The Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking is a project of The Salvation Army National Headquarters. We exist to help create and equip the movement for the Abolition of sexual trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. We develop and provide information and resources to help other Abolitionists in their efforts to educate the public about the devastating realities of sex trafficking and the effects of life in the sex industry. We promote practices and policies that support prevention of these phenomenon, that protect survivors, and which combat the demand for commercial sex—the principle driving force behind sex trafficking and the commercial sex industry.
We believe that sexual trafficking is an extreme abuse of human rights and an affront to human dignity. We also believe that sexual trafficking is inherently connected to the existence of the commercial sex trade, an industry predicated on the objectification and exploitation of the individuals (primarily females) used to supply sex. Therefore, our fight against sexual trafficking is also a fight against the forces and institutions that seek to normalize and supply persons for various sectors of the sex trade (e.g. prostitution, pornography, and stripping).
What is Human Trafficking?
Trafficking in persons (TIP) is the illegal commerce in human beings. It can be helpful to think of TIP (also known as human trafficking) as a process through which a person loses his or her freedom and is reduced to the status of someone else’s “property.” People who live through the trafficking process ultimately experience slavery because through human trafficking they become people over whom others assume the powers and rights of ownership.
The elements that make up the trafficking process include recruiting, enticing, transporting, harboring, maintaining, provisioning or obtaining a person. To be a victim of human trafficking, at the end of the process the individual must find him or herself in a context of exploitation—either being exploited for their labor or for sexual access to their bodies. Accordingly, human trafficking can more or less be divided into two broad categories: labor trafficking and sex trafficking.
SEVERE FORMS OF TRAFFICKING
According to U.S. federal law, whether in instances of labor trafficking or sex trafficking, those instances in which the elements of “force, fraud, or coercion” are added to the trafficking process elevate the nature of the trafficking offense. Therefore, when human traffickers utilize force, fraud, or coercion against their victims such cases are referred to as “severe forms” of human trafficking. An exception to this standard is made in cases of sex trafficking in which the person induced to perform commercial sex acts has not yet reached 18 years of age. While such cases are also considered severe forms of human trafficking, it is not necessary for authorities to prove that the elements of “force, fraud, or coercion” occurred.
Some victims of TIP are trafficked into a variety of work settings for the purpose of exploiting their labor, ergo the term labor trafficking. Frequently victims of labor trafficking find themselves working in restaurants, hotels, fishing boats, and sweatshops, or as domestic servants in private homes or as farmhands in agricultural settings. Victims of labor trafficking may experience a variety of physical and psychological abuses while “working,” but the principle nature of their exploitation involves the theft of the wages of their labor and the abrogation of their individual autonomy.
Sex trafficking, on the other hand, involves the exploitation of the victim in the commercial sex industry where the victim is expected to provide commercial sex acts on demand. Commercial sex acts are any sex acts on account of which anything of value (e.g. money, clothes, shelter, food, drugs, etc.) is given to or received by any person. Because a person has no meaningful right to refuse sex in such a context, the principle nature of their exploitation includes rape and the abrogation of their individual autonomy. The victim’s experience of rape is substantially intensified by the serial sexual assaults perpetrated against them by untold numbers of people who pay money to their traffickers in order to sexually access them. Whether or not the commercial sex buyer is aware that the individual they have purchased is trafficked or not does not mitigate the victim’s sexual experience of their sexual encounter as one of rape.
A continuum of “enterprises” makes up the commercial sex industry. These can include:
- pornography production studios,
- strip clubs (e.g. table and lap dancing),
- live-sex shows,
- peep shows,
- Internet or “virtual” prostitution,
- escort or outcall services,
- “sex tour” operators,
- brothels (frequently operating behind fronts such as massage parlors, saunas, bathhouses, bars, cabarets, clubs, cinemas, beauty salons, barber shops, and restaurants), as well as
- pimp-facilitated, street-level prostitution.
These sexually oriented businesses (SOBs) profit by supplying sex to those seeking it. In order to supply sex, the commercial sex industry must provide sufficient access to bodies. Because most women prefer not to sell sex, some SOBs must depend on sexually trafficked women and girls to make up a sufficient supply of bodies available for sex. Not all people in the commercial sex industry have gone through the trafficking process, but participation in the commercial sex trade is inherently harmful to the individual whether they have been sexually trafficked or not.
SOBs, whether in legal or illegal environs, can range in sophistication from mom-and-pop operations and decentralized criminal networks, to syndicates with multiple illicit businesses, or highly, sophisticated corporate enterprises with publicly traded stock. Those involved in, connected to, or with self-interest in commercial sex industry enterprises extend well beyond the commercial sex buyers, sex traffickers (a.k.a. pimps) or owners and investors. In fact those with a stake in the commercial sex industry can include taxi drivers, hotel owners, travel agents, waiters, newspapers and media groups. Thus many people and sectors of the economy profit from the sex trafficking. Factors such as globalization and industrialization, lax laws or the legalization of prostitution laws, the pervasive demand for commercial sex, and attractive financial incentives, have spurred the growth of the sex industry and established it as a recognized business sector figuring significantly into the national economics of countries around the world.
Once trafficked into the commercial sex industry, victims endure unspeakable acts of physical brutality and violence; suffer serial rape by so-called customers and pimps; undergo forced abortions; acquire drug and alcohol dependencies; live in fear of their lives and in fear for the lives of their family and friends; suffer acute psychological reactions as a result of their extreme physical and emotional trauma; and contract sexually transmitted diseases which all too often bring life-long illness and hasten death. If they survive the physical abuse, the psychological and spiritual impacts of these experiences on victims are devastating and enduring.
Prostitution is inherently harmful and dehumanizing, and significantly contributes to the phenomenon of sex trafficking. Pornography is also innately harmful and dehumanizing. It contributes to sex trafficking by conditioning men to view females as mere objects for their sexual use, and by leading some men to seek sex through prostitution.