Commercial sexual exploitation includes pornography, prostitution and the sex trafficking of women and girls, and is characterized by the exploitation of a human being in exchange for goods or money. Each year, between 600,000 and 800,000 women and children are trafficked across international borders. Thousands more are victims of sex slavery within their own countries.
Although human trafficking takes various different forms; labor, domestic service, organ trafficking, 79 percent of human trafficking is for sexual exploitation. Overall, women make up 66 percent of trafficking victims and girls make up 13 percent.
Some sex trafficking is highly visible, such as street prostitution. But many victims remain unseen, operating out of unmarked brothels in unsuspecting neighborhoods in big cities and small towns. Sex traffickers may also operate out of a variety of public and private locations, such as massage parlors, spas and strip clubs.
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROSTITUTION AND SLAVERY? PROSTITUTION IS OFTEN TREATED AS A VALID FORM OF EMPLOYMENT FOR WOMEN AND A CHOICE THAT A WOMAN MAKES?
The distinctions existing between sex slavery and prostitution are false. Perpetuating the idea that women are prostituted by choice ignores that it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between a victim of slavery and a victim of prostitution; that the average age of entry into prostitution is 12 to 14 years old; that 90 percent of prostituted women have been physically battered in childhood; that 74 percent were sexually abused in their families; and that 50 percent have been sexually abused by someone outside of the family.
WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF SEX SLAVERY?
Quite simply, GENDER INEQUALITY IS THE CAUSE OF SEX SLAVERY. The patriarchal culture that views women and girls as objects who can be bought and sold is a result of gender inequality. This gender inequality fuels a demand for purchased sex. Without the demand, sex slavery would end tomorrow. One overriding factor in the proliferation of trafficking is the fundamental belief that the lives of women and girls are expendable. In societies where women and girls are undervalued or not valued, women are at greater risk for being abused, trafficked, and coerced into sex slavery.
Poverty is a common bond among victims: many of the poorest and most unstable countries have the highest incidences of trafficking. Where economic alternatives do not exist, women and girls are more vulnerable to being tricked and coerced into sexual servitude. Increased unemployment and the loss of job security have undermined women’s incomes and economic position. A stalled gender wage gap, as well as an increase in women’s part-time and informal sector work, push women into poorly paid jobs and long-term and hidden unemployment, leaving them vulnerable to traffickers.
Although prostitution preys on women and girls with seemingly no other choice, poverty is not the cause of prostitution. At the root of prostitution is overt gender-based discrimination and gender inequality, which creates a situation where men can sexually exploit women experiencing poverty, abuse and racism with the complicity of law enforcement, society and culture. Women’s interests, needs, demands and specific problems are widely ignored in political arenas because they are marginalized. Even with a widening gender wage gap, poorly paid jobs and discriminatory practices in the workplace, prostitution would not thrive without ingrained gender inequality and the demand for paid sex.