Stemming The Tide: Human Trafficking

At any given time, an estimated 2.5 million people mostly women and children are victims of human trafficking worldwide. What can be done to decrease this  appalling statistic?

By Ingri Hartwig

People opposed to child sex trafficking rally outside of the Washington state Supreme Court in Olympia, Wash., last year. Internet technology has made the problem of human trafficking exponentially multi-layered. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
People opposed to child sex trafficking rally outside of the Washington state Supreme Court in Olympia, Wash., last year. Internet technology has made the problem of human trafficking exponentially multi-layered. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

Indicators of Juvenile Human Trafficking

The average entry age of prostituted teens is between 12 and 16 years. According to the
FBI, children who might be especially vulnerable to recruitment into prostitution are those who:
• Have experienced failure in school
• Have a history of emotional, physical or sexual abuse
• Have been neglected
• Regularly experience violence between their parents
• Live in poverty
• Are homeless
• Are in frequent contact with the juvenile justice system
• Lack for attention or affection

Individuals who engage in the prostitution of children often create a climate of fear to subdue their victims. An atmosphere of sexual abuse, verbal abuse, isolation, poor working and living conditions, denial of adequate rest and medical care, use of alcohol, drugs or other intoxicants, and withholding of pay, are utilized to maintain order among their victims. These tactics may result in a child appearing “compliant” in their activities.

Also note that even children who cooperate or participate in their victimization legally cannot consent to the sexual activity, and have likely been subjected to several forms of brainwashing to gain their assent.


The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime currently approximates the number of human trafficking victims worldwide to be around 2.5 million, with an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 minor victims in the United States.

Human trafficking is defined by UNODC as “the recruitment, transport, transfer, harboring

or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of

abduction, of fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.”

Most people, including law-enforcement officials, probably believe that human trafficking is  limited to large cities where traffickers can hide from authorities, and they may assume that human trafficking victims are from other countries. These beliefs are not completely true. In fact, much evidence exists that human trafficking does take place in suburban areas, and that victims are, in many cases, United States citizens.

Although human trafficking cases aren’t common, it is important for local police officers and investigators to be able to recognize one, and to know how to appropriately respond. This article will focus on one specific area of human trafficking — child prostitution — which is defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as the “act of engaging or offering services of a child to perform sexual acts for money or other consideration.”

The prostitution of children is believed to have started in ancient Greece and Rome, where prepubescent boys were commonly sold in brothels.Additionally early Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian cultures participated in the forced prostitution of minors. In Paris, during the 1800s, minors consisted of half of all individuals involved in prostitution.

In 1885, several articles written by William Thomas Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, brought to light an extensive underground sex trafficking ring in London that allegedly sold children to pedophiles. This investigation centered around 13-year-old Eliza Armstrong, who was sold by her mother for £5. Armstrong was then taken to a midwife and abortionist to attest to her virginity, and held at a brothel, where she was drugged with chloroform, awaiting the arrival of a purchaser. Stead, posing as a man interested in purchasing a child, paid for Armstrong, and chronicled the dark business involving the abduction, sale, and purchase of children for the purposes of sex in France. His articles resulted in the passing of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, which raised the age of consent and delineated the penalties for sexual offenses against women and minors. It also strengthened existing legislation against prostitution.

A 2009 UNODC report refers to human trafficking as a modern form of slavery.

In the United States, a national initiative targeting domestic child prostitution was implemented in 2003.  This initiative, known as the Innocence Lost National Initiative, is jointly run by the Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. NCMEC opened in 1984 to serve as the nation’s clearinghouse on issues related to missing and sexually exploited children. Today NCMEC is authorized by Congress to perform 22 programs and services to assist law enforcement, families and the professionals who serve them. The DOJ and NCMEC target organizations involved in child prostitution using the enterprise theory of investigation.

The Innocence Lost initiative is a victim-centered approach with the goal is to recover child victims of prostitution and prosecute those responsible for their exploitation. The FBI works closely with its Office for Victims Assistance and non-governmental agencies that

focus on juvenile victims of prostitution to provide the best services and assistance to those children who are recovered.