Sexual exploitation or otherwise known as sex trafficking occurs when "Violence, deception or coercion" is used to capture a person (2). Sexual exploitation is a global issue, affecting children, adults, and all genders - in essence, anyone could be a victim. However, it is important to note this issue predominantly affects those in vulnerable situations who are likely already experiencing many human rights violations such as inadequate education, food, water, sanitation, housing, and the list goes on.
Sexual exploitation is a form of human trafficking. Human trafficking is the act of treating a person as a commodity to be bought, owned and traded. You might be thinking - this sounds a lot like slavery - and you'd be right, human trafficking is a form of modern slavery. Human trafficking is therefore, a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 4 stating:
"No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms."
Sexual exploitation is the most common purpose for human trafficking with an estimated 79% (1). Human trafficking is one of the largest organised crimes in the world, with extremely high profits estimated at $32 Billion (4). However, the numbers in human trafficking may be unreliable firstly due to the difficulty in identifying illegal activity as many victims of trafficking are unreported. Secondly, it can be particularly hard to get an accurate report on sexual exploitation due to changing and strict definitions used by different organisations. For example, some organisations will label victims as trafficked, and others may label them as migrants (3).
One of the key features of human trafficking is the market as those who are trafficked are treated as products, ultimately the increase or decrease in trafficking can be related to supply and demand. This raises another issue in sexual exploitation as the demand is so great, particularly since the increased accessibility of the internet, there are thousands and thousands of sex workers advertised. This makes searching through so many advertisements an extremely time consuming task, and what;s worse is that in many cases it is unclear as to whether a person is being exploited through trafficking or whether they are willingly engaging in sex work (5).
There is hope - organisations like Walk Free, co-founded by Grace Forrest (UNDA Politics & International relations and Social Justice Graduate) aims to eradicate modern slavery through accurate reporting so that organisations, businesses and governments are able to implement appropriate solutions(6).
"Slavery exists in the world today because we allow it to."
- Grace Forrest (7)
Article by Jemima Barlow
President of the NDSJS 2021
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