Sex trafficking happens everywhere in the world, even though many people think that sexual exploitation mainly takes place in poor/underdeveloped countries such as Thailand. In the Netherlands, for example, the legalisation of prostitution creates a safe environment for people who freely choose to become sex workers. However, the majority of sex workers are exploited by traffickers (also known as ‘pimps’ or ‘loverboys’) and/or larger criminal organisations, who earn huge amounts of money from these serious violations of human rights.
Victims of sex trafficking are mainly women, but men, children/minors and transsexual people are being exploited as well. These people don’t always recognise themselves as victims and even if they do, in most cases they don’t report their situation to their family, friends or the police. Sometimes out of shame, and often out of fear for the consequences.
Victims of sexual exploitation are forced, through violence and/or blackmail, to sell their bodies for sex, and to not say anything about it to their families, friends or the police. Victims can end up in this world by trusting and/or falling in love with a trafficker, who then later forces them to become sex workers. Traffickers also make promises of work or a better life in another country. Upon arrival, such promises fade away and the victims are forced into sexual exploitation.
Sex trafficking is the most extended form of human trafficking. Like labour and criminal exploitation, sexual exploitation is one of the most profitable illegal businesses happening under the radar. This makes it very hard for authorities to combat it and make an accurate estimation of the real number of victims, which is supposedly much higher than the official figures indicate.
Where exploitation happens
Sexual exploitation can take place in visible - more traditional - prostitution places, such as windows, brothels and sex clubs, but also at less visible locations, such as hotels, private homes, basements or storage units. Next to that, the offer of (exploited) sex workers is increasingly shifting to the online world. Many victims of human trafficking are advertised on prostitution websites.Source: National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings
If victims don’t dare to report their situation and no one responds on their behalf, they can’t be saved from the people exploiting them. Therefore, it is important that society becomes aware of the worldwide occurrence of sex trafficking and protects the most vulnerable people. Prostitution may be considered the ‘oldest profession’ in human history, but it is time to reconsider what paid sex implies in terms of human trafficking, abuse and exploitation, and whether we want to live in a society that indulges this form of ‘modern’ slavery.
Hard to escape
A combination of shame and low self-esteem, and the controlled surroundings make it difficult for victims to leave their situation. Next to this, it is common for victims of sexual exploitation to not recognise themselves as such.Source: various sources
There is no single profile for victims of sex trafficking. Most are women, though it is not uncommon for men and minors to be trafficked as well.
There are some common ways in which people may become victims of sex trafficking. Sometimes a young girl is persuaded by a trafficker or ‘loverboy’ who is (at first) caring and kind, making her believe he loves her. Later on, his attitude changes: he convinces her to have sex with other men in exchange for money, and his control over his victim escalates through threats and violence. These victims often come from a problematic family situation where they have experienced violence or sexual abuse.read more
It is also common for victims to have a lower than average IQ, which makes it easy for criminals to manipulate them.
Another common victim profile is that of young men/boys with a problematic family and socioeconomic status, and/or with a bi-/homosexual orientation that is unacceptable in their cultural environment. These victims may fall into prostitution by being convinced – by a trafficker – that prostitution can be a very profitable way of living. Once they are into it, they may not recognise themselves as victims, and think their situation is their own choice.
Blackmail is a common way for traffickers to go on exploiting these victims, who are threatened with making intimate photographs public.
A third type of victim is the person who is brought by a trafficker or a larger criminal organization from a country with few job opportunities to a richer one, persuaded by the false promise that he/she will be given a job. Once they arrive in the new country, they are sexually exploited.
In all cases, it is very difficult for victims to report their situation to their family, friends, or the police, because of shame and/or fear of a violent reaction from the traffickers.
Sadly, the majority of sex workers are victims of sexual exploitation in one way or other. They can be found in all contexts of prostitution, such as in brothels, red-light districts, escort agencies, webcam sex websites, and so on.
Victims are often controlled by a single trafficker, sometimes called a pimp or a ‘loverboy’, but also by gangs, which is a safer and more lucrative way for criminals.
When traffickers operate individually, their modus operandi often consists of first gaining the trust of the victim, who might fall in love with the trafficker, and later on isolating the victim from their environment and controlling them emotionally and physically. Commonly, loverboys make first contact with victims in public places or through internet and social media. Eventually, they are in charge of making appointments between their victims and sex buyers, and keep the profit of these encounters.read more
Traffickers also confiscate the passport/ID of their exploited victims, and keep constant control of their telephones, with whom they speak, or where they go.
Another way in which traffickers ‘hunt’ their victims is by promises of work and a better life in another country. Upon arrival, such promises fade away and victims are forced into prostitution.
Traffickers may work alone, or as part of a larger criminal organisation that sexually exploits several people. In general, traffickers are young adults between 20 to 30 years old, but there are of course younger and older traffickers too. They often have criminal antecedents related to other activities such as drug dealing, psychological problems and a low education level (often having left school at a young age), and/or come from a broken family background where they have experienced abuse and violence themselves. Eventually, victims of sexual exploitation may become traffickers themselves, taking part in the criminal chain and bringing new people into prostitution.
The Sex Buyer
People who buy sex – mostly men – often choose to ignore the damage they cause by keeping the business of sex trafficking running.
Sex buyers can become aware of the element of human trafficking when they meet a minor who is not voluntarily performing sexual acts. They should acknowledge that this is illegal, cease to engage in such encounters and help the victims by reporting their situation.
Sex buyers might be ashamed of losing their anonymity, and afraid of facing serious criminal charges, even though there are ways to report exploitation anonymously.read more
There are many profiles of sex buyers, and there are different reasons why someone chooses to have paid sexual relations. Most sex buyers do have a paid/steady job; around half of them are single, while the other half is in a relationship while they make an appointment with a sex worker.
For most sex buyers, sexual curiosity is the main reason to visit a sex worker for the first time. Others argue that being with a sex worker is the only way for them to have sexual relations. Some people look for the sexual ‘spark’ they miss in a long-lasting relationship; others want to relax from the stress of daily life, or want the possibility of searching for and choosing a sexual partner, or, in the case of older people or people who ended a long relationship, they may be looking for company and affection.
For sex buyers it is important to be safe and remain anonymous when they make an appointment with a sex worker. In order for sex buyers to report sex trafficking, it is essential that the reporting process is easy, transparent and guarantees their privacy.read less
Facilitators are people or companies that, within their work environment, pave the way for traffickers to exploit their victims and meet sex buyers.
Facilitators can also be held responsible for the crime of sexual exploitation if -intentionally or not- they help traffickers to run their business by making it possible to arrange appointments between sex buyers and victims.
Spotting signs of exploitation and looking the other way, as well as being unaware of these signs, are ways to facilitate this crime. One way or another, facilitators could end up facing criminal charges.read more
Think of business owners who facilitate illegal prostitution and sexual exploitation such as taxi drivers who bring an underage escort to an appointment with a sex buyer, but choose to look the other way.
The same goes for hotel employees who see a strange flow of men coming in and out of the same room, or bartenders who notice controlling behaviour of one person (a potential trafficker) towards another (a potential victim of human trafficking).
The situation is bad… but you can help!
Ending sex trafficking takes a lot of courage and resources from people, governments and organisations, but the solution relies on a deep change of mindset in society. Here are a few simple things you can do to help:
Take care of the kids
Keep an eye on the children around you: if their IQ level is not that high, if they have a background of family and/or sexual abuse, or if their sexual orientation isn’t accepted by their family, they can be vulnerable to falling in the hands of traffickers.
Be open to talk about sexuality and sexual orientation with the children and young people around you.
Education = Equality
It is a fact that most victims of sex trafficking are women, and that most traffickers and sex buyers are men. Sexual exploitation is therefore related to gender violence and inequality, something that can only be ended through education and a major change in the way society understands manhood.
If you suspect that someone is in trouble, pay special attention to this person. If you find out someone could be exploiting or abusing them, report the case straight to the police. There is very little chance that victims file a report themselves.
Underage? No, thanks
If you are a sex buyer, make sure the sex workers you meet are not underage. In addition to being co-responsible for damaging the entire life of a young and vulnerable person, you could be accused and convicted of a serious crime.
Exploitation in hospitality
If you work in the hospitality sector, there’s a good chance that a case of sexual exploitation happens in your work environment. Share this website with your colleagues and employer, and/or follow the online training of No Room for Sex Trafficking.
Do you work in a hotel, holiday park or similar?
Then the best thing to do is to follow the No Room for Sex Trafficking certification program, available in this online platform for free.get your business certified
- Do you have a concrete signal of sexual exploitation, a strong suspicion, or is there an emergency?
Call the police: 0900-8844
- Are you a victim of sexual violence?
Call Centrum Seksueel Geweld (Center for Sexual Violence): 0800-0188
- Do you or does someone close to you have to deal with a situation of exploitation?
Call CoMensha: 033 - 448 1186