Prostitution Part IV: Human Trafficking and Prostitution

This is part IV in a V part series on my views on prostitution. Please, make sure you have read Why Men Suck, Part I, Part II, and Part III before this so that it makes sense.

For some, my constant ramblings about prostitution may not make sense in the light of working in the human trafficking field. However, they are so intertwined, as I hope you will see below. However, I also want to add one word of caution, just because prostitution and human trafficking are intertwined, does not mean that they should be treated the same way. Individualized interventions do need to take place. Also, I don’t want to overshadow trafficking for labor or for body parts, as so often happens. Finally, I feel the need to point out, even though it is not the exact topic on hand, that victims of labor trafficking and trafficking for body parts are also subjected to sexual violence.

Human trafficking and prostitution are intrinsically linked through sex trafficking. Human trafficking, also known as “modern day slavery,” is an umbrella term that encompasses several forms of exploitation including debt bondage, sex slavery, forced labor, and trade in human body parts. Human traffickers prey upon and exploit economically marginalized persons making trafficking a geographic phenomenon from poor, underdeveloped, and war torn countries into developed countries.

Leidholdt explains that a staggering percentage of prostitutes in many western countries are illegal immigrants; more than 50% in Germany and as much as 80% of Dutch prostitutes are foreign born. He surmises that most of these illegal immigrants were trafficked into brothels. Moreover, he argues that all other prostitution could be understood as domestic trafficking due to the violence, the women’s lack of control, and her inability to leave. Cwikel et al. studied prostitutes in brothels and prostitutes waiting deportation in Israel. The women awaiting deportation had been trafficked into brothels; however, their demographic and trafficking history was extremely similar to the brothel sample. This group of victims of trafficking had a meager 17% meet the diagnostic cut off for PTSD. Seventy nine percent, however, scored in the very depressed range of the Short Depression scale; this was significantly higher than results of the brothel sample. Additionally, 47% had considered suicide, 19% had attempted suicide at least once, and 9.5% had attempted suicide more than once.

Additional citations and statistics from:

Cwikel, J., Chudakov, B., Paikin, M., Agmon, K., & Belmaker, R.H. (2004). Trafficked female sex workers awaiting deportations: Comparison with brothel workers. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 7, 243-249.

Stay tuned for the final installation in the series on prostitution aptly named Part V.



  1. While coercion and violence against anyone is aborrhent , the whole trafficking debate has become so overlaid with rhetoric as to obscure the real issues, and misunderstand migration of sex workers. For a detailed account of how this has come about see a paper published yesterday by Ron Weitzer:

    or get it from my Topics in Sex Work page:

    under Migration and Trafficking where it is flagged as *NEW*.

  2. In response to Ron Weitzer’s piece, there are several critical aspects which are overlooked or dismissed or that I simply want to give my perspective on.

    The first is that of the distinction between smuggling and trafficking. Many people confuse the concept of human trafficking and human smuggling. Smuggling entails people paying someone to help them cross a border illegally. Once they have crossed that border, the relationship between smuggler and smuggled ends. In contrast, the identifying feature of trafficking is that victims lose their freedom through debt bondage, intimidation, or violence. With this understanding there is a difference between an individual migrating for sex work and simply receiving help to migrate and those that are actually trafficked.

    Weitzer says: “The claim that violence is pervasive in prostitution cannot be confirmed. Since no study uses a random sample because the population of sex workers is unknown, and all rely instead on convenience samples of persons researchers manage to access, all figures on the incidence of violence are unreliable.34 Thus, the frequent assertion that victimization is pervasive violates a fundamental scientific canon—namely, that generalizations cannot be based on unrepresentative samples.” Admittedly, getting a random sample of sew workers is near impossible; however, I find it hard to believe that the sex workers who are NOT victims of violence and are not trafficked are the ones that are hard to find.

    Additionally he writes: “traffickers are vilified as predators, rapists, and kidnappers involved in organized crime and sexual slavery.” When we are talking about human trafficking, part of the definition is force, fraud, or coercion. When we are talking about sex trafficking, then obviously this is going to fall into sexual slavery. When we are talking about labor trafficking, it falls into labor slavery. He goes on to point out that “Some facilitators are relatives, friends, or associates who recruit workers and assist with migration, and these individuals have a qualitatively different relationship with workers than do predators who use force or deception to lure victims into the trade.” I agree some of the traffickers are parents, friends or relatives. This doesn’t make it any less bad. I’m not really sure what it would look like to nicely traffic someone.

    When I was working in Moldova at a children’s center, two of the children I worked with were sold by their mother to a gang that was having them beg on the streets. The fact that their mother was the one who brought them to the gang and received money for it, does not make the crime any less heinous or harmful to the child. Nor does it make the action ok. And, yes, in this case we would consider the mother a trafficker as well as the gang that they were brought to.

    Finally, and I do stand whole heartedly agree with the law in this case. The way the Trafficking Victim Protection Act is set up in the United States, an adult woman in prostitution can either be there by choice or she can be there because she was trafficked. In the case of foreign born illegal immigrants this distinction decides whether they are eligible for special visa status (assuming they cooperate with the investigation) or if they are simply deported (for the record non-compliant traffic victims are also deported which I disagree with). However, anyone under the age of 18 working in the sex trade in the United States can be considered a victim of trafficking. It is deemed, perhaps out of moral superiority, perhaps out of understanding of child development and children’s rights, that a child cannot choose to be a sex worker.

  3. Thanks Clare

    I think we can all agree on what is unacceptable, the difficulties lie in untangling this from other aspects of prostitution.

    People involved in clandestine activities are always difficult to find in terms of representative samples, since there may be a risk for them in declaring themselves.

    With regards to the difficulties involved in sorting out the issues of migration versus trafficking, I would recommend the work of Laura Agustin who has devoted her career to this subject:

  4. Clare,
    Your distinction between smuggling and trafficking is one way of differentiating types of migration, but not the only way. Most of those who analyze this issue do not use the term smuggling, and the law, at least in the US, distinguishes between severe or coercive trafficking and non-coercive assisted trafficking. You treat all “trafficking” as coercive, which again is not standard practice — although that is exactly what abolitionists seek. You claim that all migration for purposes of sex work is “bad”, which is an evaluative judgment, nothing else. If you want evidence of benign, assisted migration, just read the articles that I cite in my article where I discuss this type.

    Second, you make the strange assertion that sex workers who are not victims of violence or trafficked should be easy to find by researchers. Quite the contrary! Given the stigma of sex work and criminalization in many societies, all sex workers have an interest in remaining incognito, which means that they are not readily available to researchers to be interviewed.

  5. According to the law, trafficking includes force, fraud or coercion… this can take many different views. For example, there is a case of a woman in FL who was controlled because her trafficker took a piece of her hair and made a voodoo doll. For her, coming from her culture, this was enough to coerce her.

    Having worked with clients in the US trying to get the T-visa, I have found that it is actually extremely hard to prove the force, fraud, or coercion. I have seen clients clearly damaged by their ordeal not meet the burden of proof and be deported or jailed for illegal migration and overstaying visas.

    Also, where did I say migration for sex work was bad?? I did say that sex trafficking, despite being done by a family member, is bad. And I stand by that statement.

  6. I can’t believe someone is actually arguing that sex trafficking might be a good thing. Sounds like the Ron Weitzer crowd who don’t actually deal with the victims, but instead sit and write about how prostitution is good for people and society. I would love to see these guys after a single week of servicing 5 johns a day. I suspect they might not be so sure of themselves. I suggest they either DO sex work, or at least do original RESEARCH if they think they know how to do it best. Sitting in their cozy offices writing web posts and emails attacking the work of real researchers and victim advocates is just a load of hot air from guys who don’t actually know what they are talking about.

  7. Josie,
    Your claim that I consider trafficking a “good think” and prostittution “good” is a figment of your imagination. Please indicate where I have even implied this. You will not be able to. You have engaged in the typical tactic of trying to challenge another’s arguments and research by grossly distorting what I have said. There is plenty of research, including mine, that shows how misinformed you are. You articulate the Conventional Wisdom regarding these issues, most of which is based on long-standing myths.

  8. I wanted to know what can I do to stop my son mother from prostituting. She doesn’t know I found out what she is doing to fund her addiction to pain medication. She needs help and I’m the only one in life that cares so willing to do anything to stop this even if that means she has to be in jail. Please help me open up this 23 yr old mother eyes and free her from self-exploitating herself. My email is and my ph.# is (863) 521-2949. Please help I don’t want to wait till the cops are knocking on my door telling me my pregnant girlfriend is dead.

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