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Techniques of control used by sex traffickers and pimps A sophisticated understanding of the realities on the ground is necessary to ensure that sex trafficking victims are not wrongly discounted as consenting adults. Too often, police, prosecutors, judges, and policymakers assume a victim has free will if she has the physical ability to walk away. This assumption is wholly inconsistent with what is known about the nature of pimping and sex trafficking. The use of force, fraud, and coercion is pervasive but often overlooked. In its most obvious manifestation, a pimp will physically restrain a prostituted person’s movements and use physical violence to ensure the customers’ satisfaction. While this is undoubtedly a severe form of trafficking as set forth in the TVPA, there are other more subtle forms of fraud and coercion that also prevent a person from escaping compelled servitude. A prostituted person may have initially consented, may believe that she is in love with her trafficker, may not self-identify as a victim, may have traveled away from the pimp, or may have been away from his physical control with what seemed to be ample opportunity to ask for help or flee. She may have a criminal record and refuse to tell her story. She may have started in prostitution as an adult or as a child. None of these factors, taken alone or in sum, means that she is not a victim of a severe form of trafficking; rather, if such facts are prejudicial at all, they should move law enforcement to consider that they may not have the whole story. And all of these concerns are just as valid for men and boys in prostitution as they are for women and girls. Indeed, male victims may be less likely to admit that they were held through fear or threats.


Trafficking from Nepal to other regions is on the rise, according to the international children’s rights organization Terres des Hommes, which describes the Kathmandu-based sex industry as a “training ground” to prepare girls and women for destinations such as the Persian Gulf.

The TVPA’s modern approach recognizes the power of psychological coercion. Research and field experience suggest that violence and restraint – though hallmarks of the commercial sex industry – are far from the most effective means of control. Pimps use a variety of psychological methods, sometimes referred to as “seasoning” or “grooming,” to gain full control. They recruit vulnerable women or girls, pretend to be in love with them, ply them with alcohol or drugs, build their dependencies for basic needs or chemical escapes, place other women in supervisory roles over them and encourage them to compete for affection and favor, use an interlocking system of reward and punishment reminiscent of a battering relationship, and threaten their recruits with the shame of their families and a punitive, rather than protective, law enforcement response. In this context, it is little wonder why anti-trafficking efforts may be received skeptically by a woman who has been told – and maybe even shown – that law enforcement would not protect her and that the only people who care about her are her pimp and his entourage. It is the government’s responsibility to protect those caught in compelled service, to take the time and build the expertise to identify victims, even when victims can’t or won’t identify themselves. Governments should identify victims whether they are enslaved in a legal or an illegal activity. Governments should be judged not on their response to the most “deserving” of victims, but on their perseverance with the most challenging.


2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Intro  
2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Intro  

The US Department of State issues its annual report on the trafficking of persons worldwide