A $9.5 Billion Industry: Sex Trafficking Is More Local Than Believed

by , 24/06/2012 0 comments

Stolen lives and muffled cries, victims of human sex trafficking are gaining more attention and awareness from the public. However, their struggles are not simple, and the consequences of their experiences, damaging and permanent.

According to National Human Trafficking Resource Center, sex trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, coercion, or when a person under the age of 18 years is induced to perform such an act. Although sex trafficking is commonly thought to be geared toward girls only, boys, women and men alike could be victims.

“Most people think sex trafficking is less likely to happen in the U.S. and it’s hard for most of us to even fathom that it actually happens, but it does unfortunately,” said Arthur Lurigio, a psychology and criminal justice professor at Loyola University who also specializes in victimology.

Just today, nearly 80 teenagers – most of them girls ranging from 13 to 17 but also two boys – were rescued from a massive sex trafficking ring that yielded 104 arrests of alleged pimps. The three-day FBI sweep took place in 57 cities across the country.

Not only is human trafficking one of the fastest-growing criminal business, second to only drug trafficking in profitability, the U.S. State Department’s 2011 Trafficking in Person Report examined human trafficking in 184 countries including the U.S. and revealed that the United States “is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and other types of forced labor.”

The FBI has reported that human trafficking, and more specifically sex trafficking, generates on average about $9.5 billion each year. However, these statistics are not fully reliable due to the secretive nature of the commercial sex industry. The United Nations notes that “the lack of accurate statistics is due only in part to the hidden nature of the crime, and that the lack of systematic reporting is the real problem,” suggesting that the actual number of people trafficked is much greater than estimated.

In terms of victims, research conducted by Polaris Project, an organization that stride to combat the scourge of trafficking in our community, shows that the average age of entry into the commercial sex industry in the U.S. is between 12 to 14 years old.

Furthermore, according to the Washington State Office of the Attorney General, domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) is now a growing problem for American youth. Typically, gangs and pimps are recruiting more minors because it of its ease and profitable income. Sex trafficking of American children is prevalent because they are easier to recruit and sell without the need to cross the border.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 100,000 to 293,000 children are in danger of becoming sexual commodities in the U.S. The Shared Hope Internationals discovered that minors were commonly sold on an average of 10 to 15 times a day, totaling between 9,360 to 14,040 sex acts each year. The research also revealed that pimps commonly sold the minor girls for about $400 an hour on American streets.

“I think the biggest problem is that people don’t think people can be trafficked,” said Tracy Siska, director of the Chicago Justice Project. “Another main issue is determining whether prostitutes are actual victims of trafficking.”

In Trafficking in Persons Report 2011, sex trafficking occurs in street prostitution, massage parlors, hotel services, brothels and etc. While there are many minors who are victims, youth of all races and backgrounds are subject to abuse and sexual exploitation. In fiscal year 2010, the federal law enforcement charged 181 individuals and obtained 141 convictions in 103 human trafficking prosecutions. However, these numbers did not reflect the prosecutions of cases involving the sexual exploitation of children.

“Sex trafficking has been going on for centuries but today there’s more awareness of the problem,” said Lurigio. “This problem tends to be more concentrated in large urban areas especially with the run-away child population.”

According to Lurigio, the highly vulnerable children victims are the thrown away children and those who ran away from home. Many times, gangs and pimps would go to rural areas and bring the kids to bigger cities because there’s a lack of law enforcement in those areas. The problem of sex trafficking is extremely prevalent in large cities and in Chicago alone; there’s at least 25,000 victims involved in commercial sex trade.

“Another thing pimps have been known to do is to get girls pregnant as a way of controlling them,” said Rachel Ostergaard, a social worker with the Salvation Army STOP IT program who works closely with sex trafficking victims. “And also straight up violence or violence against family member are common ways of controlling the girls.”

The vast majority of the victims of sex trafficking have once been abused as a child. Often, victims are unable to leave to control of the pimp due to addiction to certain depressants or drugs, threats to family members or physical abuse. Furthermore, young girls and boys are often solicited into the business by people they know like boyfriends, family members or friend, Lurigio said.

While most people are becoming aware of the issue, the consequences and long term effects of sex trafficking are often overlooked. Many victims are forced to provide service for seven to 10 customers a day, seven days a week. With continuous sexual abuse, Lurigio says women’s life expectancy for someone in sex trafficking is much shorter. Often, victims in this arena look much older than their real age due to the stressful nature of their work and potential drug addiction. Also, due to unprotected sex, these victims are more prone to contract HIV and are typically more susceptible to cervical cancer.

“Behind human trafficking, there’s a tremendous degree of human suffering and what’s most upsetting is when you see the faces of the victims and you see the boys and girls whose lives have been taken away from them,” said Lurigio.

For more information, click here: Characteristics-Human Trafficking.


About Yunjiao Amy Li

Yunjiao Amy Li
Amy Li is a Chicago Bureau reporter.

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