Focus on the Family

Sex Trafficking

by Focus on the Family Issue Analysts

Over two hundred years ago, British Parliamentarian William Wilberforce tirelessly crusaded to protect innocent humans from forced bondage. His efforts led first to Britain's abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and finally to a prohibition on slavery in 1833.

The United States ended slavery with President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War. Or so it would seem. By the beginning of the 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt warned against the "white slave trade," which involved the abduction and forced prostitution of young women and girls. Although Congress passed the Mann Act in 1910 forbidding the interstate transport of persons for immoral purposes, the forced prostitution of women and children continues in the United States – and globally – to this day.

What is Sex Trafficking?

Sex trafficking is a specific form of human trafficking in which a victim is induced by fraud, force or coercion to perform a sex act for payment. One common scheme to seduce women is to promise them jobs overseas as waitresses or domestic servants. Once out of the country and away from their family, traffickers take victims' passports and subject them to beatings or rape to force them into their new "job."

In the United States, victims of sex trafficking are often young girls who have run away from abusive situations at home and are quickly picked up by pimps who coerce them into prostitution by promising food, shelter or clothing. Pimps tighten their control over the girls by getting them dependent on drugs. Other recruiting methods include befriending vulnerable-looking girls at malls, movie theaters and even schools. The recruiter could be a young man posing as a doting boyfriend or another girl who appears to be friendly.

How Widespread is Sex Trafficking?

The demand for commercial sexual exploitation flourishes around the world, fueled by prostitution and pornography.


United States

Despite an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 sex slaves in the U.S., fewer than 1,000 victims have been assisted through the efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement since 2001, when services for trafficking victims were first made available.10

1"INTERPOL calls for private sector to help fight human trafficking." 24 Jan 2006. INTERPOL.
2Gozdziak, Elzbieta M. and Mica N. Bump. Data and Research on Human Trafficking: Bibliography of Research Based Literature. Institute for the Study of International Migration. Georgetown University; Washington, DC. Sept. 2008. Pg. 13.
3U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. June 2008. Pg. 7
4Trafficking in Persons Report, Pg. 7.
5Prepared statement of President George W. Bush to the National Training Conference on Human Trafficking. 16 July 2004.
6"Commercial sexual exploitation position statement." UNICEF UK. (2004, January 28).
8U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. June 2004. pg. 23.
9U.S. Cong. Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005. PUBLIC LAW 109-164 – January 4, 2005. Pg. 2.
10U.S. Department of Justice. Report on Activities to Combat Human Trafficking Fiscal Years 2001 – 2005. 2006. Pg. 9.

Cause for Concern (Sex Trafficking)

The women who find themselves in the world of prostitution and sex trafficking live a miserable existence.

by Focus on the Family Issue Analysts

Former Congresswoman Linda Smith, now with Shared Hope International, says the burden to satisfy commercial sexual demand falls heavily on children. Half of global trafficking victims are children. Smith's research shows that the average age at which a girl is forced into prostitution is between 11-14. Children may be at greater risk for sexual exploitation now than at any time in history.

Children are primed to accept pornography and sex trafficking through the messages they encounter daily in media and pop culture. Modern music glorifies the lives and actions of pimps. The Kaiser Family Foundation has found that the TV shows most popular with teens also feature the highest numbers of sexual situations.The Kaiser Family Foundation. Sex on TV 4. 2005 Pg. 56. The RAND Corporation found that greater exposure to sexualized messages on TV correlates to higher rates of sexual activity and pregnancy.The Rand Corporation. Research Highlights: Does Watching Sex on Television Influence Teens' Sexual Activity? 2004. The sexualization of teens and young children, especially young girls, prompted the American Psychological Association to issue a report on the danger of over-sexualizing young girls.American Psychological Association. Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. 2007.

The pornography industry encourages this sexualization of children. A common genre of porn, known as "barely legal," purports to feature girls who have just crossed the legal age of 18, but who are still innocent and needing sexual training. Gail Dines, a professor of sociology and women's studies at Wheelock College, calls this type of porn

Some experts also believe that early exposure to pornography normalizes the idea that sex is a commodity, thereby increasing the demand for trafficking victims. The concern, according to Dines, is that, "We've never before brought up an entire generation of boys on pornography.” One research study found that 93 percent of boys and 62 percent of girls had been exposed to Internet pornography by the age of 18. The average age of exposure to Internet pornography for boys is 14.3 and 14.8 for girls.5Chiara Sabina, Janis Wolak, David Finkelhor, “The Nature and Dynamics of Internet Pornography Exposure for Youth,” CyberPsychology & Behavior. December 2008, 11(6): 691-693.

Melissa Farley, a leading anti-trafficking researcher, connects use of pornography to an increase in demand for commercial sex. She told Focus on the Family that "pornography is men's rehearsal for prostitution." Pornography promotes the message that women exist to serve men sexually and have little worth apart from what they can offer through sex. When men can't convince or force their girlfriends or wives to act out what is shown in pornography, they often turn to prostitution to satisfy their deviant sexual desires.

The women who find themselves in the world of prostitution and sex trafficking live a miserable existence. They are often forced to "service" dozens of men each day, and suffer physical, verbal or sexual abuse if they don't comply. A U.S. survey of more than 2,000 prostituted women over a 30-year period found that the most common causes of death were homicide, suicide, drug and alcohol-related issues, HIV infection and accidents. The homicide rate among active female prostitutes was 17 times higher than for women in the general population.Canadian Medical Association Journal. (2004, July 24). "Prostitution laws: health risks and hypocrisy." Another study found that 68% of prostitutes studied in nine countries were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Farley, M. (Ed.). (2003). Prostitution, trafficking, and traumatic stress. Binghamton, NY: The Hayworth Maltreatment and Trauma Press.

Sex trafficking may seem to be a distant problem – not one that occurs in our own backyard. Yet, feeder industries that create the demand for commercial sex exist all around us. Adult bookstores, strip clubs and porn shops are present in many communities, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such businesses can be regulated and zoned away from churches, schools, parks and residences due to the negative secondary effects they can cause. It will be difficult to end sexual trafficking without also taking significant steps to curb pornography and sexually oriented businesses.

Our Position (Sex Trafficking)

Sex trafficking reduces men, women and children to a commodity, violating God's standards for human sexuality and diminishing the value of human life.

by Focus on the Family Issue Analysts

Focus on the Family believes in the value of male and female, each created in God's image and bringing unique qualities to sexuality and relationships. The global sex trafficking industry promotes and thrives on the idea that humans are mere commodities that can be bought, sold, used and discarded. The Christian message stands in stark opposition to this and must be publicly proclaimed and lived out in order to effectively combat abusive sexual exploitation.

Further, we believe sexuality is a glorious gift from God, meant to honor Him and not to be used to harm, demean or abuse others. We are particularly concerned when children are not taught healthy views of sexuality or able to witness healthy male-female relationships within a safe home environment.

We believe that domestic and international sex trafficking is an important moral concern. Sex trafficking is now being called modern-day slavery. More people are in bondage today than at any other time in the world's history. Focus on the Family affirms the importance of social responsibility, especially obeying Christ's command to care for the well-being of all people.

Christians bearing a message of hope and restoration have historically risen to the challenge of ministering to society's most vulnerable members, whether that involved rescuing abandoned babies, fighting for equal rights for all races, or working to protect the preborn. Those abused through commercial sexual exploitation are in desperate need of the ministry, compassion, understanding and advocacy of dedicated Christians.

We support those organizations and ministries working to stop trafficking supply and demand and to rescue victims of sex trafficking. We recognize that the average person may be discouraged by an inability to directly impact trafficking victims or end the global slave trade. Therefore, we encourage Christians to support those ministries and organizations involved in educating the public, passing legislation, rescuing victims and providing long-term care and rehabilitation.

We support anti-trafficking legislation and law enforcement efforts. The federal government and state and local law enforcement agencies play a crucial role in reducing the opportunities to traffic humans for commercial sexual exploitation. We encourage greater efforts at the federal level to investigate and prosecute sex traffickers and illegally operating feeder businesses, such as the pornography industry, strip clubs and massage parlors that create a demand for trafficking victims.

We also urge greater efforts to create public awareness of trafficking and education targeted to vulnerable youth. We believe federal and state obscenity laws and local sexually oriented business regulations must be enforced so that pornographic industries cannot encourage the demand for commercial sex, provide a façade behind which sexual exploitation can occur, or promote the growth of global trafficking.

Talking Points (Sex Trafficking)

Christians have a long history of social justice and individual ministry to the downtrodden.

by Focus on the Family Issue Analysts

Because sex trafficking isn't a common dinner table discussion, Christians play a vital role in highlighting the harms of commercial sexual exploitation, protecting vulnerable youth and promoting a society that values every human being. The following talking points can help you educate and engage others on this issue:

Next Steps and Related Information

Additional resources and references for further study on sex trafficking

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