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Sexual Abuse and Human Trafficking

It started when she was young, maybe 5 or 6 years old, and went on for years. Some just looked the other way, some blamed her for it. As a freshman in high school, she met some new friends and one of them introduced her to her soon-to-be boyfriend. Her friend said that he was wealthy and could help her get out of the bad situation she was in at home. He was charming and sweet. He seemed to “get her” like no one else in her life had and he said he would protect her from people trying to hurt her. They started dreaming of a new life together. A life of bliss with fancy houses and nice cars. Maybe she could even go to college. One night though, he sat her down and asked if she really loved him. She emphatically said yes. He then told her he needed a favor. It would just be for a little while, he said. It would help them achieve their dreams. She agreed she would do anything for him and that is when it began. From then on, night after night men would pay her “boyfriend” to have sex with her. She did ride in fancy cars sometimes and she did stay in nice places sometimes but none of it was actually hers. No matter how hard she worked, she knew if she ever left, she would have nothing. She would be homeless and unable to access the drugs her pimp/boyfriend had gotten her addicted to so she could “perform” better. 

In another part of the world lived a 12-year-old. She was the oldest of six children. Her family was very poor. They were farmers and year after year something kept ruining the crop. One year it was drought the next it was flooding. Illness had already taken the life of one of her siblings and it looked like starvation may soon take another. A distant relative of someone who lived in their village came to visit one day. She explained that she could give a job to the girl as a waitress in the nearest city. She said it paid well and that room and board would be covered, allowing her to send home most, if not all, of her wages to her family. The family agreed and the next day the girl left for her new life in the city. What she, nor her family, knew was that the job waiting for her was not a waitressing job, but a job as an “actress” in pornography videos that would be sent around the world. She didn’t understand what was happening when they were shouting orders during the first filming and any resistance was met with threats and violence. After the film, she knew she could never leave. She was now worthless and not fit for any other type of work. To tell her family would only bring irreversible shame on her and them.     

Both stories are not anyone’s story but derived from hundreds of stories I have either personally listened to or read. The girls described are not real, but the stories are. These are stories of human sex trafficking. 

Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking organization in the United States, provides some further insight into trafficking in persons: 

Human Trafficking is the business of stealing freedom for profit. In some cases, traffickers trick, defraud or physically force victims into selling sex. In others, victims are lied to, assaulted, threatened or manipulated into working under inhumane, illegal, or otherwise unacceptable conditions. It is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 24.9 million people around the world. (Polaris Project, 2022)

According to a United Nations Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, the “most common form of human trafficking (79%) is sexual exploitation. The victims of sexual exploitation are predominantly women and girls” (UN, 2009, p 6). Though it is important to note that people of any age, gender, background, and socioeconomic status can be trafficked. It is also important to note that traffickers aren’t necessarily men, despite common perception. According to the same UN report “…30% of the countries which provided information on the gender of traffickers, women make up the largest proportion of traffickers” (UN, n.d.). 

Like most things involving people, human sex trafficking is complicated and not as simple as breaking down doors and freeing people from cages, as is usually depicted in the movies. Though it is, at times, crucial to physically free people from human trafficking, freedom is not as simple as removing someone from an oppressive situation. Many victims of human trafficking are their own heros and obtain freedom from sex trafficking on their own. But this is just the first step, as giant and scary as it is, towards holistic freedom. Individuals who have been trafficked have suffered tremendous amounts of trauma and often face varying amounts of rejection from their own communities. 

As individuals and professionals, we can push back on the stigmas in our own communities and/or within ourselves. We can continue to educate ourselves and connect survivors with trauma-informed, and hopefully, human trafficking informed, physical help such as housing, education, and job opportunities, as well as trauma counseling and medical care. However, in all our desire to help, may we not try to be the heroes of someone else’s story and seek only to journey with them. Helping uncover and bear witness to the hero within themselves. 


Polaris Project. (2022). Human Trafficking. https://polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/

United Nations. (2009). Global Report on Trafficking in Persons. https://www.unodc.org/documents/Global_Report_on_TIP.pdf

United Nations. UNODC report on human trafficking exposes modern form of slavery. https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/global-report-on-trafficking-in-persons.html

Article written by TELL’s Kari Fager.