Academic journal article The Professional Counselor

Human Sex Trafficking in America: What Counselors Need to Know

Academic journal article The Professional Counselor

Human Sex Trafficking in America: What Counselors Need to Know

Article excerpt

The sexual exploitation of men, women and children through sex trafficking continues to occur in the United States and across the globe at an increasingly alarming rate. Despite misconceptions that sex trafficking requires transportation across state or country borders, the majority of victims are domestically trafficked within their own country by persons of the same nationality (Shelley, 2010; U.S. Department of State, 2009). Rates of forced labor are unknown and notoriously difficult to obtain due to methodological deficiencies (Fedina, 2015) and issues related to reporting and victim identification (Chesnay, 2013; Hyland, 2001; Laczko & Gramegna, 2003). However, the International Labour Organization (n.d.) estimates 27 million people become trafficked annually-4.5 million of whom are victims of forced sexual exploitation. Children and adolescents are exceptionally vulnerable to forced entry into the sex trade. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (2014) reported that 1 in 5 runaways are at risk for forced sexual exploitation. This represents an increase from an estimated 1 in 6 in 2014 (Polaris, 2016). Additionally, a study conducted by Estes and Weiner (2002) estimated that 326,000 youth are at risk for child trafficking. Counselors must become educated in recognizing the signs of trafficked persons, vulnerabilities to becoming trafficked, and the processes by which persons are forced into sexual exploitation in order to obtain a deeper understanding of the client's worldview and provide appropriate support.

Existing literature addressing the mental health needs of sex trafficked survivors remains extremely limited (Hossain, Zimmerman, Abas, Light, & Watts, 2010; Tsutsumi, Izutsu, Poudyal, Kato, & Marui, 2008). Instead, the current body of research has focused on the sexual consequences of trafficking-related health issues such as sexually transmitted infections and rates of HIV among trafficked women in Asia (Beyrer, 2001; Beyrer & Stachowiak, 2003; Silverman et al., 2006; Silverman et al., 2007). The following article provides a brief overview of the definition, terms and processes associated with human trafficking. Next, the vulnerabilities and signs that a person has been or is currently being trafficked are presented. Finally, we address the clinical implications of working with trafficked survivors and identify trauma-sensitive interventions. Although female pronouns are used in this article, this detail is not intended to minimize the fact that many cisgender men, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, become victims of forced sexual exploitation (Martinez & Kelle, 2013; Oram, Stöckl, Busza, Howard, & Zimmerman, 2012).

Definition, Terms and Processes of Sex Trafficking

Despite the growing awareness of modern day slavery, the act of human trafficking is not a new phenomenon. In Imperial Rome, it has been estimated that between 30-40% of the Roman population was comprised of slaves trafficked from nearby countries such as Thrase, Gaul, Britain and Germany (Collingridge, 2006). In fact, during the height of the Roman Empire, wars were fought solely to procure more slaves (Cahill, 1995; Goldsworthy, 2006). Human trafficking was not limited to European countries. Beginning in 1619, both White and African slaves were taken from their countries and imported to Virginia to help construct the colonies (D. Davis, 2006; Jordan & Walsh, 2007). Human trafficking and modern day slavery are acts of social injustice that have historically exploited men, women and children.

According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (U.S. Department of State, 2000), the act of human trafficking refers to the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for commercial sex through force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform a sex act is under 18 years of age. Despite common misconceptions, for an act to be considered sex trafficking, forced movement across the state is not required (U. …

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