Sex trafficking is a form of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation of another person. The victim is forced to engage in a commercial sex act through the use of fraud, coercion, violence, threats, lies, false promises, debt bondage, and/or other forms of control and manipulation.
- Most individuals trapped in sex trafficking are trafficked by someone they know and trust, often even a family member.
- Due to the hidden nature of human trafficking, it is impossible to know the the full scope of the issue. However, the International Labor Organization estimated that there were 4.8 million individuals trapped in sex trafficking.
- The sex trafficking industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry.
Each year, the United States Department of State publishes a Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report which includes a ranking of governments on their efforts to combat human trafficking. You can read past TIP reports here.
2021 TIP Report
Click to download
2020 TIP Report
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SIGNS OF SEX TRAFFICKING
Part of what makes the fight against human trafficking so difficult is the fact that it is a hidden crime. In order to put an end to trafficking, we must learn the signs.
While there are many varying signs that are dependent on the type of sex trafficking and the individuals involved, the following are some general signs that an individual may be a victim of sex trafficking.
Note that not each indicator taken individually will imply a trafficking situation and not all victims will exhibit these signs.
The individual may…
- Be fearful of police and authorities.
- Have no passport or ID or mention that someone else is holding their documents.
- Exhibit signs of physical and/or psychological trauma (anxiety, lack of memory of recent events, bruising, untreated conditions, etc).
- Be fearful of the trafficker, believing that their life and/or the lives of family members are at risk if they try to escape.
- Avoid eye contact and/or social interaction.
- Be unpaid or paid very little.
- Have very few possessions.
- Have limited access to medical care.
- Be unaware of where they are or how they got there.
- Have limited freedom of movement.
- Be seen checking into hotels/motels often with a significantly older individual or by themselves.
- Have tattoos/brandings on their neck and/or lower back.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Call or Text if you See Something
Educating ourselves and others is the easiest way to fight sex trafficking. The more people who know the signs, the more likely sex trafficking is to be reported. In addition to calling the toll-free National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1.888.373.7888, you can also report suspected trafficking by texting “BeFree” to 233733. Saving these numbers in your phone could help you be prepared when you see suspicious activity.
Some professions are more likely to come in contact with sex trafficking victims. Many of these industries have established programs to properly train employees. These include Truckers Against Trafficking, the Association of Flight Attendants, and HEAL Trafficking. Your industry may have training tools available to you!
If you are a frequent traveler (or not), download the TraffickCam app. Using this app, you simply take photos of your hotel room. The photos are submitted to a database and cross-checked with photos taken of victims. This helps law enforcement to determine where perpetrators are trafficking their victims.
Human trafficking is its own industry with its own vocabulary. The following are some terms you may hear when discussing sex trafficking.
- Branding: A tattoo or carving on a victim that indicates ownership by a trafficker, pimp, or gang.
- Brothel/Cathouse/Whorehouse: Establishments where sex is sold on the premise. This could be apartments, homes, trailers, etc.
- Choosing Up: The process by which a different pimp takes “ownership” of a victim. According to traditional pimping rules, when a victim makes eye contact with another pimp (accidentally or on purpose), she is choosing him to be her pimp. If the original pimp wants the victim back, he must pay a fee to the new pimp. When this occurs, the victim is forced to work harder to replace the money lost.
- Circuit: A series of cities among which prostituted people are moved.
- Coercion: Threats of serious harm or physical restraint. Any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that failure to perform an act would result in serious harm to or physical restraint against any person. The abuse or threatened abuse of the legal process.
- Commercial Sex Act: Any sexual act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.
- Daddy: The term a pimp will often require his victim(s) to call him.
- Date: The exchange when prostitution takes place. A victim is said to be “with a date” or “dating.”
- Debt Bondage: The status or condition of a debtor arising from a pledge by the debtor of his or her personal services or of those under his or her control as a security for debt, if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied toward the liquidation of the debt of the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined.
- Demand: is the push factor in the criminal business of sex trafficking. Demand is created by men and women (predominantly men) who seek to purchase
sex or sexual entertainment from persons who have been subject to force, fraud or coercion or who are under the age of 18 years and are involved in commercial sex.
- Domestic Trafficking: Refers to the trafficking of US citizens within the United States. Most often seen in the sex trafficking of persons by a pimp.
- Escort Service: An organization, operating chiefly via cell phone and the internet, which send a victim to a buyer’s location (an “outcall”) or arranges for the buyer to come to a house or apartment (an “in-call”). Some network with others and can assemble large numbers of women for parties.
- Exit Fee: The money a pimp will demand from a victim who is trying to leave. It will be an exorbitant sum as most pimps do not let their victims leave freely.
- Human Trafficking: The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of deception, of the abuse of power, or of a position of vulnerability, or of the giving and receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation.
- Madam: An older woman who manages a brothel, escort service or other prostitution establishment. She may work alone or in collaboration with other traffickers.
- Pimp: A person who controls and financially benefits from the commercial sexual exploitation of another person. Often abusive and possessive, with the pimp using techniques such as psychological intimidation, manipulation, starvation, rape and/or gang rape, beating, confinement, threats of violence toward the victim’s family, forced drug use, and the shame from these acts to keep the victim under control.
- Quota: A set amount of money that a trafficking victim must make each night before she can come “home.” Quotas are often set between $300 and $2000. If the victim returns without meeting the quota, she is typically beaten and sent back out on the street to earn the rest. Quotas vary according to geographic region, local events, etc.
- Renegade: A person who is involved in prostitution without a pimp.
- Seasoning: A combination of psychological manipulation, intimidation, gang rape, sodomy, beatings, deprivation of food or sleep, isolation from friends or family and other sources of support, and threatening or holding hostage of a victim’s children. Seasoning is designed to break down a victim’s resistance and ensure compliance.
- Sex Tourism: Trips organized with the primary purpose of effecting a commercial sexual relationship by the tourist with residents at the destination.
- Track/Stroll/Blade: An area of town known for prostitution activity.
- Trade Up/Trade Down: To move a victim like merchandise between pimps. A pimp may trade a girl for another or trade with an exchange of money.
- Trick: Committing an act of prostitution (verb) or the person buying it (noun). A victim is said to be “turning a trick” or “with a trick.”
- Turn Out: To be forced into prostitution.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has provided a human trafficking legislation tracker to stay up to date on legal issues surrounding the topic.
The Protected Innocence Challenge gives states a grade based on the strength of their laws related to commercial sexual exploitation of children.
The Vatican's Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking provides an understanding that motivates and sustains the much-needed long-term struggle against trafficking.
What are the laws against trafficking in your state? Use this document to find out.
The Department of Justice explains the key legislation to eradicate human trafficking.
How many victims of human trafficking are in your state? Find out here.
- A Shield Against the Monster | Carol Metzker and Anne Marie Jones
- Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy | Kevin Bales
- Girls Like Us | Rachel Lloyd
- Human Trafficking Around the World | Stephanie Hepburn
- Human Trafficking Reconsidered: Rethinking the Problem | Kimberly Kay Hoang
- Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It | David Batstone
- The Slave Across the Street | Theresa Flores
- The Slave Next Door | Kevin Bales
- Somebody’s Daughter: The Hidden Story of America’s Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them | Julian Sher
- Stolen | Katarina Rosenblatt
- Understanding Global Slavery | Kevin Bales
- I am Jane Doe (2017): This Netflix documentary focuses on the legal suits brought against Backpage.com, a classified ad website notorious for sex trafficking. It follows the mothers of victims who sued, their lawyers, and groups who pushed back on attempts to hold Backpage accountable.
- Not My Life (2011): Not My Life takes us on a tour of modern-day slavery around the world, from the garbage dumps of India, to the all too familiar truck stops of the United States where young girls are forced to prostitute themselves. Not My Life is a powerful documentary that forces viewers to face the reality of trafficking.
- Priceless (2016): A project from the band For King and Country, this romantic-drama can serve as a good introduction to human trafficking for younger people. It tells the fictional story of James Stevens, a widower who agrees to drive a truck against the country, no questions asked. He soon learns he’s working for a human trafficking ring.
- Sex Trafficking in America (2019): This documentary follows a Phoenix-based police unit dedicated to stopping sex trafficking and relates a survivor’s story. Sex trafficking is often something that Americans believe is an international problem. This film proves that it’s a serious issue right here, as well. Viewers can watch the documentary for free on the PBS Frontline website.
- Very Young Girls (2009): This film chronicles the journey of young women through the world of commercial sexual exploitation in New York City. It highlights the work of activist Rachel Lloyd, a survivor of that world, who founded the recovery organization GEMS to provide help and hope to victims of the sex trade.
- The Whistleblower (2011): Inspired by true events, this is the story of an American policewoman, Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz), who signs on as a UN peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia, only to discover UN complicity in a booming sex trafficking trade.
- Blue Heart Campaign
- Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking
- End Slavery Now
- Free the Slaves
- The National Center on Sexual Exploitation
- Shared Hope International
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
- USCSAHT - US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking
- World Without Exploitation
- The Human Rights Institute has issued the 2020 Federal Human Trafficking Report.
- Human Rights Watch reports human rights trends from around the globe.
- The new issue of Anti-Trafficking Review explores assumptions around the technological tools currently available that purport to address trafficking and exploitation.
- The Human Trafficking 2019 Federal Human Trafficking Report
- National Center on Sexual Exploitation 2020 Impact Report
- UN's Office on Drugs & Crimes Report on the COVID pandemic on trafficking in persons & a global study of emergence on the topic.
- Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice released a white paper on Primary Prevention Framework to Prevent Child Trafficking
- Ending Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Women and Girls
- National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking