It’s a stark reality: most sex traffickers and their clients are men, while the vast majority of those trafficked are women and girls.
A highly sexist crime
This makes sex trafficking a highly sexist crime. Much of its prevalence can be attributed to gender inequality, says Yasmeen Hassan, founder of Equality Now. It is women and girls who are the most vulnerable, economically and socially, and it is men who have increasingly normalized the purchase of female bodies for sex.
In Hassan’s experience, efforts to combat sex trafficking must be combined with efforts to address gender inequality. Since its inception in 1992, Equality Now has used the law to end gender-based violence and discrimination, including sex trafficking.
The organization has had its share of success. Equality Now has been instrumental in amending over 50 gender-discriminatory laws, including those authorizing rape, child marriage and so-called âhonor crimesâ.
A very lucrative crime
Besides being highly gendered, sex trafficking is extremely lucrative – involving around $ 99 billion a year. In the words of one trafficker: “Why would you trade drugs or guns that you can only sell once when among women and girls you have a commodity that can be sold again and again! ”
Hassan has a list of ways that women and girls end up in the sex trade. A constant in all situations is the exploitation of women which derives from their unequal status. These include:
â Sold into prostitution because of poverty
â Tricked into signing employment contracts and ending up in the sex trade
â Deceived by “boyfriends” and trapped in prostitution
â Trafficking in temporary marriages for sexual purposes
â Sold as part of child marriage or trafficked as sex slaves in times of conflict or natural disaster
â Advertised and sold on the Internet
â Trafficking in organized virginity sales.
Criminalization versus decriminalization
Source: Adobe Stock Image
Hassan notes that traffickers seek opportunities in places where the sex trade is legal. In these cases, it is much easier for the market to thrive.
Sweden, Norway, Iceland, France, Canada, Northern Ireland and Ireland decriminalized women and criminalized traffickers. The result? Sex trafficking has been reduced, Hassan says.
In contrast, in countries that have legalized the sex trade, such as the Netherlands and Germany, sex trafficking has increased. The result? There is also an increase in international sex tourism and local demand.
Hassan notes that in addition to criminalizing traffickers, pimps and brothel owners, it is essential to address the underlying misogyny and sexism of “customers” who normalize the purchase of female bodies.
Equality Now works with a wide range of advocacy groups focused on poverty, substance abuse, homelessness, foster families, LGBTQI youth, to advance this agenda.
Equality Now also calls for urgent and collective action to address the new threats posed by the misuse of the Internet and digital technology. Hassan argues that governments must regulate the digital space to protect against abuse.
The experiences of women who are survivors of sex trafficking are instructive. Hassan quotes a survivor of sex trafficking in India:
âWhen people tell me that women choose this life, I can’t help but laugh. Do they know how many women like me have tried to escape but have been beaten black and blue when caught? To the men who buy from us, we are like meat. For everyone in society, we just don’t exist.