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Focus on the Law: Human Sex Trafficking Part 1

By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law

“Sex trafficking or slavery is the exploitation of women and children, within national or across international borders, for the purposes of forced sex work.” www.soroptimist.org/trafficking.  This exploitation includes businesses such as pornography and prostitution.  UNICEF estimated in 2007 that 1.2 million children are trafficked across borders every year for the purpose of sexual exploitation.  Our Department of Justice says that every two minutes a child is trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation in the U.S. Adult women make up the largest group of sex trafficking victims, followed by female children and a smaller percentage of men and boys.

The National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children reports that within 48 hours of leaving home one in four runaway children will be approached for commercial sexual exploitation.  The average age of a sex trafficking victim is 13.  Juveniles are especially vulnerable to coercion by the traffickers.   These victims are drugged, brainwashed, threatened and beaten.  The abusers get them addicted to a drug or praise or anything positive in their life.  They are convinced that law enforcement will arrest them and abuse them worse than their captors.  They are told that no one will believe them.  If they are transported from another country, they may have the additional isolation of ignorance of the language and customs of the country in which they now find themselves.

Some sex trafficking can be very visible as in street prostitution.  However, many trafficking victims remain unseen in unmarked brothels hidden in unsuspecting neighborhoods in cities as well as suburbs.  Sex trafficking also goes on in other locations such as massage parlors, truck stops, spas and strip clubs.  The internet pornography industry is a huge consumer of sex trafficking victims.  Victims are also sold for sex via websites like www.backpage.com.

In Tennessee, the sex trafficking problem is not just a problem in cities.  It is found in both urban and rural settings.   In a 2011 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation study survey of law enforcement and social services, 42% of the rural respondents reported knowing of cases of sex trafficking in their jurisdictions.   Sex trafficking clearly has an adverse effect on the mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of the women and girls involved.  In addition to the physical abuse suffered by these victims, they may suffer extreme emotional distress.  Post traumatic stress disorder is a common malady.  They may experience emotions like shame, grief, fear, distrust and suicidal thoughts.  Victims often turn to alcohol or drugs to numb the pain.

“Sex trafficking promotes the breakdown of society by removing women and girls from their families and communities.  Trafficking fuels organized crime groups that usually participate in many other illegal activities, including drug and weapons trafficking and money laundering.  It negatively impacts local and national labor markets, due to loss of human resources.  Sex trafficking burdens public health systems.  And trafficking erodes government authority, encourages widespread corruption, and threatens the security of vulnerable populations.” www.soroptimist.org/trafficking

Next week:  What is being done to combat Human Sex Trafficking?  Sharon Frankenberg is an experienced attorney licensed in Tennessee since 1988. Her office number in Knoxville is (865)539-2100.

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