By Megan D. Baillie
Imagine yourself as a victim of sex trafficking; you would likely feel vulnerable, powerless, and like you no longer had much to live for. Now, imagine yourself as a former victim of sex trafficking, who is now trying to assimilate to normal life. The initial freedom from sex work does not equal instant rehabilitation. In fact, the majority of victims do not receive the support necessary to transition back into a normal life.
Human sex trafficking is defined by the United Nations as any action that involves using threat, force, coercion, abduction, fraud, and deception to exploit a person. Trafficking of humans is a $32 billion global industry, functioning as one of the top three businesses of organized crime in the world. The demands for the trafficking of women and girls into prostitution continue to increase annually. The United States is one of the top destination countries for victims of sex trafficking who come from all over the world, often lured under the guise of a better life. Many women from foreign countries are offered work, a place to live, and sometimes citizenship by prospective “employers”. These employers turn out to smuggle them into the sex trade and then hold debts over the women’s heads as a form of guilt. These women then feel coerced and obligated to do as they’re told for their own safety, as well as for legal reasons. This “better” life they are offered has one certainty: impaired health for the victim.
The health of sex-trafficked women and children is diminished mentally and physically. Victims suffer severe depression, thoughts of suicide, lack of self-worth, and also anxiety from the abuses they face as workers in the sex trade. Physically, victims often suffer from beatings and sexual coercion. They may incur injuries to their vagina or anus that cause difficulty going to the bathroom, as well as issues with infertility. The physical abuse is not limited to sexual abuse, as many victims have bruises, cuts and even broken teeth for not being cooperative.
While the efforts to eradicate sex trafficking are on the rise, the tools to recovery for victims are limited. Once victims are taken out of their living nightmares, what will be in store for them? What will help them reintegrate into society? How will they heal the psychological and physical damage? The medical and psychological attention victims require to be rehabilitated is simply not offered on a large enough scale. Many victims are unable to find stability when returning to normal life, as they are mentally unequipped for normalcy.
The most important improvement we can make for victims is increasing the support system they need to thrive after being released from the sex trade. There needs to be an expansion to free counseling, help hotlines victims can call to work through issues without sacrificing their privacy, and also medical aid for traumas their body may have faced during their time in the trafficking industry. There can be simple solutions for this issue, we just need to approach it with humanity and compassion, which victims have become so unfamiliar with from their time in slavery.
Megan Baillie is an anthropology major with a minor in environmental studies at East Carolina University.