Our knowledge of sex trafficking in the United States is growing and evolving as more resources are dedicated to researching the true magnitude and intricacies of the issue. Below is the basics of what we know/have defined/have estimated so far:
WHAT IS SEX TRAFFICKING?
The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.
-Title 22 USC Ch. 78 Sec. 7102-10
WHAT IS A COMMERCIAL SEX ACT?
Any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person
-Title 22 USC Ch. 78 Sec. 7102-4
THE U.S. GOVERNMENT ALSO RECOGNIZES SEX TRAFFICKING AS A “SEVERE FORM OF TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS,” WHICH IS DEFINED BELOW:
Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.
-Title 22 USC Ch. 78 Sec. 7102-9A
IMPORTANT NOTE: IF A TRAFFICKED INDIVIDUAL IS UNDER THE AGE OF 18, FORCE, FRAUD, OR COERCION DOES NOT NEED TO BE PROVEN IN COURT FOR SEX TRAFFICKING TO HAVE OCCURRED.
This is reiterated in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.
WHERE DOES SEX TRAFFICKING OCCUR?
Simple answer— In plain sight— in our own local U.S. communities, on the streets we drive, the neighborhoods we live in. Recognized locations for trafficking operations in action today are hotels, city streets, residential brothels, strip clubs, truck stops, local businesses, bars/clubs. Many operations are hidden behind seemingly legitimate businesses here in the United States of America.
WHO IS BEING TRAFFICKED?
Trafficked individuals tend to be female though there are cases of males being trafficked. There is large speculation of the age of entry into the sex trade but most believe it to be between 15-19 years old. Common factors with victims include runaway youth, individuals who have experienced past abuse or absence of healthy parents, children in our foster care and juvenile justice systems, homeless and/or unemployed, and LGBTQ individuals. The National Center for Missing Exploited Children states that 1 in 6 endangered runaways are likely sex trafficking victims.
HOW DO PEOPLE RECRUIT VICTIMS INTO SEX TRAFFICKING?
The recurring theme with most sex traffickers is their use of deceit and promises of something better. Victims, who are in emotionally vulnerable positions, will be enticed by a trafficker promising to give the victims all they need. Whether that be “true love”, money, a “loving family,” among other things. Victims, desperate for affection, fall right into that trap. As soon as the trafficker grooms their victim enough for them to be loyal, he or she will begin to force their victim to take part in the illicit sex trade. Others ways for recruitment include exploitation by family members, being approached directly by buyers, or, in rare occurrences, abduction.
WHO IS BUYING SEX (I.E. THE DEMAND)?
A study done by Children At Risk in 2015 showed that 16% of men in the U.S. have purchased sex, with 1% of men purchasing it within the past year. Most of these men could be considered “ordinary”, functioning members of our society—they are as diverse demographically as the non-buying population. Children At Risk states in their study of the demand side of sex trafficking, “habitual buyers of sex (less common) tend to be whiter, richer, older, less likely to be married, more educated, more sexually liberal, and are more likely to believe prostitutes enjoy their job.”
IS SEX TRAFFICKING REALLY AN ISSUE WHERE I LIVE?
The Polaris Project, a NGO that runs a human trafficking hotline, has reported cases in all 50 states with California, Texas, and Florida being home to the highest volume of cases. In 2016 alone, The Polaris Project reported 5,551 cases of sex trafficking. The exact number of sex trafficking victims to currently exist is unknown. Estimates from multiple studies range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. This correlates to an underground sex trade bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars each year in this country. The Urban Institute completed an in-depth study on the underground sex trade in major cities in the U.S. They found the sex trade to be worth $98.8 million in Dallas, TX alone in 2007. This figure increases to $290 million in Atlanta, GA.
*Disclaimer, exact figures are estimates only and should be taken at face value. Estimates showcase the fact that it is becoming more prevalent in our society—prevalent enough for more and more cases and victims to surface each year.
HOW CAN I FIGHT AGAINST THIS ATROCITY HAPPENING IN MY OWN BACKYARD?
Simple answer—buy a candle. Calyan Wax Co. uses 10% of revenue to fund strategic anti-sex trafficking operations run by local non-profits. We focus on tackling the demand (buyers of sex) side of the issue, while also recognizing and supporting the restoration of hurting victims coming out of the dark world of the illicit sex trade. Taking it a step further—You can volunteer at/donate directly to your local non-profit who is focusing on combating the issue. They are always needing more man-power and resources. If nothing else, further educate yourself on the issue. Keep a look out for signs of it in your area and tell everyone you know about the issue so they can do the same.
Dank, M., Khan, B., Downey, P. M., & Kotonias, C. (2014). Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy in Eight Major US Cities. Urban Institute. doi:10.1037/e508162014-001
Polaris, P. (n.d.). Hotline Statistics. Retrieved March 02, 2017, from https://humantraffickinghotline.org/states
Project, P. (n.d.). Sex Trafficking. Retrieved March 2, 2017, from https://polarisproject.org/sex-trafficking
Sanborn, R., Caruthers, J., Latiolais, T. J., Knarr, A. D., Brautigam, J. A., Li, A., . . . Carter, L. (2015). The Sex Trafficking Marketplace: Addressing Demand Through Legislation and Tactics. Retrieved March 2, 2017, from http://18.104.22.168/content/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/the-sex-trafficking-marketplace.pdf