Academic journal article Houston Journal of International Law

Sex Trafficking and Forced Prostitution: Comprehensive New Legal Approaches

Academic journal article Houston Journal of International Law

Sex Trafficking and Forced Prostitution: Comprehensive New Legal Approaches

Article excerpt


   At least 700,000 persons annually, primarily women and children, are 
   trafficked within or across international borders.... Many of these persons 
   are trafficked into the international sex trade, often by force, fraud, or 
   coercion.... Traffickers primarily target women and girls, who are 
   disproportionately affected by poverty, the lack of access to education, 
   chronic unemployment, discrimination, and the lack of economic 
   opportunities in countries of origin. (1) 
   "Every night I was forced to work; it was like a dream.... All the time I 
   went around crying. The customers didn't like it....  He told me, `You know 
   how many girls that have tried to quit this job have died?'" (2) 
   "They used chains. I cannot describe the horrible things they did." (3) 
   "I never thought this was possible. These people are animals." (4) 
   "Suddenly, one of the men brought out a butcher's knife. It was so sharp it 
   would cut you if you just touched the blade. He cut me on both arms. The 
   blood went everywhere." (5) 
   "Girls did run away but when they got caught, then they really got it." (6) 
   "My soul is stained." (7) 

In response to the growing problem of human trafficking, the U.S. Congress enacted the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 ("Trafficking Act"). (8) Prior to this enactment, international sex trade traffickers were prosecuted in the United States under scattered pieces of legislation. (9) The international community has responded to this increasingly frequent crime as well. In 1999, the U.N. General Assembly adopted an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women ("Optional Protocol"). (10) The following year, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, (11) supplemented by the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children ("Trafficking Protocol"). (12)

This comment will examine these recent developments in domestic and international trafficking law, arguing that international treaties cannot be effective without parallel domestic efforts to fight trafficking. Part II of this comment focuses on the problem of trafficking in persons, particularly in women. Part III examines the development of international trafficking law and considers the impact of the Optional Protocol and the Trafficking Protocol. Part IV focuses on trafficking law in the United States, before and after the passage of the Trafficking Act. Part V offers recommendations and conclusions.


Sexual trafficking has been defined as a "situation[] where women or girls cannot change the immediate conditions of their existence; where, regardless of how they got into those conditions, they cannot get out; and where they are subject to sexual violence and exploitation." (13) At least 300,000 women are trafficked into the European Union and Central Europe each year. (14) Approximately 45,000 to 50,000 women and children are smuggled into the United States annually. (15) About 30,000 women and children are trafficked each year from Southeast Asia, 10,000 from Latin America, and 4,000 from Eastern Europe. (16)

In countries where jobs are scarce, recruiters approach women with employment offers as models, dancers, or waitresses abroad. (17) Traffickers use a variety of false promises to capture the women who will soon serve as prostitutes. (18) A nineteen year old Ukrainian woman named Leona came to the Czech Republic believing she would work as a gardener. (19) Women from the former Yugoslavia were lured to Great Britain by advertisements listing employment as au pairs, secretaries, and waitresses. (20) Russian and Ukrainian women have arrived in Israel expecting to pick oranges or work as dancers or waitresses. …

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