Although the issue of human trafficking has garnered a lot of popularity in the past decade, a lot of confusion continues to exist regarding what qualifies as human trafficking. The trafficking of human beings dates back to ancient slavery, which served as a method of social stratification very akin to the class systems of today (White, White & Korgen, 2014). One of the earliest records of slavery dates back to c.1760 BCE in the Code of Hammurabi. Today, traditional ‘chattel’ slavery, defined as the legal ownership of a human, is known to be illegal across all countries and yet slavery remains a booming and profitable enterprise (Bales, 2004). It is estimated that about 45.8 million people are trapped in some form of modern slavery today (Gladstone, 2016; Global Slavery Index, 2016). According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, some form of modern slavery exists within all the 167 countries surveyed. In the U.S. Florida is identified as one of the top three states, along with New York and California, receiving the majority of the women and children trafficked annually into the county (Protection Project, 2002).
Types of Modern Slavery
- Sex Trafficking
- Forced Marriage
- Domestic Servitude
- Forced Labor
- Bonded Labor
- Child Labor
According to the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights (2003), human trafficking cases in Florida represent three of the main types of exploitation addressed by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, including sex trafficking, forced labor, and domestic servitude. Many of the traditional labor markets in Florida, such as restaurants, hotels, the agricultural industry, factories, and domestic and commercial housekeeping, benefit from trafficking.
Florida also has a long history of forced labor in agriculture, dating back to slavery. Until the 1960s African Americans were often tricked into debt slavery or servitude, also called peonage. Legally, peonage was outlawed by Congress in 1867 but it was not eradicated then. The company store model slowly evolved into the coyote or transport system model, by which an individual owes a debt to a smuggler. According to the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, not even workers with legal work visas are safe from human trafficking and may instead be particularly vulnerable to it.
While there are several reasons humans may be trafficked, the categories are not exclusive. Someone who may have been forced or coerced into labor might also find herself or himself forced or coerced into performing sex acts (which is also referred to as survival sex). Sex trafficking is a crime where women, men and/or children are coerced or forced into commercial sex acts. In the U.S. a person under the age of 18 engaged in commercial sexual acts of any type is considered the victim of sex trafficking. According to End Slavery Now, the US is both a transit and destination country for sex trafficking. Individuals who are trafficked may be taken to brothels, escort services, massage parlors, strip clubs, and/or hotels. They may be forced into prostituting on the streets, on fields near migrant workers or in trailers near factories. They may also be forced to participate in pornography or exotic dancing. In 2013 the primary countries of origin represented within the US were Mexico, the Philippines, Thailand, Honduras, Guatemala, India, and El Salvador.
Sex Work & Sex Trafficking
Human trafficking can occur internationally as well as domestically. Situations can vary dramatically but vulnerable populations are most frequently targeted. Domestically this might mean LGBTQ+ individuals, runaway and homeless youth, as well as victims of other forms of violence such as sexual assault, domestic violence, or social isolation. The same principles can apply internationally and additionally may include victims of war.
An area of debate regarding trafficking has been prostitution or sex work, which is regarded by many as an activity undertaken by choice and for which one is paid. As previously stated, under U.S. law any person under the age of 18 who is engaged in a commercial sex act is considered to be a trafficked human being. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, the average age of a girl entering sex trafficking/prostitution is 12-14 years old. This means that the majority of the adult women we encounter in prostitution entered the trade as minors and legally fit the definition of a trafficked person. Another important fact is that 95% of prostituted women report that they want to stop but cannot leave due to circumstances like having no other job skills, needing to be able to provide food and shelter for themselves and/or family, and because they are under the control of a pimp (Farley, 2004). Many are actually never paid for their services, as the money they make has to be handed off to their pimp. The hidden reality is that like other survivors of human trafficking, these individuals are vulnerable and preyed upon. Women in prostitution are at higher risk for various types of violence. A clear way to illustrate this is to read the comments sex buyers, also known as “Johns,” make about women in prostitution. The following are quotes collected by Farley (2007) from men who buy sex:
"Prostitution is renting an organ for 10 minutes."
“She gives up the right to say no.”
“I paid for this. You have no rights. You’re with me now.”
Another man shared that he got in trouble for raping a woman and decided to only rape prostituted women.
Nearly 80% of women in prostitution have experienced rape (Hunter & Reed, 1990; Farley, 2004) and 60-95% of women in prostitution were sexually assaulted as children (Farley, 2004). The majority of those victimized as children were victimized before entering the sex trade. According to Farley out of 218 “johns” who were warned that the women they were looking at online were actually minors, 42% still wanted the underage girl.
The following are ways that human trafficking survivors may be sexually victimized:
- Traffickers may use the threat of sexual assault or actual sexual assault, of the victim and/or the victim’s family, as a means to abuse and control them (Inter-American Commission of Women, & Women, Health, and Development Program, 2001).
- Any time a survivor is forced to perform a sex act, do erotic dance, or filmed for pornography against their will.
- The use of beatings and rapes as a method for grooming and of control.
Helping Survivors of Sex Trafficking
The victim-centered, trauma informed, and empowering approaches that advocates typically use to support survivors of sexual violence can also be helpful when working with a survivor of human trafficking. Human trafficking survivors are also unique in that they require a different range of services. They often suffer from malnutrition and sexually transmitted diseases. International survivors, may have to navigate the complex bureaucracies of the U.S. law enforcement and immigration systems without an understanding of the English language. Many trafficking victims will have endured many assaults, in addition to other forms of violence. The NSVRC Guide for Victim Advocates offers a comprehensive list of ways sexual assault advocates can help survivors.
The impact of that trauma can have lasting effects on a survivor’s emotional, physical and psychological health. The population experiences significant levels of PTSD which can include symptoms of recurrent thoughts and or memories of the terrifying events, feeling as if the events are happening again, recurring nightmares, disassociation, inability to feel emotion, hyper reactivity (easily startled or jumpy), difficulty focusing, sleep disturbances, irritability, memory impairment, and/or emotional reactivity. Evidence based therapeutic treatment options for PTSD include cognitive therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and stress inoculation training. However, the majority of these therapies were not developed to work with this diverse population and may not be culturally competent (Williamson, Dutch, & Clawson, 2008). Some may not be appropriate based on symptomology. For example, EMDR may not be appropriate with a survivor who experiences disassociation. The incorporation of alternative or holistic approaches to mental health, which combine physical and mental wellbeing, have been found to be effective. Such therapies may include movement (dance, yoga), art, gardening, and cooking. Wilson (2003) also suggests that stabilization is key for beginning the healing work that survivors of human trafficking have ahead of them.
There is Hope and Help
"You can have hope for a new life, there's a new day tomorrow and everything can change in the blink of an eye." -Sandy Storm
Sandy Storm is a survivor who was trafficked for nearly 20 years and wrote her story in the book titled Hello Navi.
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking and would like help, please visit our Get Help section of the website to find the closest sexual assault program in your area. Or, call 1-888-956-RAPE to be connected to your local sexual assault program.
Center for the Advancement of Human Rights. (2003). Florida responds to human trafficking. Retrieved from
Farley,M. (2004). Prostitution is sexual violence. Psychiatric Times. Retrieved from http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/sexualoffenses/content/article/10168/48311.
Farley, M. (2007). ‘Renting an Organ for Ten Minutes:’ What Tricks Tell Us about Prostitution, Pornography, and Trafficking. Pornography: Driving the Demand for International Sex Trafficking, Los Angeles: Captive Daughters Media. Retrieved from http://www.prostitutionresearch.com/FarleyRentinganOrgan11-06.pdf
Gladstone, R. (2016). Modern slavery estimated to trap 45 million people worldwide. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/01/world/asia/global-slavery-index.html?_r=0
Global Slavery Index. (2016). Retrieved http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/findings/
Hahamovitch, C. (1997). The fruits of their labor: Atlantic coast farmworkers and the making of migrant poverty, 1870-1945. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
Hunter, S. K. and Reed, K.C. (1990). “Taking the side of bought and sold rape,” Speech at National Coalition against Sexual Assault, Washington, D.C.
Inter-American Commission of Women, & Women, Health, and Development Program. (2001). Trafficking for sexual exploitation [Fact sheet]. Retrieved from the Pan-American Health Organization: http://www.paho.org/English/HDP/HDW/trafficking.pdf.
"Mesopotamia: The Code of Hammurabi". Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. e.g. Prologue, "the shepherd of the oppressed and of the slaves" Code of Laws No. 307, "If any one buy from the son or the slave of another man".
National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Fact sheet. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/orr/fact_sheet_sex_trafficking.pdf
Pete, D. What is peonage? PBS
Peonage abolished, 42 U.S.C. § 1994.
Protection Project. (2002). Human rights report on trafficking of persons, especially women and children: United States Country Report. Retrieved September 28, 2002, from http://220.127.116.11/ver2/cr/us.pdf
White, S. K., White, J. M., & Korgen, K.O. (2014). Sociologists in Action on Inequalities: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. SAGE Publications. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-4833-1147-0.
Wilson, B. (2013). Exiting commercial sexual exploitation: Understanding nuances of the phenomena across cultures.University at Buffalo. Talk presented at CSWE APM in Dallas, TX November 2013. Retrieved from https://prezi.com/g_eanjmvj8je/exiting-commercial-sexual-exploitation/
Williamson, E., Dutch, N., & Clawson, H. C. (2008). National symposium on the health needs of human trafficking victims: Post-symposium brief. Washington, DC: Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.