Trafficking in the Sex Trade

Human Trafficking in the exploitation of another person through force, fraud or coercion. It can happen in any industry, including domestic work, factory work, agriculture and the drug trade.

US Law breaks this down into two categories in the adult industry

  • Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion; or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.
  • Labor trafficking in the adult industry involves exploitation in massage parlors, strip clubs and cam work.
  • This delineation was created to push the false narrative that sexual labor is not labor, and undermines effective services to victims of trafficking in both categories. A singular focus on trafficking also ignores the many ways that sex workers experience victimization and exploitation.
    • Every year service providers and law enforcement note that almost all prosecutions and investigations are focused on the sex industry, not because there are more trafficking victims into commercial sex but there is almost no training, funding or services allocated to serve victims of trafficking other forms of labor.
    • Because of this false dichotomy, best practices of community-based, trauma-informed approaches to human trafficking piloted in other forms of labor are not only ignored for commercial sex, but regularly undermined through criminalization and stigma.
    • Sexual violence is commonly used as a tactic of power and control in labor trafficking situations, but is often ignored or not screened for with survivors of human trafficking in other industries.

Decriminalization of the sex trade essential to addressing exploitation and trafficking in the sex trade. The right to work free from fear is a fundamental right in our society. Criminalization of the sex trade creates a target population for victimization. Criminalized individuals who have experienced and/or fear arrest are significantly less likely to report victimization, including trafficking.

Traffickers exploit the vulnerability and isolation created through criminaization, including documentation status. The dehumanization, stigmatization and violence that sex workers routinely face are a breeding ground for trafficking.

Human Trafficking and Sex Workers’ Rights, Freedom Network USA 2015

Sex workers are the most informed on the sex trade, and the best primed to address exploitation and trafficking. Across the globe, sex workers are the most knowledgeable on the  sex trade, as well as the closest support systems for trafficking victims to access. Sex workers’ rights organizations are primed to develop industry standards, building competent support and train services, and fight the dehumanization and stigma which marginalize people who trade sex.

Sex Workers Organising for Change: Self-representation, community mobilisation, and working conditions. Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, 2018.

Anti-trafficking efforts should prioritize:

  • Addressing root causes of trafficking, including affordable housing, living wage work and the barriers to documentation for foreign nationals
  • Providing robust services for victims of trafficking which are trauma-informed and not contingent of law enforcement-involvement
  • Improving labor rights for people who trade sex
  • Expungement and vacatur of criminal records, which bar people from accessing housing, living wage jobs and services
  • Divestment from law enforcement-prioritized responses
  • Decriminalization of the  sex trade, and other criminalization/policing practices which make people more vulnerable to exploitation