Sex trafficking occurs when people are forced or coerced into the commercial sex trade against their will.  Child sex trafficking includes any child involved in commercial sex.  Sex traffickers frequently target vulnerable people with histories of abuse and then use violence, threats, lies, false promises, debt bondage, or other forms of control and manipulation to keep victims involved in the sex industry.  Sex trafficking exists within the broader commercial sex trade, often at much larger rates than most people realize or understand.  Sex trafficking has been found in a wide variety of venues of the overall sex industry, including residential brothels, hostess clubs, online escort services, fake massage businesses, strip clubs, and street prostitution. ( )


United States Trafficking- A percentage is represented in all 162 countries, with almost half being in India. And many would be surprised to discover that the U.S. sexual slavery market is growing – in and outside our country – using none other than American minors. Americans trafficking Americans.


ABC News reported in July on a National Geographic undercover investigation of sexual slavery in the U.S.: “When some people hear about sex trafficking in America they usually think of Asian and Eastern European women being brought into the states, but it’s actually 10 times more likely for an American girl to be trafficked inside the U.S. Further, almost 300,000 American children are at risk for trafficking into the sex industry, according to U.S. Department of State statistics.”


Statistics- About 14,500 to 17,500 girls from other countries are smuggled into the U.S. and exploited in sexual slavery. The U.S. Department of Justice says that the average age females – domestic and international – start prostitution in the U.S. is between 12 and 14 years, and those older than 12 are leading targets for sexual exploitation by organized crime units. The FBI further explains that boys and transgender youth begin prostituting between the ages of 11 and 13 on average. ( )


In 2001 the United States State Department estimated that 50,000 to 100,000 women and girls are trafficked each year in the United States. In 2003, the State Department report estimated that 18,000 to 20,000 individuals were trafficked here for forced labor and sexual exploitation. The June 2004 report set the total trafficked annually at between 14,500 and 17,500.

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1400s-1600s- Although forms of slavery existed before the 1400, the 1400s marked the start of European slave trading in Africa with the Portuguese transporting people from Africa to Portugal and using them as slaves. In 1562, the British joined in on the slave trade in Africa. The development of plantation colonies increased the volume of the slave trade. Later on throughout the 1600s, other countries became more involved in the European slave trade. These included Spain, North America, Holland, France, Sweden, and Denmark.

1807– The British were the first to make a law against slavery in 1807, when they passed a law that made the Transatlantic Slave Trade illegal.

1820- In 1820, the United States followed Great Britain’s example by making the slave trade a crime that was punishable by death.

1899- In 1899 and 1902, international conferences to talk about white slavery were organized in Paris, France.

1904- In 1904, the International Agreement for the Suppression of “White Slave Traffic” was signed and put into action. The purpose of this agreement was to protect women, young and old, from being involved in “white slave traffic.”

1910- This eventually led to the United States passing the Mann Act of 1910 which “forbids transporting a person across state or international lines for prostitution or other immoral purposes.” In 1910, 13 countries signed the International Convention for the Suppression of White Slave Trade to make this form of trafficking illegal. This International Convention led to the creation of national committees to work against the trafficking of white women.

1927- The League of Nations was founded after the WWI, and had the goal maintaining world peace and also focusing on international issues such as human trafficking. The Suppression of White Slave Traffic was changed to “traffic in women and children” so that everyone was included with no discrimination to race. Children of both genders were also recognized as victims of trafficking.

1932- During WWII, Japan had set up a horrifying and outrageous system where women all across Asia were forced into sexual slavery. The women were housed in what were known as “comfort stations.” The conditions in these stations were atrocious, with each woman detained in a small cubicle, and received beatings and other tortures if they were defiant.

1949- With the problem of sex trafficking still growing in the middle of the century, the United Nations felt it necessary to address the problem. This was done by the 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others which was ratified by forty-nine countries around the world.

1956- In 1956, India initiated the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, which persecutes the third parties involved in trafficking. These activities included running brothels, living on earnings from sex work, capturing and imprisoning people into prostitution, etc. It can be argued, however, that this Act failed to protect the women who may have been forced into prostitution. Many of the arrests that were made were for sex workers due to soliciting, and they ultimately lost everything.

1995- In 1995, the United Nations held the fourth World Conference to address the issue of trafficking of women. In this meeting, a major accomplishment was the fact that trafficking was actually recognized as an act of violence against women, and the concept of trafficking was further defined. Most importantly, actions to be taken were also developed. These included enforcing international conventions on trafficking and human slavery, address the factors that encourage trafficking, set up effective law enforcement and institutions who would work to eliminate trafficking both nationally and internationally, and implementing programs including educational and rehabilitation institutions to provide for the social, medical, and psychological needs to victims of trafficking.

2002- On February 14, 2002, the Polaris Project was officially founded by Katherine Chon and Derek Ellerman, two seniors from Brown University. After learning about the existence of a brothel near their college, these two individuals began to envision a society where modern day slavery is eliminated. Their vision became a reality through the Polaris Project, which today, is a leading non-profit working to stop human trafficking. Their key developments include a national, toll-free hotline where they receive information or reports regarding human trafficking, advocating for more legislation, raising awareness, and training law enforcement to deal with trafficking.

2011- President Obama declared January to be Human Trafficking Awareness month, and Jan. 11, 2011 was named National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. On this day, various individual, as well as group events took place in an attempt to increase awareness about human trafficking among the general public. The Alliance to End Human Trafficking, an anti-trafficking coalition, began a campaign to ask the government to take a serious look at trafficking by renewing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

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Cultural Background:

Sriramesh suggested that the four determinants that invariably influence the culture of each society are techno-economics, social structure, ideology, and personality.


Social Structure- Sriramesh said, “social structure is indicative of the social institutions that define relationships among different members or groups of a society.” For example the United States, we adhere to a general class structure based on monetary income. The upper class, middle class, and lower class are separated and seem to be treated differently based on income. Because of this social structure, the mindset of many groups is that the lower class is less deserving and should have to live with the choices they make. With the issue of human trafficking, this leads to an attitude that if those involved wanted out of the situation, they would just leave. But that’s not the case.


United States Lifestyle- In this globalized world we live in, you can talk to anyone in the world through a variety of technologies and our clothes, food, and most of our remaining material possessions are made, grown, or mined in wide variety of foreign countries. This globalization has come with the consequence that our actions and desires as a United States society can have effects on the rest of the world. On the Ivory Coast in Africa, half of the world’s supply of cocoa is grown and harvested. When the World Bank made the governments along the Ivory Coast get rid of the price guarantee for cocoa, the price of cocoa greatly decreased. This led many cocoa farmers to use slavery as a way to cut costs for their workers.


Our lifestyle’s contribution to slave labor and human trafficking are not the only reasons a United States citizen should care about human trafficking; the United States has its own problems with human trafficking. When the World Bank wanted representatives of other countries to move to the United States, the United States offered a reward for those World Bank employees; they could bring domestic servants with them. These workers have been treated as slaves since they have not been paid, have been forced to work long hours, and have been treated cruelly by their employers in many other ways. Some workers were forced to kiss their employer’s feet, wear a dog collar, forced to sleep outside, and called bad names by their employers. Many of these workers have been young women, 14 to 16 years old who were tricked into coming to United States with the promise that their employer would provide them with an education and a high paying job.


This situation is, in many ways, very similar to that of other victims of human trafficking; these workers were tricked with false promises and once they entered the US they were controlled through fear and violence. What is most striking about these examples of human trafficking is the fact that these workers were working in the homes of people with high paying jobs who did not have to use forced labor to cut costs of employment and these were homes in a suburban area of upscale Washington DC – the last place one would think to look for signs of human trafficking. Human trafficking is recently used to obtain cheap workers for the agricultural work in the rural parts of the United States. These agricultural workers are tricked into debt bondage, the form of modern day slavery in which a person is most often offered a way into another country and a job opportunity in return for money , when that person reaches their destination they are told the debt is much higher than they were originally told. ( )


Gender Roles- When discussing the dimensions of societal culture and masculinity/femininity, Sriramesh said, “the extent to which gender plays a role in determining one’s status in the organization clearly affects all facets of organizational behavior.” The other reason sex trafficking has particularly received little attention in the past was due to the perceived value and rights of women. In many countries and cultures, women were not seen as important or equal with men. The International Abolitions Federation helped to show that all women, including prostitutes, deserved equality, justice and liberation. Fighting against stereotypes that trafficked women were prostitutes further stifle the call to action. In 1935 the secretary for the British committee of the International Abolitionist Federation said, “I have always believed that if you believe in liberty you will see to it that your weakest link in the chain is secure. The weakest link is the prostitute since few people care whether she is justly treated or not”. Her argument then is still pertinent today, as the fight for the marginalized and hurt needs to be societies’ first priority. ( )


Technology- Sriramesh said, “technologies such as satellite communication and the Internet continue to play a role in shaping cultures in the modern world.” Relating to the issue of human trafficking, the Internet and social media sites have encouraged human trafficking. Sex trafficking especially has become much easier in countries with access to the internet because predators can quickly find girls or boys to take advantage of and johns know that it is much harder to get caught online.


Social Media- “They’ll look at their profiles and they’ll reach out to them through these profiles and ask if they’ll meet them at a location. It could be a restaurant. It could be a night club and at that point, that’s where the recruitment process continues and it would be called at that point a ‘break-in’ period.”


Many members of law enforcement are well-versed on catching pimps who abuse sites like MySpace, Facebook and others to recruit and groom local girls for sex trafficking. ( )


Socio-Political Dimensions:

Political- Sriramesh said, “the western definition of public relations assumes a democratic political structure where competing groups seek legitimacy and power thorough the power of public opinion, not always evident in practice in may part of the world.” In the United States, the government has the ability to pass laws and lobbyists can fight against human trafficking. However, as stated in previous research, human trafficking is widespread across the globe and in some countries members of the government are more concerned with covering up the issue than stopping it.


In the United States, historically, the FBI did not investigate prostitution but left it to state and local law enforcement.  Under Pres. Bill Clinton, Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA); it created the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons within the State Department.  According to Ronald Weitzer, a sociology professor at George Washington University, neither the Clinton administration nor the Act “distinguished forced and voluntary prostitution, did not link prostitution to trafficking, did not claim that legal prostitution increases trafficking into a country, and resisted mandatory sanctions against nations with poor records in combating trafficking.”


Emi Koyama, who blogs at, finds the type of intellectual dishonesty widespread. “Anti-trafficking advocates too often neglect decades of development within the anti-domestic violence movement that can and should inform our approach to assisting youth and adults in the sex trade,” she notes.  She adds, “we need to stop spending millions of dollars in these useless law enforcement campaigns and use that money to fix social institutions that fail youth in the first place.” ( )
Economic- Sriramesh said, “factors such as poverty, illiteracy…can pose insurmountable challenges.” Previous research explained that poverty is often when predators search for victims. And the profit made from trafficked victims is a strong motivating factor. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that global profits made from forced laborers exploited by private enterprises or agents reach $44.3 billion every year, of which $31.6 billion are from trafficked victims. Over $15 billion are made from people trafficked and forced to work in industrialized countries, with almost one-third coming from Asia. World profits from all forced commercial sexual exploitation amount to $33.9 billion, with $15.4 billion realized in industrial countries. This figure is followed by Asia, with $11.2 billion. Countries in transition generate a $3.5 billion profit, followed by Latin America ($2.1 billion) and the Middle East and North Africa ($1.1 billion). Sub-Saharan Africa is the region where these criminal annual profits are lowest, with an amount of $0.5 billion. ( )
Legal- Sriramesh said, “every culture has its ways of regulating and enforcing behavior among its citizens.” Numerous international legal instruments and guidelines aimed at ending slavery and human trafficking, protecting victims and promoting international cooperation, have been adopted. The challenge remains to translate these instruments into national laws and ensure their implementation. Although most countries have adopted a specific penalty against trafficking in persons, there is still diversity of interpretation and understanding with regard to the definition of human trafficking itself – for example, legislation in some countries acknowledges only certain forms of exploitation or certain categories of victims. Legislation must ensure a comprehensive approach, addressing all aspects of the crime and balancing prosecution with ensuring the rights and protection of victims. ( )


Media Control/Access/Outreach: “The pimps who are trafficking young women and girls on the street have a great marketing tool: the media. You can turn on the TV now and see pimps glamorized in TV shows, music videos, and movies. Young people use “pimp” in everyday conversation: “my ride is pimped out,” “your clothes are pimping.” They do not understand the reality behind the term.


Pimps prey on young women and girls by finding their weakness and then exploiting it. It is easier to manipulate children, and by the time children become adults, they are broken down and dependent on a pimp. After the pimp gets into your mind, it’s easy for him to maintain control, much like a domestic abuser. From then now on you have to call him “daddy” and he will punish you if he feels like you have stepped out of line. You are required to bring him $500-$2,000 every night. You are not a woman, you are always a “bitch” or a “ho” and are reminded of that daily. You are part of his “stable.” If you do not want to follow the rules, then he may sell you at any time to another pimp.” ( )


Media Control- In relation to media, Sriramesh said “it is critical to recognize that media ownership does not necessarily result in media control.” Many offenders are using media and advertisements to continue human trafficking, not rally against it. The addition of online advertising has played a significant role in the rise of human trafficking within the past decade.  Brothels, massage parlors, escort services, as well as street prostitution have all benefited, gaining yet another avenue to increase their consumer base.  After Craigslist succumbed to pressure to close its erotic section, a majority of adult advertisements have moved to, another website that provides free classified advertisements. ( )


Media Access- When discussing media access, Sriramesh also said, “understanding the extent to which the media are accessible to various activist and other groups in a society helps the international public relations practitioner.” Activists in the United States are mostly limited to opinion pieces and editorials in newspapers. Very rarely are articles written focusing on human trafficking as an issue because it is widely assumed that it is more of an issue in other countries than ours.



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