human trafficking

Two Million Slaves

By Matthew T. Lambro

The FBI reports that sex trafficking is “the most overlooked and under investigated form of child sex abuse facing American society today” (2010). Sexually exploited children do not specifically rank as a priority. The FBI’s number one national security requirement is protecting America from a terror attack (FBI, 2015).

Sadly, this is not only an American sentiment this ideology is shared across most of the world and is the reason that trafficking for sexual exploitation is believed to be the fastest growing form of criminal activity in the world (Gozdziak & MacDonnell, 2007).

One can only speculate as to why this travesty isn’t receiving more attention on a global platform. The ignorance of political awareness can lead one to assume that some foul play must be happening amidst politicians and their involvement or participation with this horrific degradation of human life. Historian David Johnson (1979) writes that in America by the mid-1800s, police were taking bribes from vice entrepreneurs to protect prostitutes. In other words, the proposition that the government may be turning the volume on this topic down intentionally would not be out of line based on what history tells us. Many of the traffickers are a part of an organized criminal network and are strongly influenced by the $60 billion per year that comes in from this “industry” (Kara, 2009).

It may seem that those in power and those treated as slaves are far apart but as Chesney (1972) remarks “nothing formed so close a bond between the underworld and respectable society as prostitution.” Before moving on it is important to define a few key terms. Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act. A commercial sex act is any act of sex on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person (Kotrla, 2010). As Hughes explains, sex trafficking and prostitution, though not the same, are similar in the perception of both as sexual acts against other humans (2004).

The term white slavery, “traites de blanche,” was first officially used in 1902 at a conference held in Paris, where representatives of several countries governments met to create an international agreement for the suppression of white slave traffic. Under this agreement, the signatory parties were responsible for creating an authority which would collect information on the traffic in women and girls for immoral purposes and to provide protection from it (United Nations, 1976).

The United States has been guilty in the past of creating a market as well as a culture that allows it for sex-trafficking to take place to provide enough women for the men stationed at international bases. In 1995 three U.S. servicemen raped a 12-year-old Japanese girl. Following the incident Admiral Richard C. Macke, then commander of United States forces in the Pacific, commented to reporters that he believed the accused servicemen’s actions were “…absolutely stupid…For the price of renting a car, they could have had a girl (Kronsell, 2012).” Instead of coming down harshly on the three young enlisted men as he presumably intended, Macke presented what historian Bruce Cumings has called a “ubiquitous and unremarked upon” reality among U.S. military bases overseas: the widespread existence of prostitution catering to U.S. servicemen.

Finally, in 2005 the United States started to become aware of the issue of sex trafficking when Chris Hansen did an NBC Dateline television special that featured children as young as five years old being sold as slaves for sex in Cambodia (Hansen, 2005). According to two research studies, at least 70 percent of women involved in prostitution were introduced into the commercial sex industry as a minor, or before the age of 18 years old. Any minor under the age of 18 who is used in a commercial sex act is a trafficking victim (Hughes, 2007).

Stories about the Summer 2006 World Cup events in Germany fueled the Bush administration’s cry to end the demand for trafficked persons. In Germany, where prostitution is legal, it is estimated that during the World Cup, up to 1 million women and girls were trafficked into Germany to provide the local brothels with humans to meet the needs of the influx of soccer fans (Landler, 2006).

On a conservative scale, according to a U.S. State Department (2005), there are between 14,500 and 17,500 persons trafficked into the United States per year. According to the Department of Justice (2011), as many as 300,000 children may become victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Ninety-six percent of these are females, and over half are minors (Yen, 2008). The United States ranks as the second largest market for women and children trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation (Mizus, Moody, Privado, & Douglas, 2003). Most reports on sex trafficking focus on foreign nationals as victims who were trafficked into the United States; however, research has shown that there are more Americans than foreigners who are victims of sex traffickers within the United States (Hughes, 2007).

According to U.S. intelligence, the former Soviet Union supplies the largest source of women for the sex industry and most are victims of trafficking (Richard 1999). The reason for this is mainly due to the economic downturn in the 1990’s which forced many of the poor to find employment by any means necessary (Rimashevskaia, 2002).

Technology has created an online market for sex trafficking. Today “Johns” can use certain websites, such as, to shop for sex with a prostitute (Shively, Michael and Kristina Kliorys, Wheeler & Hunt 2012). Pimps are now able to market their victims to a wider populace of customers online than ever before. (Hughes 2004).

Countries such as Australia, New Zealand and The Netherlands have legalized the act of prostitution in hopes of regulating the industry and providing safety for the sellers of sex (Yen 2008). However, the majority of countries worldwide, including the United States of America, have continued to criminalize the act. Kathleen Barry concludes the statistics available on the international sex trafficking are underreported and almost indecipherable (1979). One reason for this, Barry notes, is that while international prostitution receives official “lipservice,” it is perceived as a diplomatic “thorn.” It appears that global powers feel as if they are dealing with an invisible giant. Perhaps until their children are affected by this atrocity, they will continue to turn a blind eye and act as if their hands are tied when asked to help form a solution.

Nagel (2000) explains how sexuality and ethnicity interact and how their boundaries create “ethnosexual frontiers.” Global sex trafficking capitalizes on this exoticization and consumption of ethnosexual contacts. It has become a disturbing business model with what other industries would describe as “product lines”. Ethnicities become new brands of sexual products. Both Japan and Switzerland have special visa programs which allow foreign nationals to travel to these countries as “entertainers.”

Perhaps, the most heartbreaking issue preventing sex trafficking from coming to an end is that many of the trafficked humans are being treated as criminal aliens by authorities, viewing their lack of citizenship documentation as a crime rather than a symptom of a broader problem (Easton & Matthews, 2012). This incompetence is further creating a label of victims trafficked as the criminals in place of the overarching system that is allowing it to happen.

As Becker explains, Labeling Theory states that human behavior is not inherently deviant. Rather, it is the reaction to the behavior of others that identifies the behavior as deviant or not based on social norms (1963). This theory states that being labeled as deviant can have future consequences on a person’s social identity by causing them to believe they are indeed deviant (Lemert, 1972). If trafficked or abused victims begin to think that they are responsible for their victimization they will be less likely that to seek out victim services or ask for help from law enforcement. Incorrect self-labeling is most likely why there have not been more cases brought against traffickers. Former trafficking victims have been led to believe that they are the criminals. According to the U.S. State department over 2 million people are trafficked each year and we rarely hear a word about it from the United States media outlets (2005). This is unacceptable.

Lipschutz and Rowe (2005) argue that a new mode of transnational regulation develops in response to the proliferation of social costs imposed by globalization. Regulatory systems will operate in regulatory gaps, “outside of the framework of existing regional regimes and institutions” (Lipschutz & Rowe, 2005). Their goals are to impose regulatory frameworks onto global self-regulating markets. Transnational regulation transcends the existing state and interstate regulatory mechanisms. It is “some sort of transmission belt between countries whose representativeness are often challenged by states and business and the apparently autonomous and uncontrolled international and transnational institutions, both governmental and corporate, of global capitalism” (Lipschutz & Rowe 2005). An important characteristic of transnational regulation is that it exists between the spaces of governmentality (Foucault, 1991) and the spaces of grassroots’ activism. In other words, transnational regulatory groups often mix motivations of different social actors.

A new form of transnational collaboration leading to international regulations must spring up to abolish this modern day slave-trade. Sex-trafficking has only increased because of globalization and ease of transportation. As countries unite around eliminating sex trafficking new transnational regulatory systems will be crafted. As humans of a globalized society, we must no longer allow passivity and ignorance to serve as a just reaction or excuse in response to sex trafficking. Rather as courageous humans we must bring attention to this epidemic and unite across countries and around the world to eliminate this darkened form of slavery. A modern-day William Wilberforce is in need to arrive on the scene of this battlefield to lead the charge to win freedom for those with no voice for all of the imprisoned who reside in a sickening system of sexual slavery.



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