Sex Trafficking

Early History of Sex Trafficking

Women and children have been the victims of sex trafficking for thousands of years. This practice, going on throughout the centuries, finally became a political issue in the early 1900s. In 1902, the International Agreement for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic was drafted. Its purpose was to "prevent the procuration of women and girls for immoral purposes abroad" ( After a few years it was ratified by twelve countries around the world. 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" ( 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.

Common trafficking Patterns

Regardless of the acts and conventions that have been passed earlier in the century, the occurrence of sex trafficking is not decreasing. Millions of women are still being kidnapped and transported from their homes. Some are even sold by their families for meager amounts of money.

There are a number of common patterns for sex trafficking around the world. In many places, particularly developing nations, women are lured into trafficking by the promise of a good job in another country. Having no better options in her home country, the woman decides to move away, unaware of the torture that lies ahead. Arrangements are made for her departure and she is appointed an escort. Upon arrival at her destination the woman is taken directly to her employer. At this point she has absolutely no control over the conditions of her employment. After discovering the true nature of her employment it is too late and escape is impossible and dangerous if attempted.

Besides being lured with promises of a good job, there are other situations in which women can fall into sex trafficking. Sometimes women receive false marriage proposals from men who plan to sell them into bondage. There are also instances when young girls are sold into the sex trade by their parents who are trying to earn some money. And, of course, many times the women are simply kidnapped.

Sex trafficking frequently results in debt bondage. This involves the woman being held by her employer until she earns enough money to repay the employer for the expenses he paid to acquire her. The set amount usually far exceeds the actual costs and may take the woman years to pay off. Even then, it is common for the woman to be forced to continue working or for her employer to sell her back into debt bondage and back into a system from which she cannot escape. This, of course, is only possibly if the woman has not died from a disease such as AIDS.

U.S. Policy Recommendations

In February of 2000, the United States spoke at a testimony before the Senate Committee concerning the International Trafficking of Women and Children. In this hearing, the United States proposed the following recommendations:

  1. Define trafficking to encompass trafficking into all forms of forced labor and servitude including trafficking into forced marriage.

  2. Actively investigating, prosecuting, and punishing those involved in the trafficking of persons and imposing penalties appropriate for the grave nature of the abuses they have committed.

  3. Exempting trafficking victims from prosecution for any immigration violations or other offenses that have occurred as a result of their being trafficked.

  4. Ensuring that trafficking victims have the opportunity to seek remedies for the human rights violations they have suffered, including compensation for damages, unpaid wages, and restitution.

  5. Taking strong precautions to ensure the physical safety of trafficked persons.

  6. Protecting women's rights and addressing the inequality in status and opportunity that makes women vulnerable to trafficking and other abuses.




Help Organizations

Suggested Reading

The Factbook on Global Sexual Exploitation by Donna Hughes, Laura Joy Sporcic, Nadine Mendelsohn, Vanessa Chirgwin, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. 1999.

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