By James Pond, Founder & CEO of Transitions Global
One of the questions that often arises when we talk about our work with survivors is, “What is the root cause of sex trafficking?” This is a very complex question—not because it can’t be answered, but because the answer is multilayered. We have often heard the main cause of sex trafficking is poverty. While this is certainly a cause, the truth is much more complicated than that.
The problem with the overly simple answer of poverty is that it doesn’t take into account what I call “structures of injustice.” In the trafficking world, poverty can be a central theme, but when you look at sexual exploitation (particularly of children) the issue includes larger and often cyclical forms of violence. These cycles create greater vulnerability, which ultimately determines the plight of girls, boys, and women around the world. These are also referred to as “push” and “pull” factors. In other words, what are the factors that push a person toward vulnerability and trafficking, and what are the things drawing or pulling someone into trafficking situations?
In both domestic and international sex trafficking, there are distinct predictive push and pull factors, which often surround violence: early childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault, exploitation, manipulation, and control. We see this in sex trafficking victims around the world. In the past 10 years, we have seen over 140 shelters and met with victims from 11 different countries. Through this experience, we began to see a clear composite emerge among all of the girls and women we encounter.
The trend goes something like this: Before the age of 7, they have been sexually abused and neglected by a family member or someone close to the family. By the age of 11, they have been sexually assaulted, exposed to domestic violence in their home, and have engaged in drug and alcohol abuse. By the age of 14, these experiences have created the perfect storm for sexual trafficking, exploitation, and abuse. Victims are conditioned through these factors to subject themselves to a cycle of sexual violence without a sense of self-value, a hope for freedom, or the ability to see a future outside of their trafficking situation.
If we can begin to recognize the cycle of trafficking, vulnerability, violence, and poverty, we may be able to see a way forward in preventing the trafficking of children and women around the world. In the meantime, our goal is to recognize all of these factors and how they affect a person at his or her core. One of the core values that drives how we care for survivors is that freedom without a future is simply another form of slavery. We have to undo all of the structural obstacles facing survivors and help them heal, but also build a new life of hope and opportunity, and create an environment that reduces or eliminates the vulnerability that put them there to begin with.
Our friends at International Justice Mission just put together this powerful video that shows what the world is up against as we work together to bring an end to the cycle of vulnerability, violence, and poverty. Watch it now: http://bit.ly/TLEveryday. #LocustEffect
Learn more about The Locust Effect, a new book being released by our friend Gary Haugen, the founder of IJM.