what is trafficking?
MASWAN defines trafficking as the forcible movement of people from one place to another, for the purposes of forcing them into labor, for one’s own financial gain. Because policy frameworks often conflate trafficking with consensual sex work, they unduly criminalize consensual workers, while making it harder for traffickers to be identified and stopped.
The UN’s Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (2000), which has been ratified by 189 countries, including the United States. It defines trafficking as the following: “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”
The National Human Trafficking hotline, funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services, defines trafficking as: “a form of modern-day slavery. This crime occurs when a trafficker uses force, fraud or coercion to control another person for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or soliciting labor or services against his/her will.”
facts on trafficking
Existing trafficking laws in the United States (and in Massachusetts) rarely achieve results.
In 2015, across the country, the Department of Justice reported that 264 sex trafficking investigations resulted in 419 arrests, 108 indictments, and 90 convictions. For cases involving minors, the DoJ opened 538 investigations resulting in 2,253 arrests, 316 indictments, and 363 convictions.
In Massachusetts, between the passage of 2011’s human trafficking laws and May 2017, there have been 32 human trafficking convictions. Of those convictions, the Boston Herald found that 21 of the defendants served less than the minimum sentence of five years, and three of those only served probation.
Not all trafficking is sex trafficking. The International Labor Organization’s most recent estimates in 2017, for example, suggest that of nearly 25 million people forced into labor worldwide, 4.8 million (or about 19%) are forced into the sex industry. That means three quarters of trafficked people are not in the sex trade. Conflating sex work with trafficking not only promotes the misguided criminalization of sex workers–it also draws attention away from the forced domestic, construction, manufacturing, and agricultural workers who need justice.
A significant proportion of trafficking occurs across international borders–nearly three-quarters of those trafficked into the sex industry were living outside their country of origin in 2017.
further resources on trafficking
National Human Trafficking Resource Center
SMS: 233733 (Text “HELP” or “INFO”)
Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888
Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week
Languages: English, Spanish and 200 more languages
- Melissa Gira Grant, The Truth About Trafficking: It’s Not Just About Sexual Exploitation
- Matt Stout, Maura Healey Defends Prosecutions in Human Trafficking Cases
- Emi Koyama, Rescue is for Kittens: 10 Things Everyone Needs to Know about “Rescues” in the Sex Trade”
- Marjan Wijers and Marieke van Doorninck, “Only Rights Can Stop Wrongs: A Critical Assessment of Anti-Trafficking Strategies”
Academic Papers and Books
- Laura Agustín, Sex at the Margins (London: Zed Books, 2007) (see also her blog!)
- Aziza Ahmed and Meena Seshu, “We Have the Right Not To Be ‘Rescued’…”: When Anti-Trafficking Programmes Undermine the Health and Well-Being of Sex Workers,” Anti-Trafficking Review 1(2012): 149-168.
- Aziza Ahmed, “Feminism, Power, and Sex Work in the Context of HIV/AIDS: Consequences for Women’s Health,” Harvard Journal of Law and Gender 34:1 (2011): 225-258
- Ronald Weitzer, “Sex Trafficking and the Sex Industry: The Need for Evidence-Based Legislation,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 101:4 (2013): 1337-1369.
- Ronald Weitzer, “The Social Construction of Sex Trafficking: Ideology and Institutionalization of a Moral Crusade,” Politics & Society 35.3 (2007): 447- 75.
- Janie A. Chuang, “Rescuing Trafficking from Ideological Capture: Prostitution Reform and Anti-trafficking Law and Policy,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 158.6, Symposium: Trafficking in Sex and Labor: Domestic and International Responses (2010): 1655-728.