Frankly, no one knows exactly how many people trafficking affects. Years ago, it was estimated that 27 million people were enslaved. In 2012, the International Labor Organization estimated that 20.9 million were enslaved. But these are estimates – not facts. Trafficking is an illegal underground issue; it is incredibly complex and underreported. For these reasons, it difficult to measure, though more research is desperately needed. We know the problem is real. We know the problem is big. And behind every disputable estimate is a real person that cannot be dismissed.
It is with humility over the past few years that we at Love146 have looked more closely at the problem of outdated or questionable estimates being presented as hard facts. Misuse of statistics discredits the modern-day abolition movement and doesn’t truly equip people to address trafficking in their own communities.
While child sex trafficking happens to be what Love146 has the most experience and expertise with, children are exploited more for forced labor than any form of trafficking. Labor trafficking in children is a huge problem. In 2012, The International Labor Organization estimated that there were more than four times as many children trafficked for labor than for sex.
Children are inherently vulnerable, but often when we look at boys we don’t see this. While it’s true that the majority of children trafficked for sex are girls, boys are not immune to abuse and commercial exploitation. Across the globe, from Boston to Bangkok, Love146 has repeatedly come across boys being trafficked for sex. Most commonly, we see communities of older boys and young men that approach, coerce and recruit other boys into a life of sexual exploitation. Flip through the slides above to read more stories of boys who have been trafficked for sex.
Certainly sometimes. However, “rescue” itself can be an incredibly disorienting experience for a victim. Many youth caught up in commercial sex live in fear of law enforcement. Repeatedly we hear from survivors that when they were rescued, they didn’t know they were being helped until much later. One girl, when asked by rescuers “Have you ever been held against your will?” responded “…not until now.” To be removed from a situation of trafficking for a victim may mean being taken away from what has become familiar and predictable and placed into an unknown future. The anxiety that can be generated by a “rescue” experience is compounded if the child doesn’t yet understand themselves to be a victim. While rescue operations are sometimes necessary, at Love146, we’re exploring alternative routes of emancipation that can be equally or more effective in bringing freedom.
While we’ve encountered cases of children who were taken from their communities and kept in a locked room, forceful kidnapping and containment are not the majority of cases in modern-day slavery. Many children are trafficked through empty promises or false job offers. While they are not kept physically bound to their trafficker, they are scared to seek help or threatened if they leave. Today’s “chains” are less visible and the “Hollywood versions” of trafficking we may have in our minds don’t represent the majority of cases.
Laws differ globally, however, according to the U.S. State Department, human trafficking can occur when a victim is recruited or harbored. For trafficking to occur in the U.S. there is no longer a mandate that a victim be moved from one place to another. Recruitment and harboring can occur through the same means as transporting, such as threats, fraud, coercion, or deceit. Trafficking can occur without a victim ever leaving his or her own neighborhood.
Yes, it does. In our work with children in the U.S. we’ve have many children disclose their commercial sexual exploitation.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploitation children, “Pimps market and sell children for sex –- openly –- at popular online classified sites like Backpage. They sell them at truck stops. They sell them on streets in every city in America.”
According to U.S. law, any person under the age of 18 who is used for any acts of commercial sex is a victim of human trafficking. Legally and ethically, if a child is below the age of consent it is impossible for them to be a prostitute — “child prostitute” itself is a misnomer. This federal understanding is still unacknowledged by many U.S. states.
Some children become involved in other criminal activity as a byproduct of their trafficking situation, for example, some are given drugs by traffickers to make them more cooperative and dependent. For this and other reasons, many cases of trafficking are misidentified by law enforcement and media and incriminate the child or portray them as a deviant. Unfortunately, in many cases, this causes children who have been trafficked to be placed in detention centers and charged with crimes.
In many cases, those buying, selling and abusing children appear to live ordinary respectable lives. In fact, perpetrators often seek out positions of trust and power in order to gain access and maintain exploitative situations. Too often the stories we hear involve pastors, diplomats, youth leaders, law enforcement and educators – perpetrating unspeakable crimes against children, using their power and connections as protection and facade.
Lest we begin another myth, we should say it is also pastors, diplomats, youth leaders, law enforcement, educators, etc… who have been some of the greatest champions for children and abolition. There is no one true stereotype for who would exploit or traffic children — or who could be their greatest ally.
Demonizing those who buy sex from teens as “pedophiles” is technically incorrect and problematic. Pedophilia is the condition of being sexually attracted to young children who’ve not yet begun puberty. Rings of pedophiles and those buying and selling young children for sex is undoubtedly occurring – we’ve received girls in our own Survivor Care program as young a 7. However, to think that all those who buy sex from children are in this abnormal psychological condition prevents us from seeing that is often “normal” folks in our communities who buy sex from trafficked youth.
BOOKS & FILMS
This list is not an endorsement of everything that is presented in these pieces — there is a great amount of nuance in such a complex issue. You’ll rarely find a full piece that uses your favored perspective, level of explicitness, or correct language. It shouldn’t stop us from coming together and being educated. Taken together, we find these books and films a helpful survey of the problem that lies before us.
- Rape for Profit 86 minutes
- Fields of Mudan 23 minutes
- Underage, 7 minutes
- Trade 120 minutes
- Very Young Girls 84 minutes
- Call + Response 86 minutes