The Worldwide Problem of Sex Trafficking


by Channon Oyeniran

“The brothels are incredibly lucrative. The girl who ‘cost’ $150 can be sold for sex up to ten times a night and bring in $10,000 per month. The only expenses are payments to the police [bribes] and a pittance for food.” – Kevin Bales, Disposable People


As previously mentioned in posts here on Tuesday Justice written by Michelle and myself, modern slavery and human trafficking are not new phenomena. Rather, there is a growing understanding of just how complex these systems are. Modern slavery comes in various forms such as chattel slavery, debt bondage, forced labour, sex trafficking, etc., to name a few. However, as Michelle mentioned in last week’s post about forced labour, she, and I too, “[…] noticed that sex trafficking/sexual exploitation gets far more exposure than labor trafficking/forced labour…” While any form of slavery is wrong, in this week’s post, I want to discuss sex trafficking, what it is, downloadexamples of where it is happening (spoiler alert: everywhere) and what WE can do to help victims and fight against sex trafficking.

Defining Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking:

I think that it’s important that we define and know exactly what some of these terms and definitions mean. This will help in understanding and being able to spot modern slavery and human trafficking situations when we may see them.

(Note: It should be noted that there is some debate surrounding these terms, but we are using the most common and leaving the debate to the scholars, for now.)

Modern Slavery

4bb5e79cff3b44e186cdb670a1625cfb_7When defining what modern slavery is, I believe we need to look at defining it in comparison with historical slavery. Historically, slave owners and masters legally owned enslaved people, thus making them their legal property. However, the perpetrators who participate in modern slavery do not legally own the people they enslave and exploit; rather they use tactics of manipulation, fraud, trickery, force and violence to ensure that people remain in their control. In 1926, the member states of the League of Nations (a predecessor of the United Nations) came together for the first time, creating the Slavery Convention, defining a single definition for what slavery is and establishing global, compulsory rules to abolish it. The League of Nations defined slavery as this: “Slavery is the status or condition of a person over whom any or all the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.” (Emphasis added.) This definition of slavery shows us an absence of legal ownership in the master-slave relationship. The similarity in both historical and modern slavery is that an enslaved person is forced to work through fraud, deception or the threat of violence for no pay beyond receiving basic things like food and clothing. Another central aspect of slavery found in both the historical and modern is the loss of freedom and choice that the enslaved person experiences.

Human Trafficking

human20trafficking20definition20boxAccording to the US Department of State, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, passed in 2000 and which aims to punish traffickers while protecting their victims, whose status might otherwise make them vulnerable to arrest or deportation, defines human trafficking as: “The recruitment, harbouring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labour or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.” This is just one definition of human trafficking and is sometimes used in law to enforce and prosecute perpetrators when they are involved in this aspect of modern slavery.

One major factor that can contribute to people being trafficked is their economic situation. Trafficking often directly relates to economic circumstances, which can directly contribute to the continuance of human trafficking and modern slavery. Many people around the world are living in bondage based on their financial situation. The current economic crisis in various countries worldwide is certainly contributing to the vulnerability of those victims who are susceptible to forced labour, debt bondage, and sex trafficking.  In 2009, Luis CdeBaca, who presented the annual Trafficking in Persons Report said, “Persons who are under economic stress are more likely to fall prey to the wiles of the traffickers who often get their victims through promises of a better life, promises of better earnings.” Consequently, poverty, economic stress and a lack of opportunities are all underlying contributors to people becoming victims of human trafficking and ultimately modern slavery.

Sex Trafficking:

imgAccording to the Polaris Project, an organization fighting to eradicate modern slavery, sex trafficking is “[…] a form of modern slavery that exists throughout the United States and globally. Sex traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage, and other forms of coercion to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will.” (It’s important to note here that sometimes this happens gradually. Someone engaging in sex work voluntarily may end up in a situation from which they cannot escape, and the line can be difficult to discern.) The ILO also states that, “[…] out of 8.7 million […] people that are in forced labour, 4.5 million (22%) are in forced sexual exploitation[…],” and half of those people being trafficked are children. Sex trafficking is not just limited to developing countries or countries riddled with poverty; sex trafficking can happen anywhere and at any time. It’s happening here in Canada, in motel rooms across the United States and even on farms in Sicily. The Polaris Project mentions on their website that sex trafficking can occur in a variety of locations and venues including but not limited to the following:  “fake massage businesses, via online ads or escort services, in residential brothels, on the street or at truck stops, or at hotels and motels.” Sex trafficking can happen to young children, teenagers, and of course adults. Although more prevalent among females, men and boys can also be victims of sex trafficking. 

Case Study: Sex Trafficking – Nigeria to Italy

_84507113_human_trafficking_north_africa_624_v2This article came through on my Facebook newsfeed about two weeks and its headline caught my eye with the words “Trafficked”, “Nigerian” and “at crisis level”. “Uh-oh, this looks serious,” I thought, and as I read through the article, I realized the intensity and how massive human trafficking and sex trafficking are in Europe and in countries like Italy. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the number of Nigerian women who are traveling to Libya and then to Italy for the sole purpose of being exploited and sex trafficking is increasing and doubled in number in 2016. Of the 11,009 Nigerian women who registered at adding points in Sicily in 2016, the IOM believes that 80 percent of these women were trafficked and will be forced to live a life of forced prostitution, in Italy and other European nations. 

Simona Moscarelli, anti-trafficking expert at the IOM, had this to say about what is happening to Nigerian women traveling to Italy:  “What we have seen this year is a crisis, it is absolutely unprecedented and is the most significant increase in the number of Nigerian women arriving in Italy for 10 years. Our indicators are the majority of these women are being deliberately brought in for sexual exploitation purposes. There has been a big enhancement of criminal gangs and trafficking networks engaging in the sexual exploitation of younger and younger Nigerian girls
.” Moscarelli also points out that many of these Nigerian women are already victims of trafficking before they reach Italy and that the reception centres they go when they first arrive in Italy do not help them, but are used to the advantage of the traffickers.

This article was really eye opening for me in the sense that, even in the places that appear to be fine and lovely, horrendous things, like sex trafficking, are taking place and are increasing. This article was also a reminder to me to maintain being diligent within my own small town east of Toronto to look out for potential signs of human trafficking and modern slavery in all of its forms. 


What you can do:

  1. Get Educated – Read up on as much as human trafficking and modern slavery as you can so you will know what it is about, how to spot it and how to help end it!
  2. Support the organizations that are working to end sex trafficking, human trafficking and modern slavery! Below are some organizations that are doing their part to end it. But a simple Google search will help you identify what organizations are doing something in your local community!

For more information:

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