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#37–Sex Trafficking

Today, worldwide, an estimated 700,000 to 4 million women, children, and men are bought, sold, beaten, and abused as victims of human trafficking mainly for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor, and no region is unaffected. In the United States alone, an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 women and children are trafficked into the U.S. each year, the vast majority in severe ways. According to the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), severe forms of human trafficking include: “(a) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or (b) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.” The TVPA further stipulates that “[a] victim need not be physically transported from one location to another in order for the crime to fall within these definitions.”

To help combat this modern-day form of slavery worldwide, 157 countries, including the United States, have ratified the 2000 Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the 2000 United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Article 2 of the Protocol, anchored in core human rights principles―not regulations concerning the movement of people―states its purpose: “(a) to prevent and combat trafficking in persons, paying particular attention to women and children, (b) to protect and assist the victims of such trafficking, with full respect for their human rights, and (c) to promote cooperation among State Parties in order to meet these objectives.”

Nonetheless, trafficking, especially sex trafficking, remains a large human rights problem, including in the United States where trafficking in sex is second only to drug trafficking as the fastest growing criminal industry in the country. For good reason, President Obama, in 2011, declared January of each year to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Human trafficking, he explained, “ought to concern every person because it’s a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at the social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime.” (U.S. Department of Justice 2013, U.S. Department of State 2013).

6 — Leading sex trafficking venues in the United States: fake massage parlors, Internet links and sites, residential brothels, street prostitution, hostesses and strip clubs, escort services, and truck stops (Polaris Project 2013)

12-14 — Average age of females trafficked into street prostitution in the United States, though cases of girls as young as 9 years are not uncommon―among the most egregious forms of sex slavery and contributing to the 79 percent of human trafficking victims worldwide who are trafficked for sexual exploitation, 13% of them minor girls (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes, Women’s Funding Network 2013; United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, 2009)

17 — Number of arrests resulting from a month-long Johnson County, Iowa, trafficking and prostitution investigation in 2012, the suspects arrested having come from 12 different communities as far away as Milwaukee, Wisconsin and ranging from 20 to 58 in age, among them three local medical professionals (including a University of Iowa clinical assistant professor of dentistry), two University of Iowa students, and “a woman charged with selling her younger sister for sex” (ABC News 2012)

20-48 — Times per day an average victim of sex trafficking in the United States may be forced to have sex (Polaris Project, 2009)

25 — Percent of sex tourists worldwide who are from the United States, a phenomenon to which, in April 2003, under pressure from child welfare agencies and other civil society groups, the U.S. Congress passed the PROTECT Act (acronym for “Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today”) forbidding Americans traveling abroad from engaging in illegal sex with minors―and in the process affirmed the United States’ international human rights law obligation, born of its ratification of the 1999 ILO Convention (No 182) Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor and the 2000 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, to help end explicitly the sexual exploitation of children prohibited by each of these instruments (Youth Advocate Program International)

30 — Number of countries, including the United States, considered by the U.S. Department of State to be, as of 2013, “Tier 1” countries in compliance with the “minimum standards” of protection against sex and other human trafficking―in contrast to 92 countries in “Tier 2” countries that fail to meet all the “minimum standards” but are making serious though often failing efforts (44 of them without positive results or actually getting worse) and 21 “Tier 3” countries doing little if anything to deal with this crime (U.S. Department of State 2013)

33 — Estimated percentage of runaway American teens who, within 48 hours of leaving home, will be approached by someone in the sex trade, many of them coerced into the sex trade by men who assault or threaten them through physical or psychological abuse (CNN 2012)

105 — Sex trafficking convictions obtained by the U.S. Department of Justice from its 93 offices and 26 human trafficking taskforces across the country in 2012 (U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, 2013)

440 — Investigations related to child sex trafficking initiated in the United States in 2012 (U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, 2013)

900 — Approximate number of children rescued from sexual slavery in the United States between 2003-2010 by the combined efforts of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the US Department of Justice, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2011)

1,318 — Number of T visas (allowing victims of human trafficking to remain in the United States if they assist law enforcement in the prosecution of the perpetrator) that the Department of Homeland Security granted to human trafficking victims from FY 2000 through November 1, 2008―with an additional 1,076 T visas granted to family members of survivors of human trafficking (Polaris Project, Human Trafficking Statistics)

5,000 — Estimated number of brothels in the United States self-described as Asian massage parlors but providing commercial sex by women typically forced to live onsite and required to service as many as 6 to 10 men a day, 7 days a week (Polaris Project 2012)

16,000 — Amount of U.S. Dollars for which, according to police arrest records, a young woman can be sold to brothel owners in North America; when rescued, the young women report being forced to work off “debts” to traffickers of as much as US$40,000 by sexually servicing dozens of men per day (Initiative against Sexual Trafficking)

100,000 — Websites offering child pornography (Washington State Office of the Attorney General)

300,000 — Estimated number of children at risk of becoming victims of domestic sex trafficking in the United States each year, with foster youth comprising as much as 80 percent of victims; many states report abuse occurring while youth are in foster care or group homes, which pimps target as hubs to recruit vulnerable girls (Women’s Funding Network 2013)

632,000 — Estimated U.S. Dollars earned by a pimp per year from four young trafficked girls, one teenage girl having been forced to meet financial quotas of $500 a night, 7 days a week, and give all the money to her trafficker pimp (Polaris Project 2012)

12,300,000 — Estimated number of sex trafficking slaves worldwide, of which fewer than 0.04% are identified; further, the ratio of convicted offenders to victims is 8.5 to 100 (Californians against Sexual Exploitation, 2012)

27,000,000 — Estimated number of people living in slavery as of 2013, of which only 47,000 were brought to light as trafficked victims in the last year―a massive gap representing “the millions who toil unseen and beyond the reach of law, and [that] shows how far we have to go in this effort” (U.S. Department of State 2013)

*Copyright © 2013 by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR). Prepared by Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and UICHR Senior Scholar Burns H. Weston with the generous assistance of Damian Bakula, Chelsea Moore, and Carolyn Warner, student and former students at the UI College of Law. For further information on human rights generally, please visit the UICHR web site: www.uichr.org.