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Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation

Trafficking for sexual exploitation also referred to as sex trafficking, is the illegal trafficking of humans for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

Trafficking for sexual exploitation is a global issue

It is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world, worth nearly $99 billion each year, and women and girls are disproportionately affected. According to the UNODC, 94% of victims of sexual exploitation are women and girls.  

Though international law and the laws of 158 countries criminalize sex trafficking, the ultimate destination for its victims – the sex trade – is still widely legally and socially acceptable.

Many countries have laws that either fully criminalize, decriminalize, or legalize the sex trade in harmful ways: either they punish those who are being exploited, or openly promote their exploitation by giving traffickers, pimps, brothel owners, and sex buyers a safer environment in which to operate.

Who is most affected by sex trafficking? 

94% of the victims are women and girls.

Young girls are particularly interesting to human traffickers because:

  • There is an increased interest in younger and younger girls
  • Children are easier for traffickers to coerce and control
  • An exploited child grows into an easily exploited women who can be sold over and over again for profit

Women who lack access to resources, such as housing, land, property, and inheritance, are at increased risk. Homeless people, LGBTQ+ people, migrants, and marginalized racial, ethnic, and socially excluded communities, are more likely to lack access to such resources and be at greater risk, due to the additional levels of discrimination they face in their intersectional identities.

The US National Center for Missing & Exploited Children directly correlated a five-year 846% increase in child sex trafficking reports to the growing use of the internet to sell children for sex.

What support is available to survivors of trafficking?

Equality Now does not provide direct support to victims and/or survivors of human trafficking, but the following organizations do provide direct support services. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, the best way to access help is to call 911 (in the U.S.) or your local emergency number.

What is Equality Now doing to end trafficking for sexual exploitation?

In 2001, we led a coalition for the passage of the Palermo Protocol, the leading international guide to combating trafficking.

All our work is based on the principle that it is critical to implement legal safeguards for those who are exploited, ensuring they are protected from harm and are never criminalized.

  • We work with local organizations and survivors of sexual exploitation to build a nuanced understanding of sexual exploitation in their specific contexts, and jointly identify the range of interventions that are necessary to address it.
  • We work with local partners to engage with state and non-state actors at the national, regional and international levels throughout the ecosystem and ensure that a movement of actors takes action to address sexual exploitation.
  • We promote state accountability to protect people from sexual exploitation by advocating for laws and policies that take into account the ecosystem of related and relevant laws and policies within each context and international laws and standards.
  • We advocate that national laws uphold international laws and standards which have clear provisions on addressing sexual exploitation, structural and sex inequality and impunity of exploiters while protecting the exploited.
  • We support local organizations to challenge impunity using the law and support them to deepen their analysis and challenge attitudes towards shifting responsibility from those exploited to the exploiters.
  • We advocate for laws and policies that recognize the role of enablers and exploiters, and the impunity they enjoy while often making huge profits, and therefore penalize their actions taking into account the extent of their culpability in the cycle of sexual exploitation chain.
  • We support strategic litigation that highlights the predatory and gendered nature of sexual exploitation and challenges the criminalization and social stigma faced by the exploited.