Sex Trafficking and Abortion: The Silent Public Health Crisis

Sex trafficking sign
Human trafficking concept word cloud background
There is a connection with sex trafficking and abortion.

There appears to be a growing blind spot when we look at sex trafficking and abortion. As advocates for life, we are uniquely positioned to shine a light on this negatively-related phenomenon.

What is sex trafficking?

Some of us have watched the movie Taken and may have an impression of what trafficking looks like. This image could not be further from the truth. Though victims can be kidnapped, it is rare. Usually, victims have some form of relationship with those who are trafficking them. It is hidden in plain sight, right in our own backyard and all around us. It is estimated that 24.9 million men, women and children worldwide are subjected to the abuses of trafficking. It is a grievous attack against personhood where someone is manipulated and treated as property rather than a human being living freely with choice.

Sex trafficking involves using force, fraud or coercion to induce an individual to perform commercial sex acts, according to the Department of Justice. The most common types include escort services, pornography, illicit massage, brothels and prostitution. In the federal identification of a trafficking victim, the AMP Model is used to define the severity of trafficking further, looking at Action (what the trafficker does), Means (how the trafficker does it) and Purpose (for exploitation). This model is not necessary for anyone under 18, as they are considered victims without additional requirements to be met.

Who are the victims of sex trafficking?

Over the years, I have worked with victims from younger than 10 to older than 60 and of all backgrounds, some with little to no education and others highly-educated lawyers. There is no specific look to a trafficking victim. Sex trafficking can affect people of any age, socio-economic status, race, nationality and gender, though some populations may be at higher risk of vulnerability. Victims may include youth – particularly those who are runaways – in foster care, financially unstable, history of substance abuse, mental health disorders, lack of familial support or history of abuse/neglect.

Most concerning is the common denominator of sex trafficking and abortion in those between ages 15-24. Unplanned pregnancies are also common among sex trafficking victims.

Related Broadcast: Understanding Human Trafficking

Sex Trafficking and Abortion

Sex trafficking victims are repeatedly victimized, dehumanized and controlled physically, mentally and emotionally through forced abortion. 34% of U.S. abortions occur between the ages of 20-24, while adolescents under 19 make up 12%. In recent years, particularly during COVID, the abortion pill has steadily increased to over 50%, though the overall number of U.S. abortions has seemingly decreased.

Those who support abortion applauded the FDA suspension of regulations regarding the abortion pill. However, those of us in anti-trafficking advocacy were horrified and alarmed regarding the effects of sex trafficking and forced abortions.

From the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Executive Director Ghada Waly stated, “The pandemic has increased vulnerabilities to trafficking in persons while making trafficking even harder to detect and leaving victims struggling to obtain help and access to justice.”

When abortion became available through mail order, this dangerously removed access a victim could have through a face-to-face encounter. One groundbreaking 2014 study of sex trafficking survivors indicated 88% had reported contact with a healthcare provider, 30% with Planned Parenthood and 19% with women’s health clinics. In looking at areas of sex trafficking and abortion, this study highlighted that out of 67 women, 55% had at least one abortion, 30% had multiple abortions totaling 114 coerced abortions from sex trafficking and 55% reported miscarriages. The current push toward permanent removal of FDA supervision of the abortion pill through mail order poses a significant risk to women as sex trafficked victims would be further silenced and forced into abortions. In understanding the dark and hidden nature of trafficking, the numbers of victims are underreported and underestimated. It is safe to assume the number of forced abortions in sex trafficking will, sadly, go underreported as well.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed"

Sex trafficking and abortion connection

Over the past 14 years, I have been blessed to have a diverse field of experience working with victims and survivors, both nationally and internationally. I have had the privilege to serve women survivors of trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault.  I have held many stories in my heart of women who have suffered sex trafficking and abortion, many with lasting physical, spiritual, mental and emotional trauma with wounds that have yet to heal. I have collaborated with colleagues and organizations in seeking collective means of resources for those who have suffered such losses. I fully understand that a potential victim may be allowed to frequent our centers outside of her sex trafficking environment. In my time at Soundview, we have identified several women/adolescents with trafficking backgrounds. The 2017 US Trafficking in Persons Report states, “Sex trafficking victims are exposed to pelvic inflammatory disease, HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections. Human traffickers may force pregnant victims to undergo abortions, usually in unsafe conditions, posing further trauma and health risks”. The link between sex trafficking and abortion is undeniable.

A call to respond

When a woman is forced into sex trafficking and then forced into abortion, the victimhood is complicated and layered as both are losing the battle of life. Both are captive and bonded to the lie that they are not worthy of life. As Christians, believing and trusting in our God, we can play an essential role in aiding trafficking victims. We are implored to understanding the connection between sex trafficking and abortion.

This problem is not and should not become a politically charged issue when looking at this relationship. Instead, this is a public health, human dignity, “we are made in the image of God” issue!

How to help stop sex trafficking

There are many ways to get involved:

  • Pray, Pray, Pray- Ask the Lord to break our heart for what breaks His. WE are called to serve, but won’t if we are not burdened to do so. Pray for those in captive darkness, pray for those doing the work and pray for those to be called to continue the work.
  • Support your local, pro-life pregnancy medical clinic by volunteering, offering services/ classes and financial gifts as we cannot do the heavy lifting alone. Most pregnancy help organizations are donor-funded and volunteer-run, and so greater community support allows us to serve more women and create families.

  • Educate yourself on the truths of trafficking- many great national websites- Polaris, National Human Trafficking Hotline, SOAR trafficking, HEAL Trafficking, Blue Campaign and International Justice Mission are a few that come to mind.

  • Volunteer with a local anti-trafficking organization.

  • In your perspective places of employment, research your local anti-trafficking organizations. Invite them in to train your staff on human trafficking.

  • If you work at a pregnancy center or any medical, dental or mental health clinics – invite local trafficking organizations into your clinics/centers to tour. Work together to establish screening tools and referral partnerships. Learn about trauma-informed practices in creating safe spaces.

  • Churches, invite your local pregnancy centers and anti-trafficking organization to speak or host an informational table for anyone interested in learning more.

  • Continuing to have the uncomfortable conversations about abortion and sex trafficking.

As Christians, in continuing to stand for the sanctity of life, we are called to seek out and protect those in trafficking. As pregnancy centers, medical offices, mental health providers, service providers, advocates and churches, we can continue to stand against injustices that so grieve God’s heart. Let’s seek to spur each other onto good works knowing the Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on us. The LORD has anointed us to proclaim good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted and proclaim freedom for the captive!

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