Sex trafficking affects a great number of people from many different walks of life. And quite often, sex trafficking and drug addiction go hand in hand. Just how prevalent is this crisis? Social data and research suggest it remains a significant problem.
Sex trafficking is defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing or soliciting of a person for a commercial sex act.” It involves using force, coercion, or fraud to make an adult engage in commercial sex acts.
Young women, in particular, are highly vulnerable to trafficking. It has also been shown that many are introduced to drugs and alcohol during this horrible process.
Understanding the risks to the victims and how to help them successfully can help us lower the numbers of drug abuse and human trafficking victims.
Dealing with sexual abuse on top of addiction can be a terrible experience. If you want to talk to someone about addiction or feel you are living an unsafe life, please get in touch with our treatment team at (385) 327-7418
- The Link Between Human Trafficking and Drug Abuse
- Risk Factors for Sexual Exploitation
- Educating Healthcare Professionals
- Where Does Sex Trafficking and Drug Addiction Hide?
- How Can We Prevent Sex Trafficking
Human Trafficking Data and Statistics
- An estimated 24.9 million victims are victims of modern-day slavery, otherwise known as human trafficking. Of these, 16 million (64%) were exploited for labor, 4.8 million (19%) were sexually exploited, and 4.1 million (17%) were exploited in state-imposed forced labor.
- 71% of trafficking victims worldwide are women and girls, and 29% are men and boys.
- 15.4 million human trafficking victims (75%) are aged 18 or older, with the number of children under 18 estimated at 5.5 million (25%).
- While only 19% of victims are trafficked for sex earns 66% of the global profits of human trafficking. The average annual profits generated by each woman in forced sexual servitude ($100,000) is estimated to be six times more than the average profits generated by each trafficking victim worldwide ($21,800).
The Link Between Human Trafficking and Drug Abuse
Traffickers manipulate substance use to coerce victims to engage in commercial sex and tend to target individuals with existing substance use issues.
Subsequently, this may fuel the victim’s ongoing addiction problems following recruitment.
Often, traffickers supply a victim with addictive substances and use their fear of withdrawal symptoms to compel them to engage in commercial sex.
Statistically, domestic sex trafficking is shown to be tied directly to the opioid epidemic.
Over 50 percent of the average trafficking victims in emergency departments have a dependency on heroin in the U.S. alone.
Without addiction treatment facility access for trafficked persons, there is a high risk of returning to their previous lifestyle.
Risk Factors for Sexual Exploitation
Numerous factors can place an individual at a higher risk of being a sex trafficking victim. One of the key components is
These factors range from individual experiences to community and social environment. They generally stem from instability, addiction, and chaos in the individual’s everyday environment.
It is imperative to build as many protective factors as possible to avoid being at risk and strengthen one’s support system. When sex trafficking and drug addiction come together, the risks are invariably higher.
Individual Risk Factors
- History of abuse
- Alcohol and drug use
- Gang involvement
- Domestic violence
- Child welfare involvement
- Neglect or abandonment
- Prior sexual victimization
- History of running away
- Early sexual initiation
- Sexual orientation
- Lack of employment opportunities
- Lack of support from police and judicial system due to a prior criminal record
- Tolerance of sexual violence within the community
- Poor parent-child relationships
- Childhood history of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
- A family environment containing physical violence and conflict
- Involvement in a violent or abusive intimate relationship
- Emotionally unsupported family environment
- Family instability
Traffickers and pimps often use social media to recruit unknowing victims. Vulnerable drug addicts used in sex trafficking, unfortunately, become easy targets in this process.
Positive Influences and Keeping Yourself Safe
On the other hand, some factors make a person less likely to fall into a dangerous environment. These include:
- Family stability
- A solid social support network
- Limited drug and alcohol exposure
- Healthy relationship boundaries
- Education and involvement at school
- Positive peer influences
- Having defined goals for the future
Unfortunately, despite a healthy environment, a person may still succumb to the world of sex trafficking.
There are warning signs a person may be a sex trafficking victim, including:
- They disclose that they were reluctant to engage in selling sex but that someone pressured them into it.
- They want to stop participating in selling or trading sex but feel scared or unable to leave.
- They live where they work or are transported by guards between home and workplace.
- They are giving money to someone for undisclosed reasons
- They work in an industry where it may be common to be pressured into performing sex acts for money, such as a strip club
- They have a controlling parent, guardian, romantic partner, or “sponsor” who will not allow you to meet or speak with the person alone or monitor their movements and communications.
- They are children or dependent on a family member with a substance abuse problem or abusive in other ways.
Sex predators often lure their victims online, especially through social media. Ways to keep yourself safe on the Internet include:
- Keep your profiles private!
- DO NOT accept any users that you do not know.
- Ask questions: Have I ever met you in the real world?
- Never give out your phone number or address to strangers online
- Be careful tagging pictures of yourself
- Disable your “location services” or do not make them public
- Ask friends not to tag photos of you online
- If someone does not stop requesting you or posts inappropriate pictures, report them!
Above all, limit the amount of personal information you put online. This includes where you go to school, work and where you socialize. Never post your date of birth or where you live.
Remember, once something is posted on the internet, you cannot take it back. Try to remember as a good rule of thumb – If you do not want your teacher, parent, or future employers to see it – do not post it!
Trafficking and Healthcare
Every day, nurses and doctors across the country care for victims of drug abuse and human trafficking without realizing it.
Up to 88 percent of human trafficking survivors have contact with healthcare. Yet, many clinicians may not recognize the extent of a person’s situation.
Whether victims show up in an emergency room or a community health clinic, or a detox center, all victims of sex trafficking deserve to be identified and cared for.
Research shows that most addicts and victims of human trafficking had some contact with the health care system when they were being exploited. Potential red flags specific to a health care setting may include:
- A patient with reproductive or sexual health concerns and or potential signs of sexual violence and reporting an unusually high number of partners
- A patient with work-related injuries reported that health and safety gear were not provided or conditions were otherwise unsafe.
- A patient is unwilling or hesitant to answer questions about the injury or illness.
- A patient is accompanied by an individual who does not let the patient speak for themselves, refuses to let the patient have privacy, or who interprets for them.
Clinics and emergency rooms may be understaffed or extremely busy, and certain signs, regrettably, might go unnoticed.
To help combat this, HEAL Trafficking is a group of multidisciplinary professionals dedicated to ending human trafficking while supporting survivors from a public health perspective.
HEAL trafficking’s vision is a world healed of trafficking. Their mission is to unify and mobilize interdisciplinary professionals to shift the anti-trafficking standard toward approaches rooted in public health and trauma-informed care.
Their members are practicing professionals across the United States, that tackle issues at the center of public health and trafficking, including Education and Training, Protocol Development, Research, Direct Services, and Prevention.
Over the last few years, we have seen progress in awareness of trafficking among clinicians. Moreover, some states have mandated human trafficking education for clinicians.
However, awareness is just the first step. Healthcare must go beyond that and embrace a broader public health approach.
It’s important to combat the risk factors and comprehensively tackle the fallout. Focusing on trafficking as a public health epidemic and not just a criminal justice issue will be crucial in protecting victims.
Where Does Sex Trafficking Hide?
Certain environments such as hotels and motels are common venues for prostitution, trafficked drugs, and sex trafficking.
Victims can exist in broad daylight. In the case of labor trafficking, contract workers, such as housekeepers, may be exploited. They are also common venues for traveling sales crews to house trafficked workers.
Below are some potential indicators of sex and labor trafficking that may also be indicators of prostitution.
- A third party (pimp/trafficker) appears to be monitoring a hallway or door.
- The guest is overly concerned with surveillance cameras or entrance policies.
- Someone is dropped off and visits for 30 minutes, or someone waits for that person on property or in the parking lot.
- Abandoned or locked out young adults on property.
- Sales flyers left behind that detail questionable magazine sales tactics.
Often human trafficking and drug abuse victims do not identify themselves as victims. Many times, they are addicted to substances and lack trust in anyone.
Victims may suffer from self-blame, shame, and instilled fears of consequences from their aggressors. Victims might even share a traumatic bond with their captors and believe they want to stay.
Sometimes it takes years of healing before victims understand that they were victims at all. This is a significant side effect of being manipulated and coerced.
All too often, it can take years before survivors understand that their experience qualifies as human trafficking.
How Can We Prevent Sex Trafficking?
Sex trafficking is preventable. This is the good news.
Efforts are focused on increasing community awareness of human trafficking and drug abuse and addressing exploitation.
More research is needed to evaluate programs and policies that help reduce factors that put people at risk to help prevent trafficking before it occurs.
Strategies based on the best available evidence exist to prevent related forms of violence and reduce sex trafficking. States and communities should implement and evaluate efforts that:
- Encourage healthy behaviors in relationships
- Promote sex trafficking awareness in rehabs
- Foster safe homes and neighborhoods
- Identify and address vulnerabilities during health care visits
- Reduce demand for commercial sex
- End business profits from trafficking-related transactions
If you or anyone you know is suffering from addiction and the hurtful possibility of sex trafficking, please call to speak to one of our trained professionals. We can help you find a forward path to a healthy, productive lifestyle.
Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Patricia Sullivan, MD MPH