It is an industry that rakes in over $32 billion a year. More than 300,000 people fall prey to it each year in the U.S. alone. More than four million people couldn't stop doing it even if they tried. According to the Polaris Project, more than 100,000 children become embroiled in it, victims to the industry, fresh faces for fodder.
This isn't drinking, nor is it the great communal punching bag of Big Tobacco.
It's the dirty underbelly pervading America and the globe, a stunning and sickening statistic that shines a light on sex-trafficking with breathtaking brilliance.
This is an issue that is often swept under the rug and it is only a recent development that the wool of this travesty is being rolled back from the eyes our collective consciousness.
The definition of sex trafficking, according to U.S. Federal Law, can be any adult or minor that is induced into sex for profit by fraud, force or coercion. The law makes a distinction between adults and minors by omitting the words "fraud, force or coercion" when it comes to minors. It becomes trafficking when a minor is used to generate a profit for pimps that prey on a victim's youth and innocence, no matter what the circumstances.
While sex trafficking can involve minors and adults alike there is a common theme among the two categories that enhances the likelihood of becoming a target of those that would profit from the exploitation of others.
The most susceptible to be victimized are:
• Under the age of 18
• Runaways or homeless
• Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or war
• Often not accepted in their peer social groups
While any socio-economic demographic can be manipulated or forced into sex crimes, there is a special vulnerability among those who are in financial crisis as well as foreign nationals, migrant workers and those that followed recruiters and traffickers to the U.S. because of the promise of higher paying jobs.
The people that profit from this heinous exploitation of our youth, our vulnerable and our visitors often catch the victim when they are at their weakest either mentally or financially. When a young person is a social outcast, for whatever reason, they may attempt to place their trust and gain acceptance with the wrong people and in the wrong way. A pimp may approach a potential victim as a friend, first, with the ultimate goal of earning their trust, twisting it and profiting from the relationship. When finances become tight, especially for those with no other way out, their susceptibility increases exponentially.
Many of these crimes occur under the nose of those in the hospitality industry where the warning signs are hard to find. People who purchase sex often fly in for sporting events, conventions, daily business trips and then fly onward across the country or the globe.
Fortunately, there have been recent efforts to bring awareness to the issue as well as education about spotting those that are most likely to become victims of these types of crime. Organizations such as ECPATUSA have made it their mission to combat the exploitation of children.
According to their website, their mission involves four main components:
• Advocating for federal and state legislation that prevents exploitation, protects children and guarantees any child who is subjected to sexual slavery or sex trafficking will not be prosecuted in the courts for prostitution
• Promoting corporate responsibility among private companies with a strong focus on the tourism sector
• Educating first responders and citizens about this issue so they can identify victims and join in the fight to better protect children
• Empowering youth to take the lead against human trafficking by equipping them with the knowledge and tools necessary to help them become activists against this terrible trade.
The hope is that through corporate and community cooperation, more will be done to fight against those that build fortunes through the sexual exploitation of others. Once the veil is removed from our eyes, it will be impossible not to see the horror, and it will be impossible not to act.