Rape For Sale: "Sex-Trafficking" in the U.S.
An Overview of the Foundation, Denial and Attitudes on the Fastest Growing Organized Crime

"To not understand the relationship between prostitution and trafficking is like not understanding the relationship between slavery in the Old South and the kidnapping of victims in Africa and the transatlantic shipment of them to our shores." - Donna Hughes

It is widely believed that the American public views "sex-trafficking" as a foreign issue that does not heavily flourish into mainstream American life. Often the term itself is misunderstood, since "trafficking" may easily be mistaken for "human smuggling". The U.S. Department of State's Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons defines "sex-trafficking" in the following terms:

"When an adult is coerced, forced, or deceived into prostitution - or maintained in prostitution through coercion - that person is a victim of trafficking. All of those involved in recruiting, transporting, harboring, receiving, or obtaining the person for that purpose have committed a trafficking crime. Sex trafficking can also occur within debt bondage, as women and girls are forced to continue in prostitution through the use of unlawful 'debt' purportedly incurred through their transportation, recruitment, or even their crude 'sale,' which exploiters insist they must pay off before they can be free." [1-4]

It is nothing short of a crisis to ignore the prevalence of this modern form of gender-based and child slavery not only abroad, but in the United States as well. Given the fact that at least 70% of U.S. prostitution is linked to organized crime, the issue ought be a front-page pandemic instead of a back-page fluff piece, where far too often, clear-cut trafficking cases are labeled as "sex scandals"[8-1]. Human Trafficking as a whole is estimated to become the number one organized crime in the world within the next five to ten years. As a reminder, that is another way of saying Slavery. Currently, Human Trafficking is the second most profitable organized crime, having surpassed arms and only hovering below drug trafficking. The business of selling the same person over and over per transaction is exponentially more lucrative than drug and arms trafficking, where goods can only be sold one time per transaction until new goods arrive.

The U.S. is without a doubt a major destination for foreign sex slaves, but it also a haven for American women and children bought and sold in their own prosperous country. Globally speaking, sex slaves are approximately 80% female and at least half are legally considered children. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates the average age of sex-trafficking victims is between 12 and 14 years old [3]. While the victims may come from anywhere in the world, the majority of foreign slaves are brought into the U.S. from 'impoverished countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America that offer few employment opportunities and are characterized by high rates of organized crime and violence against women and children, discrimination against women, government corruption, political instability, and armed conflict [4]'.

Methods of recruitment into the U.S. begins with false work promises, extraction or kidnapping of victims from their native countries by organized or individual trafficking gangs working with U.S. networks. Among the most vulnerable of "sex-trafficking" victims are refugees and poverty-stricken nations whose women and children are desperate to escape their country's strife and find work so they can survive or attempt to provide for their families back home. It is also true that families of children from impoverished countries knowingly sell their own children to sex traffickers because they either cannot be responsible for them or use the money for their own personal gain [house improvements, etc].

Because many Americans find it difficult to relate, address or assist an issue they consider to be "foreign" or hopeless, sex-slavery in the U.S. is widely ignored as a major National issue. Despite the inaccurate assumption, political rhetoric and mainstream media do not begin to illustrate the severity, frequency and growth of this global gender-based crime to the public at large. While many victims are illegally brought to the U.S. from other countries, they are being transported, tricked or held against their will and moved about the country to avoid detection and suspicion. The women have no say in the matter and escape is generally impossible.

Therefore, to suggest that it does not immediately become an "American" issue would be no different than suggesting African slaves forced to work in the U.S. was also not an "American" issue. Until the public sphere, political parties and media conglomerates begin to shine a sweltering light on this modern form of slavery, misconceptions will spread, indifference will hold steady and slow legal proceedings will fail to deter or send a message to criminals. With low National and International budgets for "combating" trafficking, as well as the lack of public outrage, there will be no competition with the exponential success of traffickers' and their muti-billion dollar strategies. If this crime continues to be attacked on with embarrassingly meager funding [while claiming it as a "priority"] human traffickers will undoubtedly prevail in allowing inhumanity and evil to dictate a massive chunk of the global economy.

A frequent argument that re-emerges in public discussion is whether or not foreign women, who are aware they would be transported for illegal prostitution, are really victims, let alone victims of slavery. The reality is that the majority of these women and children are either not capable of deciding because they are children, or because they are fleeing a desperate situation of political or personal abuse, hunger, disease and often life and death scenarios on a daily basis. It is plausible to argue that - because the U.S. is a first-world country that is globally prosperous - Americans' ability to empathize with their extreme circumstances leading to prostitution is greatly diminished. There is a wide spectrum of variables that lead any person, let alone a foreign victim of a poor country, to allow themselves to be prostituted.

The distinguishing factors that foreign women face are unique and must not be overlooked in assessing the occupation as exploitation. The variables that lead such a "decision" are often made up of extreme economic factors that the vast majority of Americans are not ever faced with, let alone have to live out in real life. If a woman believes that the only way she can feed herself or her child in Moldova, she knows that she can always sell her body in a more prosperous country to get some money. Other work for these women is often obsolete, so she can feel trapped into the initial decision to have to exploit herself. Secondly, she is also correct that the sale of sex will always be a market with constant demand in every country, a market that Americans will likely never have to contemplate for survival. The sad truth is that this type of rationale is often the case for many "sex trafficking" victims, where many come from the Former Soviet Union, Asia, parts of South America and Africa thinking they will at least be earning the money they made through a degrading job.

For women who have already accepted the idea of being degraded to survive, the American public must be educated in order to understand the grave situations that can lead to such a life "decision". What many of the women do not realize is that the common result: becoming trapped into sex slavery. It is then that the woman goes from a person who was knowingly being exploited to being trapped in a world of inhumanity to the worst degree, with no pay, rights, beatings, forced drug addiction and the worst, inhumane treatment possible. The victim's life is then deemed meaningless though her body so valuable that is it commodity that criminals will do anything to protect. Each woman's daily rape is for sale and all the money goes to the traffickers, which can earn them up to six figures a year for just one woman alone. This is done through internet sales or "auctions" of women to the highest bidder who are often broadcast online nude to potential buyers. So regardless of a woman's initial intent, if enduring such a twist of fate does not classify one as a victim, than certainly nothing does.

Is the term "Sex-Trafficking" adding to the problem?

It is safe to say that the term "sex-trafficking" elicits a negative connotation, however, the description of the crime does not remotely resemble the reality when it is deconstructed. If the description matched the crime precisely, it would not be called "sex" trafficking at all; it would be called "rape trafficking" or "rape slavery", which would surely catch more public attention. The very nature of our language in describing the crime shows an inherent acceptance of denying its true meaning in our global language and culture.

Logistically speaking, if "sex trafficking" is referred to as modern "slavery" and slavery means "work against someone's will"[7], then "sex trafficking" is sex against someone's will. That word is called rape for a reason; it is used in order to more clearly distinguish the severe difference between consensual and non-consensual sex. So would it not be entirely logical to call it "Rape Trafficking" or "rape slavery"? Would it not make perfect sense for the word meant to distinguish the severity of "non-consensual sex" be used for this heinous global crime that so desperately needs attention?

The way language is used it very powerful in creating perception around the crime. As long as civilized nations continue to call it "sex trafficking", they are - in a subtle but crucial way - worsening the problem through mind branding and internalization. It reinforces that the crime is not necessarily rape when it is, and that sex is a viable substitute for what the women and children are going through. The conditioning and use of the term "sex trafficking" is of substantial value in distinguishing and clarifying the severity of the problem to people who get hung up on the PC, misleading term. By interchanging the word "rape" with "sex", it is the same as failing to distinguish a killing as "murder" or "justifiable homicide".

In the language itself, the line again becomes blurred between right and wrong where it should be clearly distinguished, if for no other reason than to protect the victims' dignity. It is also inaccurate to call them prostitutes since they are not prostitutes. They are rape victims being held as slaves, forced to pose as a prostitute, but they are in fact, normal children and women who should not have to carry the burden of such a degrading, unwarranted title. As an outcome, the negligent misuse of language adversely affects the way the media, public and officials perceive the crime on an individual, cultural or global level.

"It is critical to understand that a person's initial consent to participate in prostitution is not legally determinative; if an individual is thereafter held in service through psychological manipulation or physical force, that person is a trafficking victim and should receive the benefits outlined in the United Nations' Palermo Protocol and applicable laws."[1] While American citizens subjected to sex slavery are far less than foreign women and children, it is nonetheless highly prevalent and widely underreported. Though a woman walking home in a suburb does not illustrate the average story of an American victim, this can definitely be a scenario. It is riskier for such an abduction to take place because it will garner more public attention, allow easier government tracking and possibly jeopardize the entire "sex-trafficking" operation. However, it still can happen. Children and women from all classes, races, healthy situations or abusive, can become subject to sex slavery in the U.S. In America, the easiest and safest target for traffickers are American children or girls under legal age of 17/18 [though usually 12-14]. They are particularly focused on targeting victims classified as "runaways", whether they are seven years old or 17 years old. They often recruit or begin abduction or grooming at charter bus stops at night and other locations that runaways frequent.

It is estimated that within 38-72 hours of leaving or running away, a child or girl will be approached by a sex trafficker. They also target victims whom they've stalked, those who have low self-esteem, children who outwardly appear insecure and children who are simply too young to detect psychological manipulation that resembles kindness. Sex slaves of all ages are often lured with initial kindness, promises, the building of trust and the perception that the future will be better rather than worse.

One of the many deceptive, sick methods that traffickers use is to pose a "boyfriends". The women can become trapped into sexual slavery by simply meeting the wrong "boyfriend" - who may date and earn their trust for over a year - before going on a "vacation" within state or city lines, bringing them into a heavily guarded but normal looking home, and selling them to a trafficker just like that. They are trapped immediately by armed criminals, "broken in" and they never even saw it coming. The types of criminals that take on these roles are extreme sociopaths and master manipulators, so they can fool even the wisest of women. The "boyfriend scenario" serves as a reminder that almost any woman or child in the United States can theoretically be sold without warning.

Trafficking within the U.S. occurs in every city, along highways, truck stops, cantinas, shopping malls, strip clubs, restaurants, chinatowns, cyberspace, in classified ads, billboards and countless other fronts. Sex slavery is considered to be in every state in the U.S. It is a business that is so profitable that even rural areas are being targeted as "niche markets". The web of sex trafficking may also not be obvious to the public since the trickle-down effect of this organized crime manifests itself in more subtle forms of exploitation that can be easily mistaken for voluntary work.

According to the globally recognized Not For Sale Campaign, "...most trafficking originates with local operators, they deftly connect to an international sex industry looking to fill slots in brothels, massage parlors, strip joints, and lap dance bars. A club owner in Chicago can pick up the phone and 'mail-order' three beautiful young girls from eastern Europe. Two weeks later a fresh shipment of three Slavic girls will be dancing in his club. Though a number of quasi-independent traffickers were likely involved in moving the girls, the operation would appear seamless to the Chicago client."

Circumstances that may look seamless or harmless tend to act as a haven for traffickers' success, therefore allowing "sex trafficking" to not only flourish in designated red light districts, but also in regular clubs, clubs with 'exotic dancers', strip clubs, porn theaters, modeling agencies. Due to the vast demand for such entertainment, from seemingly soft-core activities to extreme exploitation, the clients' motives often overshadow feelings or empathy for potential victims or suspicion that they may be victims in the first place. Additionally, the victims' suffering generally morphs into stark obedience and the appearance of a willing "worker". Since victims are often broken or "conditioned" by coercion, torture, rape, immediate and/or family threats, illegal status, mistrust of law enforcement or the inability to speak a language, the women become stuck in a trap of abuse, ignorance, eager customers and a misinformed, non-suspicious public.

Other victims include children and women whose documentation has been stolen upon arrival in the United States. Once they are packed into a van or car, many realize what is happening but are then powerless to stop it since they have been forced to turn in their papers and are surrounded by armed men. Traffickers also share similar tactics to de-humanize a human being into becoming their "property"; into state of despair and obedience. The trap that many victims are bound within contains the legitimate fear that their attempted escape will result in an injured or murdered family member. Traffickers often learn about the victims' families so they can carry out their threats if they wish to do so. They will show the women and children surveillance photos of their families in certain cases to remind them that if they don't continue to obey, the threats will be easily followed through.

There are clearly many people who argue that there are no reasons to kill or perhaps other options for trafficking victims to receive help or escape, but those opinions are almost exclusively held by non-victims who have not researched the topic or persons never faced with such evil like human traffickers. On the other hand, trafficking survivors will generally assert that there is no reality of escape without death of themselves, the trafficker or that of a family member [19]. Due to the closing walls around the victims, many commit suicide, become disfigured by trying to escape, others are simply killed if they get ill where hospital care is required, and most others die at a very young age from obeying their trafficker, due to AIDS infection, sickness, beatings, severe rapes, crippling mental trauma and countless other diseases.

When it comes to treating the crime, the decisions anti-trafficking lawmakers pass become vital in either serving as a frightening shock or a complete joke to the "sex trafficking" world. Most governments ignore initiatives to shut down red light districts because of trafficking payoffs to officials, high profit of sex tourism, lack of awareness by customers that they could be participating in slavery, and especially because many countries defend their existence because they "boost the economy".

Imagine if slavery of African Americans in the U.S. were justified that way in the 21st century. Well, that is exactly how several countries and cities within the U.S. justify slavery of women and children. They either justify it by tolerating these districts where they know sexual slavery is breeding or even worse, by promoting it as an attraction. Red Light districts are often glamorized or represented in a completely false reality, with taglines reading: "Red light District this way!", "a playground for men" and "sex tourism is a liberal step forward!"[12] by ignorant advocacy groups. In reality, Red Light Districts [sometimes disguised as massage or beauty parlors [San Francisco, Chicago, New York, etc], are a global feed for slavery. They are often advertised on maps and in the back of newspapers and magazines.

Though women & child sex slavery is not "legal", the dismal budget and conviction rate essentially suggests that it is. Laws without aggressive enforcement are what really determines if a crime is considered legal in practice, despite what the paperwork says. "Sex trafficking" is also spread in legal forums through periodicals such as The Village Voice, which was outed by a trafficking survivor for advertising her rape and enslavement in their backpage.com section. The Village Voice nonetheless defends their advertising of potential trafficking victims and tries to downplay the seriousness of the issue. Their lack of sympathy towards the victim and their vicious attacks on anti-human trafficking efforts have instilled a suspicion that they, amongst other periodicals, are possibly involved with the large network of trafficking rings [29].

Among the worst possible groups who support prostitution are women wrongfully claiming to be "feminists" or pro-female groups who want to legalize prostitution without further regulations and laws that are vital in either promoting or discouraging "sex trafficking". Catastrophe versus success. Where prostitution is legally accepted or encouraged without specific anti-trafficking laws for Johns and traffickers, the demand for trafficking girls [and children] increases and traffickers end up controlling the majority of these areas [80 to over 90% in Amesterdam][23-4]. See Netherlands versus Sweden for models of ineffective legalization and effective legalization.

Prostitution, particularly since the fall of the Soviet Union, has become rapidly on the rise stretching through Eastern Europe and expanding on a global level, where the sale of people is estimated to be around 27 million, which means that more slaves exist now than ever before in human history. Since the majority of "human trafficking" is comprised of "sex trafficking", then the majority of the world's number two organized crime is the sale of woman and child rape [9]. On the low end, it is averaged that 1 in 5 men purchase sex from a "prostitute" at some point in their lifetime. In a study in Africa, 1 in 5 men admitted to having raped a woman in their lifetime [25].

Statistics are never right on the money, but when it comes to gender-based violence and rape/gender-based violence statistics, nearly every civilized government admits that the statistics are inaccurate and underreported because of fear, lack of severe punishment, trauma of appearing in court and so on. Such statistics, however, reflect the frightening absence of education about gender-based violence and "sex slavery" happening today. As most people would like to believe, 1 in 5 men would not knowingly participate in slavery, so why is it so likely to occur and why are schools and adults failing to see this as an essential part of current education?

If educated in mandatory schooling, however, children would learn from a fairly young age about the conditions of "sex slavery" that grown men are generally oblivious to as current adults. They could learn how to detect signs of victims and obtain a new mentality towards women, prostitution and trafficking that could save the next generation from participating in this awful crime of slavery.

The misconceptions, acceptance and degradation of prostitutes by current customers is difficult to change, but there are many men in the gray area that might operate under the false mentality of, [well, she's ok with it. I'm ok with it. I paid for it. It's OK.][23-1]. This attitude is expressed by men in several case studies and data retrieved by the U.S. Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons Department. Looking at the foundation of the current situation can be further understood by understanding the historic views towards prostitutes and negative social views towards women. Historical patriarchy and rape-friendly culture has laid a strong foundation for what has grown into a massively disproportionate sex slave trade of women and girls [Ratio 9:1]. See comfort women and white slavery] for historic examples of accepted women's slavery.

A major false reality driving the male demand is that the "prostitute" is willing and/or eager to be with their customer. The truth is that they must appear to be both willing and eager, unless they are told to act otherwise. If they do not comply, the victims are subject to more violence, which is then covered up by makeup [11]. In a documentary presented by actress Angelina Jolie, an Amsterdam "John", about 25 years old, admitted to buying sex from a trafficked woman who he claimed had bruises covered up by makeup. He then remarked that it was not his problem and continued to return to her as a client after admitting this information [27-1].

What is being seen is a historic cultivation of women's slavery as an accepted form of activity and enjoyment for men on a wide-scale. The increasingly high demand by men is upheld by criminals and governments that are also mostly men [except for "Madams" who are women that head brothers or lure and sell victims into the slave-holders hands]. As a result, there is a cultural promotion and glamorization of Red Light districts by customers, tourists and governments.

There is also a large sociological and philosophical foundation for sexual enslavement of women, degradation of "prostitutes" and brushing off buyers of sex. Sociologically, the correlation is clear to see from historically degrading imagery in sales, capital advertising, slogans, pop culture and a prevailing attitude that allows 1 in 4 women to be a victim of rape in her lifetime today. It does not take much effort to see the correlation between the frequency [and legal tolerance] of gender-based sexual violence and the major success of an organized crime dependent on gender-based sexual violence. The demand for the sex grows, so the supply will continue to appear.

While sociological, linguistic and gender-studies are sometimes dismissed by certain groups, it doesn't take much research to see that they are entirely relevant and closely correlated. Visual memory and internalization of branding has been empirically linked to social attitudes throughout socio-psychological history. It is the principle that drives marketing agencies to design their products to engage the average viewer to remember their product. Historically, gender-based violence has been branded into the minds of generations for centuries through advertising, now leading to what some sociologists call the "jock mentality". The group described as such is a gray area group, where misinformed, uneducated and non-empathetic party type males are highly susceptible to being customers of sex trafficking victims, who are out looking to have a good time.

One more reminder on the breakdown of the epidemic here: Since it is estimated that at least 1 in 5 men (on the low end) are buyers of sex at some point in their lifetime [23], and nearly 70-90% of "prostitutes" are trafficking victims, it is then safe to say that 1 in 5 men are more than likely to participate and drive the demand for human slavery in their lifetime [24].

Several sociological, philosophical, socio-economic factors have led to a moral decay for the purpose of money. We now live in a world where where people's mothers, sisters, children and friends have been taken away from their home, tortured and then forced to act like the property [which they've become] in storefronts for tourists to purchase and photograph. We tolerate it because governments fail to enforce laws, wash out internal corruption with traffickers and up-sell sex tourism to the oblivious and morally ambiguous public at large. Amsterdam is a prime example of a championed district where "prostitution" is legal, yet in reality it is the championing of a slave district funded by rapes. If that is the definition of a "liberal" city, then liberals have quite a bit of explaining to do. It is a true crime in itself that the country knows that up to 90% of the Red Light district's window "property" are literally someone's property, yet they allow it to continue.

Political Movement & Change

On a global level, "sex trafficking" is only growing worse each year, but there has been some notable efforts by Secretary Hillary Clinton and those working alongside her. Laws have now been put into place on a Federal level and nearly all 50 states, however, just like abroad, they often go unused and become almost meaningless. In 2010, the U.S Annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), began to include the U.S. as a country on the long list of suspect places for trafficking. This recent date reveals that we've only just begun to recognize the severity and prominence of sexual slavery and human trafficking, let alone combating it effectively.

The most demeaning fact about our supposed war on human trafficking is that the anti-trafficking budget is .001% of the annual budget of the war on drugs. That means that three weeks-worth of the War on Drugs budget is the annual funding for stopping slavery of humans. As actress and activist, Mira Sorvino pointed out, the U.S. government gives the same amount of money to U.S. marching bands as it does to combating human slavery. Such unbelievable facts quickly remind us that even more "civilized" societies care about money at least 1,000 times more than preserving the dignity of the human species.

Right now in 2011, the vast National budget has given so little funding to the War on Human Trafficking - let alone less prosperous countries - that they do not stand a chance against the multi-billion dollar industry and its criminals. Lastly, the newly implemented laws in the States ought to reflect the harshest of all sentences for traffickers, as they commit countless crimes against humanity. Instead, of the unspeakably low number of convictions in the U.S., certain cases of individuals who admitted to trafficking women for sex have been sentenced to 4 to 8 years in prison [19]. It is sentences like this that remind us and the traffickers that selling people is still fairly legal, whether or not it's written in the books. As long as we continue to send this message that the gravity of the crime is anything less than Life in Prison, let alone a disgraceful 4-year punishment, we are only applauding the traffickers as they laugh their way to the bank.

The Swedish (Nordic) Model [A Successful Approach to Eradicating Sex Trafficking Versus The Netherlands]

The complex assessment and solution can only be diagnosed by examining how trafficking flourishes and defragmenting it into each of its parts. It flourishes where laws against traffickers are weak, the demand is high and economies are poor and corrupt. While governments all have enough laws to send traffickers away from 20 to life, they simply do not enforce laws and generally participate in the crime. Modern Slavery abolitionists have began to note the success of the Swedish Model for combating trafficking with its common-sense tactics.

"Most abolitionists vehemently argue that legalizing prostitution engenders a broader social acceptance of brothels for sexual entertainment. That kind of cultural environment, in turn, leads to a greater demand for young girls that will be filled by sex traffickers. Ongoing research should be able to determine whether prohibition or legalization does spawn higher levels of sex trafficking into a country. At the very least, the legalization of the sex trade makes the prosecution of traffickers, pimps, and brothel owners almost impossible. They can use the defense that the girl consented to work as a prostitute, and the burden of proof will be on the girl to prove otherwise. If at any point the girl actually did consent to work as a prostitute, all subsequent forms of coercion will find legal cover.

Sweden has moved in a unique direction. In 1999 the Swedish government became the first in the world to prosecute the buyer of sex, the john, while legally treating the woman as the victim"[14], by allowing the victim the legal right to sell sex, but making it illegal for Johns to buy it and Pimps to operate on their behalf. It is a clever but logical approach that is slowly being adopted by other countries in Scandinavia as well as the U.S. on a Federal Level. Unless the public is informed on Modern-Day slavery and the specific approaches that fail and succeed, such opinions on simply legalizing prostitution can lead to miseducation of the problem and more importantly, followers of the wrong solution.

It is worth noting that Sweden is known as a more egalitarian society, thereby lessening the historical patriarchy that fuels attitudes and demand for exploitation seen in the U.S. and around the world. The model is also easier to enforce because it is a more homogenous country that is economically strong, morally opposed [over 60% against "prostitution"], and is tightly knit in its efforts to combat the epidemic. Since the implication of their new approach since 1999, there has been an extremely sharp decline of trafficking in Sweden in the past decade. Now it is time for every concerned nation to not only claim the fight as a "top priority", but to make its laws and apply the same rigorous enforcement to promote that claim into real-life success.

It is time to recognize sexual slavery for what it is, as rape for profit. It is time to look at the foundation that has allowed the sale of women and children to become a worldwide pandemic; to examine the economic, moralistic, sociological degradation of women and children and most importantly, the lack of education towards everyone and particularly all men, about modern sexual slavery. It is in education that current generations, law enforcement and governments can be fully equipped to combat this horrific crime.

By Elizabeth O'Hara

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