress, including shame, grief, fear, distrust and suicidal thoughts. Victims often experience post-traumatic stress disorder, and with that, acute anxiety, depression and insomnia. Many victims turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain.
Sex trafficking promotes societal breakdown by removing women and girls from their families and communities. Trafficking fuels organized crime groups that usually participate in many other illegal activities, including drug and weapons trafficking and money laundering. It negatively impacts local and national labor markets, due to the loss of human resources. Sex trafficking burdens public health systems. And trafficking erodes government authority, encourages widespread corruption, and threatens the security of vulnerable populations.