The Reality of Sex Trafficking

By Steffica Warwick

Silhouettes of people standing in a dimly-lit street seen from the waist down
Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash

"Imagine all your freedoms taken away, being forced to work against your will, and constantly living under the threat of violence - in short, being forced to live as a slave. Sadly, this situation is a reality for millions of children, women, and men each year as part of the global human trafficking industry." - Bill Flores

In the sex trafficking industry, victims are known as 'merchandise' and 'furniture'. In one 2014 interview with a sex trafficker, he describes victims newly recruited into the industry as 'fresh meat for the lions‘. And this is how they are treated in the sex trafficking industry - as tradeable objects, and consumable meat. 
Victims are raped, starved, beaten and drugged with their children held hostage, often as leverage to prevent the girls escaping. They are raped by individual customers who visit their rooms, by customers staying in specific hotels, they are abused and gang-raped by large groups of paying customers, or when standing on the street to attract clients, under the overseeing eye of their pimp. One ex-victim of sex trafficking, now a human rights activist speaking out against sex trafficking, counts the number of times she was raped at 43,200.
Traffickers often maximise the time and use of their victims by preventing them from sleeping. One victim describes how she was only allowed to sleep for one hour per day, in between seeing 40 clients. 

Clients are not enforced to use contraceptives, leaving victims open to life threatening transmitted diseases such as HIV-AIDS and tuberculosis, often with limited access to healthcare. Victims are also forced to take hard drugs in some cases, which they might willingly do to numb the pain. 
There is rarely a time that the woman's victimisation ends. Even if they manage to escape, a lack of education, work experience and opportunities means that they often fall back into the sex trade as prostitutes, it being the only thing they have known in their adult life.
Very little is known about the clients of the trafficked sex workers. Due to the secret nature of the transactions, it is difficult to determine whether there are any common characteristics which would lead a person to purchase sex, and whether they know the victim has been forcibly taken there.
Although we are unable to observe the psyche or reasoning of clients of trafficked victims in Latin America, one unique study interviewing clients of prostitutes in the UK may give us some idea of the mentality of those who pay for sex. When asked why they visit prostitutes, the clients gave the following responses; 

1. No big deal, it‘s just like getting a beer. 
2. Lots of men go to prostitutes so they can do things to them that real women would not put up with. 
3. Prostitution is a last resort to unfulfilled sexual desires. 
4. It should be legalised over here. This is the way God created us. It is being human. If you don‘t have a partner then you have to go to a prostitute. 
5. She looked at me with the look of a puppy dog in the Christmas window. 
6. My favourite experience in prostitution was when she was totally submissive. 
7. If you go to the wrong one, you might as well be in a morgue, there‘s a slab of flesh there.

The assertions that can be drawn from this cross-section of statements are that it is easy, normal and mundanely transactional to purchase sex, that satisfying the male sexual appetite is a natural necessity and a god-given right, that men are, or should be, dominating and women submissive, that prostitutes are not 'real women' and can be likened to animals or 'slabs of flesh'. 

These assertions are similar to what we have already learnt about the culturally devalued status of women in Latin America, and the power imbalance of the macho Latino male and submissive female. It recalls the language of the traffickers, where victims are labelled 'furniture' and 'lions meat'. 
We are unable to determine whether clients are aware that the women they purchase sex from may have been forcibly taken and enslaved. But, given the prevalence of the business of trafficking in areas such as Mexico‘s Tlaxcala, and the general attitude that women in the sex trade are not real women, it is unlikely that clients would care.

In June 2016, the U.S. government released its latest edition of the flagship annual publication on international human trafficking, the Trafficking in Persons Report. The report is widely used by not-for-profits to assess how well the governments in each country are dealing with the abolition of human trafficking. 

The report uses four tiers to categorise government effort: Tier 1 (best), Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List and Tier 3 (worst). Most Latin American countries fall somewhere in the Tier 2 category, with the exception of some Caribbean countries which hold a lower rank.
The Bahamas, Chile, and Colombia are the only countries on Tier 1 from Latin America. Colombia, for example, has convicted 31 traffickers, appointed 14 new prosecutors to handle trafficking cases, and reinforced its internal coordination to battle trafficking. 

Countries on the Tier 2 Watch List include Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Cuba, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. Belize, Venezuela, and Haiti are the only Latin American countries identified as Tier 3. Venezuela‘s ranking was mostly due to unclear data from the government on its efforts against trafficking. However, Venezuela has reportedly made some efforts since the report‘s publication to arrest those involved in human trafficking. 

It is often difficult to measure success when it comes to battling human trafficking. As it is a secretive operation, an accurate account of the number of women operating in the market are unknown. And although there has been an increase in workshops and conferences held and initiatives and campaigns launched to battle trafficking, concrete actions taken, such as arrests made for guilty offenders are not well documented and monitored. 

There also necessitates an adjustment to legislation concerning trafficking; Mexico‘s federal anti-trafficking law defines human trafficking too broadly, thereby diluting the crime of trafficking. Costa Rica defines trafficking only as a movement-based crime. As countries where human trafficking is most prevalent, much more needs to be done to squash out corruption in authorities and work towards the abolition of human trafficking.

(Article extracted by Dr. Christina Sisti)

This article is extracted from the Research paper titled 'Silent Voices: Violence against the female body as a consequence of machismo'  in Chapter 4 of the Safety Report by SAFIGI Outreach Foundation 'Safety First for Girls'.

The Safety Report by SAFIGI is a two-fold Open research on 'Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.' The first part of the Safety Report is a Research Paper. The second part is a detailed Data Analysis. 

The Safety Report Research paper is titled: 'Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.' The paper starts with an abstract before focusing on subjects in the key regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. A total of 7 Research papers make up the safety Report (sans the introduction and conclusion), including:

  1. The psychological effect of mass sexual harassment on girls in Egypt (P.24) by Heba Elasiouty.
  2. Safety concerns in relation to social media: Growing up female in an increasingly digital world (P.45) by Karin Temperley.
  3. Psychosocial challenges faced by parents raising children with physical disabilities in Oshana region (P.68) by Misumbi Shikaputo.
  4. Gender-based violence and subsequent safety challenges experienced by Rohingya women (P.119) by Shucheesmita Simonti.
  5. LGBT policies and overall safety in Brazil (P.141) by Alinne Lopes Gomes.
  6. Silent voices‘: Violence against the female body as consequence of machismo culture (P.177)  by Steffica Warwick.
  7. America‘s Public Policy on Sexuality: The Repression of Girls in Vulnerable Populations (P.208) by Dr. Christina Sisti.

SAFIGI Outreach Foundation Ltd, a volunteer-based and youth led NGO registered in Zambia, implemented the Safety Report in order to understand the multifaceted concept of safety and how it applies to the female gender in diverse settings. And therefore, further prove safety is intrinsic, and that vices in society stem from an intimate level of the human being before its manifestation. This way, when we create safety solutions, whether it be in a developing nation, conflict zone, refugee camp, or patriarchal society, the problem is resolved from a deeply rooted cause. Such that, we treat the disease itself and not mere symptoms.

This study is as a result of collaborative effort pursued in the spirit of volunteerism via UN Online Volunteers.


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