I realized that slavery was still alive, said John
Miller, Director of the U.S. State Depart-ments Office to
Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. He was telling World
magazine about the arrest of men who trafficked in sex slaves.
Im reading about how they lured these girls from Asian
nations, promised them restaurant jobs, modeling jobs,
their passports, beat them, raped them, moved them from brothel
to brothel, he said.
This was not happening in some distant Third World nation, however.
There it was in civil Seattle, Miller said.
It is a crime and a sin that is almost too horrible
to think about, but for the thousands of children and women trapped
in the international sex slave trade, it is a nightmare with which
they must live every day. Most people, however, would be stunned
to know that the United States may be becoming a major importer
of unwilling participants in this ghastly enterprise.
By the thousands
This industry is technically called trafficking: knowingly
obtaining by any means often by force, fraud, or coercion
any person for involuntary servitude or forced labor,
according to Thomas M. Steinfatt, professor of communication at
the University of Miami, who studies the subject.
It operates just like any other export-import business. According
to Donna M. Hughes, professor of womens studies at the University
of Rhode Island and an expert on the sexual exploitation of women,
girls and women are procured in one nation, conveyed through transit
countries, and finally arrive in the nation of destination.
There, men use them in legalized or widely tolerated sex businesses,
and men physically travel around the world to buy women and children
in prostitution, as a form of tourism, said Hughes. Through
recently developed global communications technology, these forms
of sexual exploitation are now carried out through phone lines and
satellite transmission, namely the Internet.
To call what happens to these women slavery is not hyperbole. Hughes
said, The methods used in trafficking for sexual exploitation
comprise a modern slave trade. The perpetrators range from loosely
connected procurers and pimps to transnational organized crime networks.
Its big business. Hughes said estimates of the money that
pours in through the sex industry prostitution, the sale
of women and children through sex trafficking, the sale of child
pornography, etc. are between $7 billion and $57 billion
That indicates that a lot of flesh is being peddled, although exact
figures are difficult to come by. Hughes said a United Nations estimate
puts the number of women and children who are sexually exploited
by the sex trade industry each year at one million, while child-advocacy
groups, according to a story in USA Today, estimate that there are
currently two million children worldwide that are working as sex
Locked in cages
While the exact numbers may be difficult to ascertain, there are
admittedly thousands of women and girls who are deceived or simply
sold into forcible sexual slavery.
In his heart-breaking account of the international sex trade, journalist
Peter Landesman wrote in The New York Times Magazine, Some
of them have been baited by promises of legitimate jobs and a better
life in America; many have been abducted; others have been bought
from or abandoned by their impoverished families.
Hughes told Voice of America, Usually what happens is the
woman is searching for a job and she is told that she can go abroad
and make a lot of money
but the problem is that when she
arrives in that particular country
she is told no, in fact
youre not going to be a waitress, a nanny, you know, whatever
job, a dancer maybe, that we told you. Youre going to be in
prostitution and you dont have a choice.
Those holding the women in slavery tell the victims they must remain
and work as prostitutes until they pay off the transportation cost
to the new country. Hughes said theyre often told, Well
beat you up if you dont do what we want and you owe us $30,000.
Sometimes, Hughes said, the men do release the women after the debt
has been paid. Other times, if the women cant earn as
much for the pimp as he likes, he sells her again. Ive interviewed
women who have been sold four or five times. Of course, the problem
with this is that their debt starts all over again.
The coercion process is often a brutal one. Bharti Tapas, a girl
interviewed by ABC News Downtown in 2001 for a special on the sex
trade in India, was 14 when she was sold into slavery by her own
parents, and then forced into prostitution.
When I arrived at the brothel, I refused to do what they told
me to and they beat me and starved me for 10 days, Tapas said.
I thought I would rather kill myself than be forced to work
as a prostitute.
She relented, according to the story, and joined thousands
of other girls who are beaten, locked in tiny cages or hidden in
attics. Some are forced to have sex with as many as 20 men a day
under the watchful eyes of madams and pimps.
Psychiatrist Wendy Freed authored a report for Physicians for Human
Rights. Her report on the psychological aspects of women trapped
in sexual slavery in Cambodia presented this frightening pattern
faced by thousands of girls and women:
The young women have been in captivity for a period of weeks
to months or years. Initially there is shock and disbelief. Many
young women describe not being able to believe that they had been
Once they realize that in fact they are sold, they
fight the brothel owners demand that they accept customers.
Refusal leads to beatings, being locked in a room, and going without
food. This persists until the young woman gives up and realizes
that indeed they are trapped and have no options.
point in this process, the young woman becomes submissive in order
to avoid further beatings and torment; her spirit is broken.
She surrenders, becomes resigned and accomodates to the circumstances
Hughes calls these brothels sexual gulags, and cites
the reports of international aid workers that describe men buying
oral sex from girls as young as five years old, and intercourse
with girls as young as 10 or 11.
Porn part of the problem
Certainly poverty plays a critical role in motivating poor girls
and women to seek employment in far away places, as well as generating
a market for the sale of women to brothels. But what is driving
the increase in demand for illicit sex?
In an article in the Journal of Sexual Aggression, Hughes said,
In the last three decades, prostitution and pornography have
become increasingly tolerated, normalized and legitimized, resulting
in expansion of sex industries all over the world.
This tolerance, she said, has increased mens demand
for women and girls to be used as sexual entertainment or acts of
violence. The demand is met by increased recruitment of women and
girls into the sex industry, usually by violence, deception or exploitation
of those made vulnerable by poverty, unemployment and prior victimization.
The Internet has made pornography ubiquitous, and Hughes said this
new forum has provided pornographers access to a global audience
with almost no restrictions or regulations. It provided men, who
are usually secretive about their exploitation of women and children,
with easy, private access to unlimited amounts of pornography.
The country that comes in for the lions share of the blame
is the United States. Hughes said, The U.S. is the country
mainly responsible for the industrialization of pornography and
prostitution, either in the U.S. or in prostitution centers created
by the demand from U.S. military personnel. The U.S. is also the
home of the Internet pornography industry.
For example, Hughes said that, according to one study, 70% of the
customers for live sex shows on the Internet are in the U.S.
American taste for trafficked girls
Virtual sex is not the only decadent delicacy for some Americans;
the simple fact is that thousands of trafficked women and girls
are ferried into the U.S. for the purpose of illicit sexual encounters.
In an article for The Weekly Standard, Hughes wrote about
the extent of the sex trafficking industry that shuttles girls through
Mexico to brothels outside San Diego, California. Over a 10-year
period, hundreds of girls, 12 to 18 years old, were brought
into the U.S. by Mexican nationals.
The girls were sold to farm workers between 100 and
300 at a time in small caves made of reeds in
the fields. Many of the girls had babies, who were used as hostages
with death threats against them, so their mothers would not try
to escape, Hughes said.
An American doctor who was volunteering to provide health care to
migrant workers in the area told Hughes that younger and younger
girls were brought over the border some nine and 10 years
old who might be used by as many as 35 men in one hour. The
first time I went to the camps I didnt vomit only because
I had nothing in my stomach, the doctor told her. It
was truly grotesque and unimaginable.
When she wanted to complain to government authorities about the
abuse, the doctor was instructed by her supervisor to concern herself
only with trying to prevent the girls from contracting sexually
transmitted diseases by providing condoms.
I fought a lot with the U.S. government and they told me that
I shouldnt do anything, that I had signed a federal agreement
of confidentiality, the doctor said.
From San Diego to New York City, girls and women are being abused
in the middle of normal neighborhoods, hiding in plain sight,
according to Hughes.
It is a staggering vice, and Landesman said the U.S. has become
a major importer of sex slaves. Last year the C.I.A. estimated
that between 18,000 and 20,000 people are trafficked annually into
the United States. Of these, an estimated 10,000 are victims
of the sex slave industry.
Those numbers add up. According to Kevin Bales, author of the book,
Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, and
president of Free the Slaves, Americas largest anti-slavery
organization, there are 30,000 to 50,000 sex slaves residing
against their will in the U.S. at any given time.
Some have suggested that legalizing prostitution would put an end
to such a depraved industry, but the opposite may very well be true.
Hughes said, What happens when you have a large demand for
women in prostitution is that you dont have enough local women
who are able to fill up all these slots that are needed, so the
pimps have to start looking abroad.
She added that evidence from the Netherlands, Germany and Australia
where prostitution is legal indicates that such a
policy has resulted in increased trafficking of women to meet
the increased demand for women in prostitution and an accompanying
increase in organized crime.
While prostitution is still illegal in the U.S., many municipalities
have minimal penalties for prostitution, reflecting the belief that
it really isnt that big a deal. Pimping must be made
a felony, Hughes told the AFA Journal in an interview,
and the government needs to enforce the laws against trafficking
that are already on the books in this country. There are lots of
local and state laws against it, but often prostitution is considered
a victimless crime or nuisance crime.
Under the Bush administration, the federal government has begun
to make the prosecution of trafficking a priority. Last September,
in an address to the United Nations, President George Bush called
the sex slave trade a humanitarian crisis.
Theres a special evil in the abuse and exploitation
of the most innocent and vulnerable, said President Bush.
Those who create these victims and profit from their suffering
must be severely punished
. [G]overnments that tolerate this
trade are tolerating a form of slavery.
Since it began targeting sex traffickers three years ago, the U.S.
Department of Justice has convicted 111 traffickers 79 of
whom were involved in trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
That may only be a drop in the bucket considering the ocean of victims
who are suffering, but for the women who are rescued from prostitution,
it is an escape from a darkness few of us could ever imagine.
Department of State
To thank Senior Advisor John
Miller at the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
for his work, you can E-mail him at
Organizations that work on this issue who could use your help:
International Justice Mission
P.O. Box 58147
Washington, DC 20037-8147
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Send
Web site: www.ijm.org
Free the Slaves
1326 14th St. NW.
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: Toll free 202-588-1865
Send an E-mail
Web site: www.freetheslaves.net