In the United States, the Trafficking Victim Protection Act (TVPA), trafficking victims are defined as anyone engaging in sexual acts in return for money, goods, or services under the conditions of force, fraud, or coercion. A commercial sex act includes sex work done in exchange for any item of value, like money, drugs, shelter, food, or clothes.
Sex trafficking is one of the sectors that fall under the umbrella term, human trafficking. Homeland Security defines human trafficking by the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.
While annually human trafficking earns global profits of about $150 million, commercial sex exploitation accounts for $99 billion. Thus, sex trafficking is the most profitable trafficking sector and widely spread.
Under current laws criminalizing sex work, many individuals who meet the conditions of sex trafficking would not see themselves as a victim of trafficking. Nor, would those who have the power to put them in contact with proper resources.
Due to popular notions of the ideal victim, many view sex trafficking victims as having faced worst-case scenarios: kidnapping, extreme force, bondage, etc. However, many victims of trafficking don’t have experiences that reflect this narrative.
In reality, identifying victims is much more complex. A 15-year-old, who is a minor, may consensually agree to commercial sex acts for shelter, money, food, etc. And, while this individual expresses agency in choosing to engage in this work, the law states that all minors engaging in commercial sex acts are victims of trafficking because they are minors.
Yet, there are minors who have prostitution charges. Meaning, the law is not being implemented how it should be. It also means that people who are entitled to resources and support are instead being criminalized.
Expanding our understandings of sex trafficking and who is truly affected, will help those in need of support see themselves as entitled to that support. It will reach more communities, and we can help more people.