What is Sex Trafficking?

Sex trafficking is a type of human trafficking and is a form of modern day slavery.  It is a serious public health problem that negatively affects the well-being of individuals, families, and communities. Human trafficking occurs when a trafficker exploits an individual with force, fraud, or coercion to make them perform commercial sex or work.  

Sex trafficking is defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.” It involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to make an adult engage in commercial sex acts. However, any commercial sexual activity with a minor, even without force, fraud, or coercion, is considered trafficking. Understanding the shared risk and protective factors for violence can help us prevent trafficking from happening in the first place.

This type of violence exploits women, men, and children across the United States and around the world.Trafficking victimization and perpetration share risks and consequences associated with child abuse and neglect, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and gang violence.

Perpetrators of human trafficking often target people who are poor, vulnerable, living in an unsafe situation, or searching for a better life. Victims can come from all backgrounds and become trapped in different locations and situations.

  • Many victims are women and girls, though men and boys are also impacted
  • Victims include all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities, citizens, non-citizens, and income levels
  • Victims are trapped and controlled through assault, threats, false promises, perceived sense of protection, isolation, shaming, and debt
  • Victims do not have to be physically transported between locations to be victimized

Trafficking victims may suffer from an array of physical and psychological health issues stemming from inhumane living conditions, poor sanitation, inadequate nutrition, poor personal hygiene, brutal physical and emotional attacks at the hands of their traffickers, dangerous workplace conditions, occupational hazards and general lack of quality health care.

Preventive health care is virtually non-existent for these individuals. Health issues are typically not treated in their early stages, but tend to fester until they become critical, even life-endangering situations. In many cases, health care is administered at least initially by an unqualified individual hired by the trafficker with little if any regard for the well-being of their “patients” – and even less regard for disease, infection or contamination control. Health issues seen in trafficking victims include the following:

  • •Sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, pelvic pain, rectal trauma and urinary difficulties from working in the sex industry.
  • •Pregnancy, resulting from rape or prostitution.
  • •Infertility from chronic untreated sexually transmitted infections or botched or unsafe abortions. •Infections or mutilations caused by unsanitary and dangerous medical procedures performed by the trafficker’s so-called “doctor.”
  • •Chronic back, hearing, cardiovascular or respiratory problems from endless days toiling in dangerous agriculture, sweatshop or construction conditions.
  • •Weak eyes and other eye problems from working in dimly lit sweatshops.
  • •Malnourishment and serious dental problems. These are especially acute with child trafficking victims who often suffer from retarded growth and poorly formed or rotted teeth.
  • •Infectious diseases like tuberculosis.
  • •Undetected or untreated diseases, such as diabetes or cancer. •Bruises, scars and other signs of physical abuse and torture. Sex-industry victims are often beaten in areas that won’t damage their outward appearance, like their lower back.
  • •Substance abuse problems or addictions either from being coerced into drug use by their traffickers or by turning to substance abuse to help cope with or mentally escape their desperate situations.