Federal law defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons”:
1) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion or in which the person induced to perform such an act is under 18.
2) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of subjecting that person to involuntary servitude, forced labor, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.
Trafficking victims are often lured by false promises of decent jobs and better lives. The inequalities women face in opportunity and justice worldwide make women particularly vulnerable to trafficking. There have been a few articles and some documentaries about the plight of women sold or kidnapped into sex slavery, but the general public knows little to nothing about it. They think it only happens in foreign countries. The truth is that in underdeveloped countries some women are more vulnerable and get ensnared in the sex trade. But it happens in this country as well. The USA is a big user/importer of sex slaves.
When I speak about it publicly, the responses are, “If such a problem exists, why aren’t the authorities doing something about it?” For one thing, this horrendous problem seems to be given less importance than say, illegal drug dealing. One reason is that the women generally come from a disadvantaged class with little to no voice or clout. We’re talking about an approximate ninety-nine-billion-dollar business annually. It is second largest global crime in the world just below drugs. Estimates are that one million are trafficked throughout the world each year.
Approximately 18,000 people are trafficked into the United States every year, many told they will have a better life elsewhere. That estimate might be conservative because so many of these women and children are brought in under-the-radar and never surface to the authorities. Not many will report their plight to the authorities. They are told that the police are the enemy and will arrest and charge them with prostitution and deport them. The major threat is that perpetrators will kill their families in their country of origin.
A large number of the women imprisoned as sex slaves come from poverty, homelessness, or leaving the foster care system. Their fear is having to go back on the streets again. Although they might work fourteen or more hours every day and six days a week, they are kept in squalor nonetheless.
Prostitution exists in all countries, but in the sex trade it is not voluntary. The victims wind up with no money. Pimps charge the women for room and board, passports, transportation, clothing and drugs, after they force the women into addiction. With no money, no identification (perpetrators keep their passports) the enslaved are stymied and might even think their captors are protecting them.
Women and girls as young as eight or nine and even younger – are sold and forced into prostitution. The older ones (27 is the average age) work in a variety of places like strip joints, bars, massage parlors and brothels. In many ways traffickers feel it is a better business than selling drugs because the women can produce money repeatedly for a number of years, if they survive. Many of the enslaved are also used for labor. For instance, they are forced to sew, work in factories, on farms, perform janitorial services, become domestics and work the construction trade. This goes for men and boys as well. The majority of human trafficking is women/prostitution. It has a global reach.
Mostly, they are transported and controlled with the cooperation of various organized crime mobs, and the women come from all parts of the world – particularly Asia and Eastern Europe. They easily fall for the lie that a better life awaits them. When they arrive in the country of destination, they are forced into prostitution and told they have to work to pay back their passage. They are often subjected to near-starvation, rape, extreme physical and mental abuse and imprisonment.
In 2000 Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which created a special “T-visa” that enables victims of sex and labor trafficking to remain temporarily in the United States – if they agree to assist in the investigation or prosecution of their traffickers. After three years, the attorney general can admit them for permanent residency.” What keeps the victims silent, for the most part, is the threat of death to those talking to police and their families.
Our best defense right now is to become aware of the plight of these women. Is there something we can do about it? First and foremost is awareness. Second is reporting anything that resembles trafficking such as a truck with women inside, being at a truck stop and seeing unusual behavior. Their captors accompany them wherever they go. This is why I choose this theme for the Cha-Cha Babes of Pelican Way to tackle. Let’s see what happens when they do try to find justice for these women and children.
Copyright, Women and The Sex Trade, Frances Metzman 2021