Sex trafficking, including sexual exploitation of minors and vulnerable groups, is by far the most extreme representation of lack of humanity. Unfortunately, adolescents, primarily girls, and women from low-economic backgrounds still remain the victims of this practice in some parts of the world. Sex trafficking predisposes the affected persons to a vast array of detrimental health conditions. Primarily, such victims are subjected to sexually transmitted infections, violence, physical injury, unwanted pregnancies, as well as such mental conditions as post-traumatic stress, depression, and substance abuse (Barnet et al., 2017). There is a need to explore the characteristics of populations that are susceptible to sex trafficking to facilitate the implementation of local, nationwide, and international policies against this issue and commercial sexual exploitation of such vulnerable groups.
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A Description of the Population
Various groups are at risk of sex trafficking, including both adults and children. According to Moore et al. (2016), adults, adolescents, and children comprise the primary survivors of sex trafficking (413). It is estimated that 2.5 million Adults and children worldwide have a propensity for sex trafficking (Moore, Kaplan & Barron, 2016, 413). Fundamentally, adults, primarily women, are lured or coerced into sex trafficking. A study by Oram and co-workers (2015) involving 133 sex trafficking victims, 78 of 96 adults these were women, whereas 25 of the 37 children, who participated in the study, were girls. Omar found that the mean age of the affected women was 26.7 years. Besides the age, the authors report that there were certain similarities among the affected women.
Women, who experienced trafficking, have a number of similar characteristics in spite of variation in their origin. Omar and colleagues argue that trafficked adults tend to be of a given gender, age, education, and socioeconomic status (2015). Besides demonstrating that women with a mean age of 26.7 years are mostly affected by sex trafficking, Omar et al. add that the majority of such females are single (96%), live alone (25%), or with others (40%), and originate from Africa (48%), Europe (25%), or Asia (17%) (Omar et al., 2015, 1087). In spite of the urgency of this issue, high trafficking rates are still observed in Europe. Kara (2011) refers to the UK Home Office, which estimated that 4000 women had been trafficked in the UK in 2003. Notably, trafficking of women is more prevalent in societies, where the female gender is undervalued. Therefore, unemployed women from low socioeconomic background are highly vulnerable. They are coerced or forced into sex trafficking with expectations of formal or informal, yet decent, employment opportunities, education, or other exchange of value.
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Besides women, representatives of minors are at high risk of sex trafficking as well. A plethora of studies have documented the overarching issue of sex trafficking among adolescents and children. Commercial sexual exploitation among children and adolescents is propagated by some factors that predispose them to the vice. Shaw et al. (2017) provide a conclusive description of at-risk adolescents and children as follows:
Victims of sexual exploitation were more likely to be in foster care; to have arrests, suspensions from school, and a history of running away; to abuse drugs; to be more impaired in social and school activities; to be withdrawn and depressed; to manifest social and thought problems and aggressive and rule-breaking behaviors; and to have a diagnosis of mood or conduct disorder or both (Shaw et al., 2017, 325).
Besides these characteristics, young adults and children, who are forced or coerced into sex trafficking, are affected by some common factors. Talbot (2011) states that minors, who are coerced or forced to engage in sex trafficking, are mostly runaway, homeless or throwaway (6). The author adds that such close people as boyfriends, or what Talbot refers to as pimps, contribute to sex trafficking (Talbot, 2011). Similarly, close relatives, such as parents, may force their children to sex trafficking for their economic gain (Kara, 2011). One prevalent theme is that minors are forced into sex trafficking either by older adults or the prevailing conditions. For example, a minor may be engaged in sexual exploitation to pay for education, support younger siblings, acquire shelter, or other gains.
Health Risks or Conditions
Sex trafficking victims are at elevated risks for development of a variety of health conditions. Primarily, this issue is a modern-day slavery that deprives the victim of his or her freedom. As such, the act inflicts not only physical pain experienced by the victim, but also mentally problems. There have been reports that the medical needs of victims of sex trafficking are similar to those of persons suffering from domestic violence, regardless the huge differences between the characteristics of both groups (Williamson, Dutch & Clawson, 2017; Williamson, Dutch & Clawson, 2017b). Thus, there is a need to handle such victims with great care, as these tend to be over-sensitive about their health conditions.
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Physical Health Conditions
Sex trafficking and sexual exploitation victims are likely to develop a number of physical health-related conditions (Barnett et al., 2017). Barnett and co-workers demonstrate that the common physical assault conditions include sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), unwanted pregnancies, violence-related conditions, and confounding acute conditions. Furthermore, Dovydaitis (2010) shows that trafficked women can be suffering from several STDs and undertake multiple unsafe abortions that further predispose them to serious health implications, including death. Similarly, Williamson et al. (2017) report that:
The physical health issues experienced by this population can include headaches, memory loss, gastrointestinal problems, chronic pain, broken bones, head and neck trauma, infectious diseases, sexually transmitted infections, dental or oral problems, respiratory illness, unhealthy weight loss due to food deprivation and poor nutrition, pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory disease, and other gynecological problems (1).
In an attempt to explain the causes of such physical health conditions, Dovydaitis (2010) suggests several contributory factors. According to him, they include physical and sexual violence, lack of food, water, sleep or proper housing, and elevated stress levels. As a result, victims suffer from broken bones, loss of teeth, cigarette burns and contusions (Dovydaitis, 2010, 3). These are typical physical health concerns in the majority of sex and human trafficking victims.
Mental Health Concerns
Sex trafficking victims, similarly to domestic violence victims, suffer from a wide array of mental health conditions that mainly occur during and persist after the experience. Primarily, sex trafficking victims undergo post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, develop suicidal thoughts and increased susceptibility to substance and drug abuse (Barnett et al., 2017). Additional reports indicate that these victims are at an elevated risk for developing mood disorders, including panic attacks and generalized anxiety disorder, as well as multiple dissociative disorders (Williamson, Dutch & Clawson, 2017). Such mental conditions are primarily linked to the fear, which results from encounters of sex trafficking.
Culture plays the central role in the propagation of sex trafficking. Adoption of certain contemporary cultural practices has exacerbated the practice of sex and human trafficking. Mainly, the contemporary pop culture, that embraces the display of nudity or almost nude images, has greatly contributed to sex trafficking in the West. Nonetheless, there are specific common themes in all regions, where the act of sex trafficking is deep-rooted.
Poverty is a common cultural aspect in such regions as East Europe, Africa, and Asia, where sex trafficking is pervasive. According to Talbot (2011), poverty allures adolescents and children into sex and human trafficking. On the contrary, women, who are trafficked, are in search of better opportunities as the majority of them originate from families with low socioeconomic status. Mostly, traffickers promise poor women better jobs and opportunities only to sell them off to sex trafficking clients. Normally, these females are enslaved for their debts and the traffickers, who hold their visas, when transiting from one country to another. The trafficked women have no alternatives, but to obey the traffickers. A similar scenario occurs among runaway and throwaway children who, having gone through much trouble to find a meal, are forced to do just anything to get food.
The consistent use of drugs among adolescents plays a contributory role in propagating sex trafficking. Traffickers may entice their target population, using a variety of illicit drugs. When such individuals become engrossed in drug-taking, the traffickers have an opportunity to attack by denying the adolescents drugs and requesting them to engage in prostitution to cater their drug needs (Talbot, 2011). Equally, a majority of traffickers are involved in drug use and spread. Thus, they inject trafficked women and children with drugs, while in transit to achieve higher level of obedience. Talbot adds that some drug addict parents sell their children off for drugs.
Media, Pornography, and the Internet
The media and the Internet have contributed significantly to sex trafficking. By displaying and popularizing pop culture, the media encourages such vices as prostitution, abuse of females by gender via promotion of the use of such words as “bitches” and “whores” among other names. Importantly, name-calling among pop artists, as well as the display of nudity in music videos and online platforms, continues to encourage such vices as prostitution and consequently, sex trafficking. In the same way, pornographic images and videos displayed on the internet have corrupted the minds of the modern-day society (Talbot, 2011). Talbot adds that other cultural aspects include the ever-growing popularity of strip clubs, language changes, changes in popular fashion among other cultural elements, which have a direct or indirect impact on sex trafficking.
Women, adolescents, and children are at an elevated risk for sex trafficking. Primarily, single women from societies, where females are undervalued, with an average age of 27 years and live with multiple mates, are at higher risk for becoming a victim of sex trafficking. As per children and adolescents, runaway, throwaway, and homeless minors are the major victims of sex trafficking. All these groups are at risk for developing physical and mental health conditions. Physically, victims suffer from sexual and physical violence, tooth loss, wounds, trauma, sexually transmitted infections, broken bones, headaches, chronic pain, cigarette burns, and unhealthy weight loss. Post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, mood disorders, substance abuse, as well as dissociative disorders, are the common mental problems that affect sex trafficking victims. The cultural aspects that propagate sex trafficking include widespread poverty, pop culture, pornography, the Internet, the media, ever-growing popularity of strip clubs, language changes, and contemporary fashion, that glamorizes nudity. These cultural aspects can be checked to curb the spread of sex trafficking.