Sex Work & Sex Trafficking Human trafficking can occur internationally as well as domestically. Situations can vary dramatically but vulnerable populations are most frequently targeted. Domestically this might mean LGBTQ+ individuals, runaway and homeless youth, as well as victims of other forms of violence such as sexual assault, domestic violence, or social isolation. The same principles can apply internationally and additionally may include victims of war. An area of debate regarding trafficking has been prostitution or sex work, which is regarded by many as an activity undertaken by choice and for which one is paid. As previously stated, under U.S. law any person under the age of 18 who is engaged in a commercial sex act is considered to be a trafficked human being. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, the average age of a girl entering sex trafficking/prostitution is 1214 years old. This means that the majority of the adult women we encounter in prostitution entered the trade as minors and legally fit the definition of a trafficked person. Another important fact is that 95% of prostituted women report that they want to stop but cannot leave due to circumstances like having no other job skills, needing to be able to provide food and shelter for themselves and/or family, and because they are under the control of a pimp (Farley, 2004). Many are actually never paid for their services, as the money they make has to be handed off to their pimp. The hidden reality is that like other survivors of human trafficking, these individuals are vulnerable and preyed upon. Women in prostitution are at higher risk for various types of violence. A clear way to illustrate this is to read the comments sex buyers, also known as “Johns,” make about women in prostitution. The following are quotes collected by Farley (2007) from men who buy sex: "Prostitution is renting an organ for 10 minutes." “She gives up the right to say no.” “I paid for this. You have no rights. You’re with me now.” Another man shared that he got in trouble for raping a woman and decided to only rape prostituted women. Nearly 80% of women in prostitution have experienced rape (Hunter & Reed, 1990; Farley, 2004) and 6095% of women in prostitution were sexually
assaulted as children (Farley, 2004). The majority of those victimized as children were victimized before entering the sex trade. According to Farley out of 218 “johns” who were warned that the women they were looking at online were actually minors, 42% still wanted the underage girl. Sexual Victimization The following are ways that human trafficking survivors may be sexually victimized: Traffickers may use the threat of sexual assault or actual sexual assault, of the victim and/or the victim’s family, as a means to abuse and control them (InterAmerican Commission of Women, & Women, Health, and Development Program, 2001). Any time a survivor is forced to perform a sex act, do erotic dance, or filmed for pornography against their will. The use of beatings and rapes as a method for grooming and of control. Helping Survivors of Sex Trafficking The victimcentered, trauma informed, and empowering approaches that advocates typically use to support survivors of sexual violence can also be helpful when working with a survivor of human trafficking. Human trafficking survivors are also unique in that they require a different range of services. They often suffer from malnutrition and sexually transmitted diseases. International survivors, may have to navigate the complex bureaucracies of the U.S. law enforcement and immigration systems without an understanding of the English language. Many trafficking victims will have endured many assaults, in addition to other forms of violence. The NSVRC Guide for Victim Advocates offers a comprehensive list of ways sexual assault advocates can help survivors. The impact of that trauma can have lasting effects on a survivor’s emotional, physical and psychological health. The population experiences significant levels of PTSD which can include symptoms of recurrent thoughts and or memories of the terrifying events, feeling as if the events are happening again, recurring nightmares, disassociation, inability to feel emotion, hyper reactivity (easily startled or jumpy), difficulty focusing, sleep disturbances,
irritability, memory impairment, and/or emotional reactivity. Evidence based therapeutic treatment options for PTSD include cognitive therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and stress inoculation training. However, the majority of these therapies were not developed to work with this diverse population and may not be culturally competent (Williamson, Dutch, & Clawson, 2008). Some may not be appropriate based on symptomology. For example, EMDR may not be appropriate with a survivor who experiences disassociation. The incorporation of alternative or holistic approaches to mental health, which combine physical and mental wellbeing, have been found to be effective. Such therapies may include movement (dance, yoga), art, gardening, and cooking. Wilson (2003) also suggests that stabilization is key for beginning the healing work that survivors of human trafficking have ahead of them. There is Hope and Help "You can have hope for a new life, there's a new day tomorrow and everything can change in the blink of an eye." Sandy Storm Sandy Storm is a survivor who was trafficked for nearly 20 years and wrote her story in the book titled Hello Navi. If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking and would like help, please visit our Get Help section of the website to find the closest sexual assault program in your area. Or, call 1888956RAPE to be connected to your local sexual assault program. Other Resources
How we define consensual sex work differently from victimization.