Men Usually the Perpetrators, but Female Human Trafficking Victims Often Punished
“We’ll arrest a 15-year-old girl or something like that for prostitution. Very few 15-year old-girls have weighed the career options and decided, ‘You know, it’s either medical school or that. I think I’ll go with prostitution,’” Pennsylvania State Senator for the 17th district Daylin Leach said. “That’s not a decision that people make. Almost always, almost 100 percent of the time, they are forced into that and they’re forced in horrible ways. They’re either beaten, they’re threatened, we’ve even seen pets beaten just to force people to do this.”
It is estimated that worldwide, there are about 21 million victims of human trafficking, according to the International Labour Organization. Human trafficking victims are mostly women and children throughout the world. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has found that this is because 79 percent of human trafficking is involving sexual exploitation.
“Human trafficking in its rawest form is you’re actually taking individuals against their will and forcing them to do things,” Stephen Geday, a Law Partner with Fairlie and Lippy, said. “Essentially they are sex slaves, and that can involve minors as well and can involve all kinds of people from disenfranchised groups who aren’t in a position to extricate themselves from that bondage, that captivity.”
Often victims of trafficking within the United States are women from other countries or young children, who are frequently between the ages of 12 and 14 when first captured.
“I think that, you know, a lot of individuals assume that they came here knowing what was going to be expected of them,” Counselor Advocate for Delaware County Women Against Rape Lauren Ciatteo said. “They knew that they were gonna have to, you know, perform sexual acts with the promise of kind of a better life here in America.”
With many different reasons that people become trapped in a human trafficking situation, often the even larger struggle is breaking free from the cycle of oppression that follows for many of these victims as they are criminalized as prostitutes.
“I have a handful of clients that come to me from referrals from safe home or therapeutic providers in Pennsylvania. They say she was trafficked, she has a prostitution conviction on her record,” Sarah Robinson, Justice for Victims Fellow at CEC Institute at Villanova University, said. “You know, it should have never happened in the first place if you were being forced to prostitute. You should not have this conviction.”
Geday agreed. “The male is patronising the female. The female is getting arrested for practising their craft,” he said. “And in their scenarios I particularly feel that punishing someone, jailing someone, putting, you know, harming their record only gets in the way of another more conventual livelihood. So it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me in that respect.”
Prostitution, including both the selling and buying of sex, is illegal throughout the United States except for 11 counties in Nevada. However, often the repercussions of the law only get applied to those selling the sex, while the buyers walk free.
Created by Cecelia Heckman
“Theoretically, if it’s your fourth time buying sex, you’re going to get in the same amount of trouble as the woman who has spent the subsequent amount of time selling sex. Where I think that this breaks down is men are not getting arrested that often,” Robinson said. “But we see my clients in project Dawn Court have 10 plus convictions for prostitution. Clearly, the deterrence is not working. Clearly, the heavy sentence is not what’s needed to keep someone from engaging in that crime. And when it comes to the buyers, the men, it doesn’t even get there. So they might get caught once or twice and they never even get to that level.”
As long as those buying sex continue to do so without criminal punishment, they will continue to buy sex throughout the world and more and more women and children will become victims. The International Labour Organization estimates that human trafficking generates about $150 billion annually.
“It’s very simple economics. Supply follows demand. So if you have demand for sex with women and with children you’re going to have a supply of that,” Robinson said. “Whether it’s somebody doing it on their own or being forced by a trafficker or a pimp, either way if we reduced demand for it then we would see a decline hopefully or a reduction in the amount of trafficking and exploitation that goes on.”
By Cecelia Heckman