Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Sex Trafficking Definition:

The coercion of an individual into, or maintained therein, prostitution.

Related Terms: Trafficking, Human Trafficking

Sex trafficking is a variety of trafficking and of human trafficking. It almost always involves the forced prostitution of women, although it does fall upon men as well, often childrenn. Sex trafficking is a growing scourge of humanity and its watchdog, the law.

Coercion is the criminal motor behind sex trafficking and may take a variety of forms such as a promised marriage, prospective care of the victims' family members, and even the immigration of the victim to another country.

Another well-versed form is to offer the victim or her family accommodation or services and to then demand rent repayment of those services, which, according to the trafficker, can only be repaid by the prostitution of the young, female family member.

"Uneducated, marginalized, and discriminated against, these women may be lured by traffickers promising employment opportunities abroad. Regardless of socioeconomic status, Indian women may also be tricked into trafficking by individuals offering sightseeing or adventure tours or a trip to Muslim holy places. Some women are tricked into leaving home through love or friendship and others are kidnapped. Once captured, these women are forced into labor or sexually exploited.... Victims generally come from rural areas or urban slums and have very little education or are illiterate."1

The Government of the United States offers a description of sex trafficking under the headline The Face of Modern Slavery as follows (and offering a definition of child sex trafficking):

"Sex Trafficking: When an adult is coerced, forced, or deceived into prostitution—or maintained in prostitution through one of these means after initially consenting—that person is a victim of trafficking. Under such circumstances, perpetrators involved in recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for that purpose are responsible for trafficking crimes. Sex trafficking also may occur within debt bondage, as women and girls are forced to continue in prostitution through the use of unlawful “debt” purportedly incurred through their transportation, recruitment, or even their crude “sale”—which exploiters insist they must pay off before they can be free. A person’s initial consent to participate in prostitution is not legally determinative: if one is thereafter held in service through psychological manipulation or physical force, he or she is a trafficking victim and should receive benefits outlined in the Palermo Protocol and applicable domestic laws."

"Child Sex Trafficking: When a child (under 18 years of age) is induced to perform a commercial sex act, proving force, fraud, or coercion against their pimp is not necessary for the offense to be characterized as human trafficking. There are no exceptions to this rule: no cultural or socioeconomic rationalizations should prevent the rescue of children from sexual servitude. The use of children in the commercial sex trade is prohibited both under U.S. law and by statute in most countries around the world. Sex trafficking has devastating consequences for minors, including long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease (including HIV/AIDS), drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and even death."

Writing in the Tulane Journal of International Comparative Law, Jennifer Mandel wrote that sex trafficking:

".... also occurs when women or girls are forced into continuing prostitution through the use of unlawful debt purportedly incurred through their transportation, recruitment, or even their crude sale - which exploiters insist they must pay off before they can be free. Initial consent is largely irrelevant in determining whether prostitution constitutes sex
trafficking or bondage; the participants are considered trafficking victims if they are at all held in service through psychological manipulation or physical force following the initial consent."


  • Mandel, Jennifer, Out of Sight, Out of Mind: The Lax and Underutilized Prosecution of Sex Trafficking in the United Kingdom and Israel, 21 Tul. J. Int'l & Comp. L. 205 (2012-2013)
  • NOTE 1: Pashnel, Roshni, The Trafficking of Women in India: A Four-Dimensional Analysis, 14 Geo. J. Gender & L. 159 (2013)
  • United Nations, Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, 1951, United Nations, Treaty Series , vol. 96, p. 271
  • Trafficking in Persons Report is the U.S. Department of State, 194 (2013), available at http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/192595.pdf.

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