Victims of trafficking often come from vulnerable populations, including undocumented migrants, runaways and at-risk youth, oppressed or marginalized groups, and the poor. Traffickers specifically target individuals in these populations because they are often easiest to recruit and control and are least likely to be protected by law enforcement.
The needs of survivors of trafficking are among the most complex of crime victims, often requiring a multidisciplinary approach to address severe trauma and medical needs, immigration and other legal issues, safety concerns, multicultural barriers, and financial hardship. Undocumented immigrants are highly vulnerable to being trafficked due to a combination of factors, including lack of legal status and protections, limited language skills and employment options, poverty and immigration-related debts, and social isolation. They are often victimized by traffickers from a similar ethnic or national background, on whom they may be dependent for employment or support in the foreign country.
Runaways and at-risk youth are targeted by pimps and traffickers for exploitation in the commercial sex industry as well as for begging. Pimps and sex traffickers are skilled at manipulating child victims, maintaining control and often their loyalty through a combination of affection and violence.
Some commentators have objected to the phrase “trafficking victim”, because they believe that the label tends to deny the agency of the trafficked person. However, the phrase “victim of trafficking” is used to describe the victim status of the trafficked person in the crime of trafficking, just as the word would be used to describe a victim of assault or other crime. The word should not be taken to imply that the identity of the trafficked person is defined by their victim status in the crime, any more than the identity of a victim of assault is defined by their experience.
The importance of stressing the victim status of trafficked persons is particularly vital given that many governments view them incorrectly as criminals, either because of their undocumented status or their involvement with the commericial sex industry.
Commercial sexual exploitation is widespread throughout the world, and it continues to grow. To a large extent, this exploitation remains hidden from public attention and ignored by Church and society. While customers may think they harm no one but themselves, the truth is that they are swept up in a system of sexual exploitation that degrades all participants, both providers and customers.
Commercial sexual exploitation includes the businesses of prostitution, pornography, and stripping. Prostitution, the archetype of these businesses, involves selling and buying sex on the streets, in brothels, massage parlors, saunas, bars, and through escort services. Pornography involves selling and buying demeaning sexual images in movies, videos, magazines, and on the Internet and cable television. It includes phone sex, which is sometimes accompanied by live images on the seller’s Web site. Stripping involves selling and buying live sexual performance in strip clubs, adult theaters, bars, peep show booths, and at private parties.
These businesses, all built on the exchange of some sexual activity for money (or some other form of remuneration), overlap and interlock, and together form the system of sexual exploitation. What drives those who operate the system of sexual exploitation is the desire to make money. Its product is sex, deemed to be simply another commodity to sell and buy. Persons who sell and buy the product are a means to provide the profit; their well-being is normally an incidental concern for those who profit from them.
To ensure demand for its product, the system of sexual exploitation strives to make its businesses attractive and accessible to its potential customers, almost entirely men and male youth. It appeals to their conflicted sexual desires with a variety of images of its "commodity": some people paint a picture of glamorous, harmless, uncomplicated fun among consenting equals; others speak to the excitement of crossing forbidden boundaries, to becoming or being "a man," or to sexual addictions and aberrations (such as child pornography, pedophilia, bestiality, sadomasochism, or orgies). It offers a hierarchy of providers for different budgets. It provides videos for hotel rooms and "call girls" for the traveler, establishes its businesses near military bases, entices customers to exotic places for "sex tourism," and offers "mail-order brides" who often end up in prostitution or as personal sex slaves. The system of sexual exploitation makes its products known through ads in city and community newspapers, telephone directories, sex guides, flyers, and by word of mouth, and has found in the Internet an effective new tool for advertising. In a sex-saturated culture where the media celebrate casual sex, featuring increasingly explicit sex scenes, and advertisements sell products through the allure of sexuality, the system of sexual exploitation thrives and flourishes.
Prostitution, pornography, and stripping are huge and profitable businesses. People in the United States spend more on pornography, for example, than on movie tickets or on all the performing arts combined. The conservative estimate of $10 billion paid for pornography annually makes it a bigger business than professional football, basketball, and baseball combined. Prostitution in the United States is estimated to be a $14 billion industry with 1.5 million customers a week.
To fulfill the demand for commercial sex, the system of sexual exploitation has elaborate means to recruit and maintain providers for its businesses. Poverty and homelessness are its allies. Predators (“pimps”, “boyfriends”, and others) actively recruit vulnerable persons for prostitution by manipulating them through apparent kindness, deceit, threats, and cruelty. They especially target alienated or troubled young persons, who often are barely surviving after being thrown out of or having left their homes. Pimps maintain control over their (usually) women and girls by keeping them, often through violence, in an isolated social world of degrading dependency, moving them from city to city. Strip clubs often function as another entrance point into pornography and prostitution. Television talk shows serve the recruiting process by featuring women in the system of sexual exploitation who claim their stripping or “sex work” is attractive, profitable, and temporary employment.
Global sex trafficking is the largest source of recruits for the system of sexual exploitation. Sex trafficking involves recruiting, harboring, buying, selling, and transporting persons into or within a country by force, deception, and inducement, in order to exploit them for commercial sexual purposes. Women and girls are almost exclusively the targets of this lucrative and fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the global economy. Between 700,000 to two million women and children are trafficked across national borders each year for prostitution. Among these are 50,000 trafficked into the United States annually, including 17,000 youth.
Commercial sexual exploitation of children and youth is pervasive. Globally, two million girls and boys are forced or lured by false promises into prostitution every year. For example, in the USA About 300,000 children and youth are thought to be in prostitution in the United States. Òàêîå åñòü íèæå Nine- and ten-year-old children are stolen from or sold by impoverishedfamilies into sex trafficking in numerous countries, and street children often turn to prostitution for survival. Many youth in the United States who trade sex for money begin when they are 14 years old or younger. Child pornography is sold on thousands of “hidden” Web sites originating in this and numerous other countries.
The system of sexual exploitation manifests social sin, reflecting a structure of evil that shapes and snares persons, and to which personal attitudes, decisions, and acts contribute. In its tangled web, we see the dynamics of sin at work. We ought not gloss over, trivialize, or accommodate the evil of the system of sexual exploitation.
The system of sexual exploitation uses women and girls, young men and boys, to pleasure chiefly men. Strip clubs, organized according to unequal gender power dynamics, elicit and require expressions of male domination and control of women, expressions which society often encourages of men. Pimps and customers, even at times those responsible for protection, abuse, assault, and threaten women, girls, and boys in prostitution and take advantage of their vulnerabilities to subject them to domination. Those who pay for sex usually dictate what sexual acts their provider must perform. Much of the system of sexual exploitation arises from and reinforces culture’s deeply ingrained attitudes and power patterns that assume that women and children are not fully or equally human, and are meant to be subservient to others. The system of sexual exploitation actualizes a world of exploiters and the exploited, often incorporating racial and socio-economic oppression. Prostitution is said to be the world’s oldest form of oppressing women. The same dynamic of oppression is at work when adults make young men and boys their hired sexual objects.
Predators, including sex traffickers, make false promises to, and create illusory futures for, their prospective women; women deceive their consumers by claims of pleasure; and customers hide or lie about their behavior. Strippers dupe their viewers with illusions of enjoyment, and actors in pornographic scenes feign sexual pleasure. Escort services claim to offer only non-sexual companionship, and illicit massage parlors claim to be health services.
The system of sexual exploitation depends upon and magnifies human misery and social injustice. Sex traffickers buy or abduct women and children from impoverished families with limited options, and pimps find likely prospects in girls who have been abused as children by their fathers or other relatives. The need to support drug or alcohol addictions leads many into prostitution; others become addicted to drugs and alcohol to cope with the emptiness of constantly selling themselves. Disease – sexually transmitted and other physical, psychological, and spiritual ones – takes its toll; early death – sometimes by murder, sometimes by suicide – is common among those forced into prostitution. Aging prostitutes are discarded by the system of sexual exploitation, left to fend for themselves without a pension or job skills and often hampered by a criminal record.
Families and loved ones of persons in the system of sexual exploitation experience untold suffering, and children of prostitutes suffer consequences from their mothers’ involvement in this tangled web, often becoming part of the system of sexual exploitation themselves. Men with emotional or relational problems who are drawn into the system of sexual exploitation often find that their false and momentary pleasure deepens their problems, pushes them further away from their families, and compounds their pain. The system of sexual exploitation is not “victimless”.
To do its evil, the system of sexual exploitation strives to look good. It tells itself and the world that it is only providing goods and services that consumers want. It is only promoting business transactions between consenting adults. It may admit that abuses occur, but they are marginal to the industry as a whole. Apologists try to make the case that such enterprises are “normal mainstream” businesses, insisting that all are entitled “to do their own thing”. In such ways the system of sexual exploitation weaves the threads of self-deception and self-justification into its twisted trap of sin and evil.
As it was mentioned above, the system of sexual exploitation irresistibly entraps children and youth, both girls and boys, taking advantage of their vulnerabilities. Driven in part by the false belief that younger persons are less likely to have sexually transmittable diseases, it seeks out ever younger victims.
Government has a God-given function to protect all persons from criminal acts through just laws. Strong and fairly enforced laws intended to punish those who sexually exploit youth for commercial reasons are valuable instruments to hold these exploiters accountable and to ensure that there are consequences for their activity. Federal and state laws against child prostitution, child pornography, pimping, sex tourism, and sex trafficking need to be vigorously enforced. Local ordinances can be an effective way to regulate “adult entertainment” establishments. State and city laws related to the system of sexual exploitation vary and often are difficult to enforce. Some agencies work with homeless youth to keep them from becoming trapped in the system of sexual exploitation; some offer a shower and a friendly hug to youth and women who sell sex to say that someone cares for them as persons; some provide support and a program for those who want to leave prostitution; and some advocate for shelter, health care, child care, and job training so that women and youth who live in poverty may have new opportunities for a different future. Because women and children who have been trafficked into the United States are victims of human rights violations, they should be given legal protection when they are discovered by authorities, rather than deported or detained.