Exploitation, violence, abuse, and fear.
The hallmarks of the illegal sex trade.
It’s remarkable that, for all of the moralizing seen online today, and the constant parade of virtue-signaling, very little attention is paid to what is arguably one of the most amoral and repulsive industries in the nation; sex trafficking. It’s not something that gets a lot of attention, and when it does, the sexual aspect becomes part of the presentation, appearing more as a film noir drama than a legitimate look at the issue.
This week, we tackle the industry itself, statistics on sex trafficking hubs, and the movement to legalize prostitution under the belief that it can be a consensual transaction. (It can be, it just virtually never is. And that’s the problem.)
This week will see a Run more in the style of the Dirt and Blood update than our usual clinical, journalistic approach. We will not overdramatize the sleaziness of the industry (frankly, we don’t need to), but we will not run from occasionally graphic events and the abuse that many prostitutes endure. Plan accordingly.
The Run makes every effort to dodge sensationalism, and no effort to hide the less-pleasant parts of the subject matter.
Before we begin, credit where it’s due. I would like to thank Luke Crawford for his help in researching portions of this Run.
1.) Statistical Breakdown. Sex trafficking is defined by the FBI as “when persons are compelled to engage in commercial sex acts through means of force, fraud, and/or coercion.” It is a sub-strata of human trafficking, which is essentially modernized slavery.
According to a 2013 report by CNN, the average life expectancy of a female sex trafficking victim (in other words, a woman lured into becoming a prostitute) is roughly a mere seven years from when she becomes involved in it. Shared Hope International, a group focused on rescuing women and children from sex trafficking rings, states that the average age for a prostitute is roughly 14-16 years old (although studies for this statistic are nebulous at best).
As Shared Hope notes however, the driving force behind sex trafficking is the same force behind human trafficking; profits. A 2014 report by the Urban Institute shows that the sex trafficking industry generated about $39 million in Denver, and a staggering $290 million in Atlanta. This is compounded by the inevitable connection between sex trafficking and the “adult entertainment” industry, which was worth about $14 billion in 2015, according to a CNBC piece the network’s coverage of the industry.
Without profit, an industry collapses. So how does one fight an industry built on exploitation and abuse? For that, we need to examine the harm caused by the industry, and the clinical studies done not only in regards to sex trafficking, but pornography.
It should be noted, going forward, that many statistics and studies focus on human trafficking as a whole, and not sex trafficking in particular. It is, obviously, no less pertinent to this discussion, so we will use studies looking at both.
2.) Clinical. Put bluntly, the impact human trafficking has on its victims is devastating. A 2016 study from the King’s College of London and the London School of Hygine and Tropical Medicine shows that nearly 80% of female victims reported high levels of depression, anxiety or PTSD. To be clear, this is not about the immediate effects, but rather the aftermath 16 months afterwards. 4/5 of men also reported similar issues.
Shared Hope notes that the world of the trafficking victim as one of near-constant violence, fear, threats, and intimidation. It is not hard to see how such a world could severely impact the person’s mental health (to say nothing of their physical health).
Perhaps one of the best sources on the mental and physical impact of human trafficking is a report by the American Psychological Association. In addition to the depression, anxiety, and PTSD mentioned above, the APA also notes increased hostility and nervousness even 3 months removed from the initial rescue. Moreover, the APA reports on dissociation (that is, detachment from either other people or from the environment as a whole), as well as suicidal/self-harming behavior and thoughts. It is an incredible report that also recommends ways of both punishing human traffickers while also caring for the victims.
It also makes clear that caring for the victims is an incredibly complex process, and that a one-size-fits-all approach simply isn’t effective.
3a.) Solutions: Baseline. An article in 2011 from the APA gives us a good view as to what is being done about the problem of human trafficking in general, namely “through public awareness campaigns, education and advocacy, psychologists are working to end human trafficking.”
Additionally, the Department of Justice has published an annual report on the U.S. Government’s efforts to combat human trafficking. The US government actually publishes a number of reports on the subject, from at least 4 separate departments.
Meanwhile, Australia has come up with a novel solution to sex tourism, the practice of going to another country for prostitution or other sexual activity. The country has become the first on Earth to prevent convicted sex offenders from leaving the country in the first place.
However, for whatever reason, another solution has been gaining steam on the side-streams.
3b.) Solutions: Legalization. Nets from Daily Beast to the left-leaning Slate to the libertarian Reason Magazine have proposed the idea of legalizing sex work as a manner of stopping sex trafficking. On paper it sounds extremely counter-intuitive. However, supporters argue that legalizing the business of prostitution could lead to lower rates of STDs, reduce the spread of HIV, and allow for laws to be put in place protecting sex workers. Libertarians argue that the illegality of prostitution has contributed to a sort of “black market” environment that allows for such physical abuse of the prostitute.
On the flipside, the group Demand Abolition has a very well-sourced article on why legalizing prostitutionshouldn’t be legal, arguing that the physical and emotional abuse linked to prostitution happens regardless of whether it is legal or not. The group also points to how legalizing prostitution in some countries has done little to decrease sex trafficking and, in some cases, has led to a substantial increase.
3c.) Solutions: Organizations. At this point, though, it’s worth highlighting a ton of organizations who are working to fight human trafficking as a whole.
Let’s start with NightLight International. NightLight was formed in Bangkok, Thailand in 2005 (where sex trafficking is estimated to be a $6.4 billion industry). The group’s United States operation serves as a combination intervention, ministry, healthcare network, and even a place of employment for victims of sex trafficking. Their main US operation is based in Missouri. The group believes in what it calls “holistic restoration” of sex trafficking victims, in other words addressing all of the victim’s needs and guiding them out of their current situation.
Next up is Thorn, once called the DNA Foundation, which focuses on child sexual exploitation and trafficking. Co-founded by actors Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore (the former of whom testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the subject last year), Thorn is built as a technology company, developing software for identifying victims, analyzing evidence, and giving victims a discreet way to get help by way of a confidential textline operated by the Polaris Project. The company says their main program, Spotlight, has identified roughly 18,000 victims, and 6,500 traffickers.
Polaris appears to be a significantly larger operation. Their website says “Polaris systemically disrupts the human trafficking networks.” This is done through a three-point system build around responding to victims, lobbying governments for support, and directly targeting human traffickers. They boast a impressive array of roughly nine separate projects aimed at targeting virtually every aspect of the human trafficking industry, extending even into the labor markets.
For those looking to go into much deeper research, the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office On Trafficking In Persons” has a lot of fairly thorough reports on human trafficking, including state-by-state efforts to combat it.
4.) Bottom Line. Billion-dollar industries don’t disappear overnight. Anybody who has seen the illegal drug trade in Mexico can figure that out. However, Human trafficking has started to become, at the very least a much more public issue. Recent developments such as the raid at a Victoria’s Secret in Bangkok and lawsuits against hotels and Backpage, and even the recent focus on sexual assault will only enhance the issue’s visibility. Additionally, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal has announced that he will bring a victim of child sex trafficking to next week’s State of the Union address. (Incidentally, a week after the SotU is the Super Bowl. That event has a reputation for seeing an increase in sex trafficking in the host city.)
For now, however, it is worth considering three things. The first being the incredible toll human trafficking takes on its victims, the second being the connection between human trafficking and pornography, and the third being the staggering amount of effort that has been put into fighting the industry that has gone largely unnoticed until very recently. The enhanced visibility of anti-trafficking efforts can only benefit both the efforts themselves, and the victims of of human trafficking.
For our part, the Run will definitely return to this topic in the near future.
Stay informed. Stay alert. Stay free.