Thursday, July 19, 2012

What is Sex Trafficking?

As a part of the series of videos that Transitions has done on sex trafficking and the work we are doing with survivors, we wanted to create a forum for dialog about some of these key issues. We would like to invite you to post comments, questions, and information that would help us all in the fight to abolish child sex trafficking.

The first question we posted was "What is Sex Trafficking?" A very basic question, but one that we felt should be first. So much gets lost in much of our conversation about this issue. Sexual slavery was the first term that was used for what happens to girls who are sexually exploited globally. In the early 2000's, the term was changed from 'slavery' to 'trafficking', via the US State Department and other large organizations looking for a more technical term to give better understanding of human slavery.

The change of terminology also came as a result of not wanting to denigrate the slavery endured by African men, women, and children during the 18th and 19th Century in Europe and the United States by using such a strong word. Certainly, in many situations, modern day slavery does not look the same as chattel slavery, but there are other aspects to consider. First, the price of slaves has steeply dropped. In the 1860, the cost of a slave was just over $1,600. In today's currency, this would be tens of thousands of dollars. Slaves were kept for years and often generations. Yet, today's slavery looks differently.

Today, people are bought for less than $100, which is less than much of the world pays for their cellphones. Girls are purchased in Cambodia for $300-500, but will be sold over and over again to customers for commercial sex at $5-50 a time (more for the virgin trade). Girls, women, and boys are not kept long, as sexual exploitation takes a harsh toll on victims' physical appearance and their longevity in the trade.

There are other aspects, which will be addressed in future videos, but we want to hear from you? Is sex trafficking slavery? What is your definition?


  1. I believe that sex trafficking is slavery, and that we need to have clear juridical and legislative language to help regulate trafficking in its various forms at the local, regional, transnational and international levels. That said, I don't think sex work should be allowed to be delimited and categorized. Sex slavery functions differently in different times, places and for different individuals. We need a view that accounts for the plurality of people and experiences under our broad legal categories, so that a solution may not only be compassionate and holistic, but reflexive and self-critical. In the example of SE Asia, western values and understandings of sexual exploitation should be kept in check. Social recovery is hard work, and there isn't one solution, just as there is never one problem. There is human trafficking, but more importantly there are culturally diverse human individuals that "trafficking" targets through many different strategies. I think we should be careful, and self-critical, when we represent sex trafficking in our advocacy, awareness and media.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful insights. We are keenly aware of these facets and appreciate you weighing in.

  3. How about this for a definition? Sex Trafficking is the trapping of people through force, deception or coercion into situations where they believe they have little or no choice but to commit sexual acts for someone else’s profit.

    I firmly believe it is a form of slavery and of an especially heinous kind. It is bad enough to force someone to labor against their will. That is totally unacceptable. Sex trafficking, however, introduces a particularly dark dimension of denigration and psychological harm because it involves violating the parts of people that were meant to be theirs alone to share, at most, with a loving spouse.

    1. Brian, absolutely. Great thoughts here - thank you for being engaged.