RCASA Friday Facts: Sex Trafficking Facts

In Friday Facts, Sexual Assault Awareness on August 26, 2011 at 8:00 am

Sexual Trafficking Facts from the Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking

General Definition


“Sexual Trafficking is the recruitment, transportation (within national or across international borders),transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation.  Sexual trafficking is accomplished by means of fraud, deception, threat of or use of force, abuse of a position of vulnerability, and other forms of coercion.

Trafficking of persons exists in two distinct types: labor trafficking and sexual trafficking. “This new distinction avoids the problem of combining into a single category both labor violations and violations that are more akin to a forcible sexual assault.” 1

U.N. Definition (from Protocol to Prevent Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Person, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime)

(a) “Trafficking in persons” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery of practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs;

(b) The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used;

(c) The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered “trafficking in persons” even if this does not involve any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article;

(d) “Child” shall mean any person under eighteen years of age.

Scope of the Problem

Worldwide, it is estimated that somewhere between 700,000 and four million women, children and men are trafficked each year, and no region is unaffected. 2

An estimated 14,500 to 17,500 women and children are trafficked into this country each year. 3

There have been reports of trafficking instances in at least 20 different states, with most cases occurring in New York, California, and Florida. Some Florida law enforcement officials, for example, claim that the state is being inundated with trafficked women from Russia, Ukraine, and Central Europe. INS and Labor Department officials fear that the problem is not only bigger than they thought but also getting worse. For example, INS has discovered 250 brothels in 26 different cities, which likely involved trafficking victims. 4


UNICEF reports that across the world, there are over one million children entering the sex trade every year and that approximately 30 million children have lost their childhood through sexual exploitation over the past 30 years. 5

The U.S. Department of State estimates that about 600,000 to 800,000 people – mostly women and children – are trafficked across national borders annually. 6 [Note: This estimate does not include those trafficked within national borders.]

Eleven countries score very high as countries of origin for trafficking victims.  The countries are Belarus, the Republic of Moldova, the Russian Federation and Ukraine (Commonwealth of Independent States), Albania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania, China, Thailand, and Nigeria. 7


More than 2.3 million girls and women were believed to be in the sex industry, and experts believed that more than 200,000 persons were trafficked into, within, or through the country annually.  There were approximately three million trafficking victims in the country, and two thousand rescues a year.  Women’s rights organizations and NGOs estimated that more than 12,000 and perhaps as many as 50,000 women and children were trafficked into the country annually from neighboring states for commercial sexual exploitation.  According to an International Labor Organization (ILO) estimate, 15 percent of the country’s estimated 2.3 million prostitutes were children, while the UN reported that an estimated 40 percent of prostitutes were below 18 years of age.  Tribal persons made up a large proportion of the women forced into sexual exploitation. 8


From fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2005, the Civil Rights Division and United States Attorney’s Offices filed 91 trafficking cases, a 405% increase over the number of trafficking cases filed from fiscal years 1996 through 2000.  In these cases, Department attorneys charged 248 trafficking defendants, a 210% increase over the previous five fiscal years.  In addition, 140 defendants of trafficking related crimes were convicted, a 109% increase over the previous five years. 9

Despite an estimated prevalence of 100,000 to 150,00010 slaves in the U.S., fewer than 1,000 victims have been assisted through the efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement since 2001, when services for trafficking victims were first made available. 11


Belgium, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Thailand, Turkey and the United States are countries ranked “very high” as destination countries of trafficked persons. 12

Prostitution in the Philippines is a de facto legal industry that is now the fourth largest source of gross national product (GNP) for the country. 13  300,000 sex tourists from Japan alone are believed to visit the Philippines every year. 14

The sex industry in the Netherlands is estimated to make most $1 billion each year. 15  It is a major Western European destination country for trafficked women with 2,000 brothels and numerous escort services, using an estimated 30,000 women. 16  Moreover, 68-80% of women in its sex industry are from other countries, a factor highly indicative of sex trafficking. 17


Foremost among the health risks of prostitution is premature death.  In a recent US study of almost 2,000 prostitutes followed over a 30-year period, by far the most common causes of death were homicide, suicide, drug and alcohol related problems, HIV infection and accidents – in that order.  The homicide rate among active female prostitutes was 17 times higher than that of the age-matched general population. 18

89% of 785 people in prostitution from nine countries wanted to escape prostitution.  75% of those in prostitution have been homeless at some point in their lives.  68% of 827 people in several different types of prostitution in 9 countries met criteria for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  The severity of PTSD symptoms of participants in this study were in the same range as treatment-seeking combat veterans, battered women seeking shelter, rape survivors, and refugees from state-organized torture. 19


Why Women and Children are Trafficked

Women have been trafficked to the U.S. primarily for the sex industry (prostitution, stripping, peep and touch shows, and massage parlors that offer a variety of sexual services), sweatshop labor, domestic servitude, and agricultural work. 20

With low risk and high profit potential, human trafficking may well become

the new crime of choice. Police arrest records show that young women can be sold to brothel owners in North America for as much as US$16,000 each. In addition, when rescued, the young women tell of being forced to work off “debts” to traffickers of as much as US$40,000 by sexually servicing dozens of men per day. 21

Human trafficking is a relatively low risk business, but if successful, garners high payoffs. Some experts claim that it generates $7 billion. In February 2001, Interpol announced that it generates $19 billion [annually]. 22

How Women and Children are Trafficked

Traffickers typically lure women to the U.S. with false promises of jobs as waitresses, nannies, models, factory workers, or situations with severely curtailed freedoms. Women are prevented from leaving by security guards, violence, threats, debt bondage, and/or retention of documents. The traffickers maintain control through isolation; in many cases, the women must live and work at the location. The women may also be denied outside medical assistance when needed.  Once recruited, the women usually find themselves being threatened with physical abuse against themselves and/or their families in order to force cooperation. Traffickers also play

upon the women’s fears of arrest and deportation. In additional cases, trafficking victims suffer extreme physical and mental abuse, including rape, imprisonment, forced abortions, and physical brutality. 23

The Needs of Survivors

Non-governmental organizations call for arrested trafficking victims to be housed in appropriate shelters, not in jail or detention facilities. Currently, they say that many trafficking victims are placed in INS detention facilities and then deported. Those few trafficking victims who are designated material witnesses in federal criminal cases brought against the traffickers may be placed in US marshals’ custody and held in local jails. Even when aliens are not being used as material witnesses, INS is housing over 60 percent of its detainees in local jails throughout the country, according to a 1998 report from Human Rights Watch. 24

At present, there are few shelters and limited special funds specifically for

trafficking victims.

Call to Action

We know what works.  We can begin to defeat sex trafficking if we severely punish its national and multi-national profiteers, arrest its customers, offer a way out to its prisoners, and create self-respecting economic alternatives for girls and women who are at risk.  The question is:  “Will we?”25

1. The Protection Project, “What is Trafficking?” The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, 2000 <;.
2. USAID Office of Women in Development, Trafficking in Persons: USAID’s Response, September 2001.
3 . U. S. Department of State, Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act 2000: Trafficking in Persons Report, July 2004.
4 . Richard, Amy O’Neill, International Trafficking in Women to the United States: A Contemporary Manifestation of Slavery and Organized Crime, DCI Exceptional Intelligence Analyst Program, Center for the Study of Intelligence, November 1999.

5. “Commercial sexual exploitation position statement.” UNICEF UK. (2004, January 28).

6. U.S. Department of State, Office of the Under Secretary for Global Affairs. (2005, June).  Trafficking in Persons Report – June 2005.

7. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2004, April).  Trafficking in Persons Global Patterns.

8. U.S. Department of State. (2006, March 8).  Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2005.

9. U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. (2006, February).  Report on Activities to Combat Human Trafficking Fiscal Years 2001-2005.

10. Bales, K. (n.d.).  International Labor Standards: Quality of Information and Measures of Progress in Combating Forced Labor.

11. U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. (2006, February).  Report on Activities to Combat Human Trafficking Fiscal Years 2001-2005.

12. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2004, April).  Trafficking in Persons Global Patterns.

13. Trinidad, A. (2005).  Child pornography in the Philippines.  Psychosocial Trauma and Human Rights Program, UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies and UNICEF Manila, p 14.

14. Marks, K. (2004, June 28).  “In the clubs of the Filipino sex trade, a former RUC officer is back in business.”  The Independent.

15. United Nations Economic Commission of Europe. (2004, December 12).  Economic roots of trafficking in the UNECE region fact sheet 1.

16. Hughes, D. (2002, September 23).  The corruption of civil society: maintaining the flow of women to the sex industries.  Encuentro Internacional Sobre Trafico De Mujeres Y Explotacion, Andalusian Women’s Institute, Malaga, Spain.

17. Thompson, L. (2005, June 22).  The Sexual Gulag: Profiteering from the Global Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Women and Children.  Testimony before the Financial Service Committee, Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade, and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives.

18. Canadian Medical Association Journal. (2004, July 24).  “Prostitution laws: health risks and hypocrisy.”

19. Farley, M. (Ed.). (2003).  Prostitution, trafficking, and traumatic stress.  Binghamton, NY: The Hayworth Maltreatment and Trauma Press.
20 . Ibid.
21 . Lederer, Laura J., Human Rights Report on Trafficking of Women and Children: A Country-by-Country Report on a Contemporary Form of Slavery, The Protection Project, The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, February 2001.
22 . Dolan, Christine, A Report on the Exploitation of Children Emanating from the Balkan Crises: A Shattered Innocence, The Millennium Holocaust, International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, April 2001.
23 . Richard, Amy O’Neill, International Trafficking in Women to the United States: A Contemporary Manifestation of Slavery and Organized Crime, DCI Exceptional Intelligence Analyst Program, Center for the Study of Intelligence, November 1999.
24 . Ibid.
25 . Conference on Sexual Trafficking, “Gloria Steinem’s Submitted Remarks,” Washington, DC, September 13, 1999.


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