As if 2020 wasn’t a strange enough year on its own, the various dark conspiracy theories that people stirred up piled on to the mix of things.
One conspiracy theory at the forefront was the Wayfair sex trafficking theory — which generated global attention. The theory started on a QAnon page and made its way to more mainstream forms of social media after gaining traction.
Wayfair, an online furniture store, was accused of child sex trafficking and human trafficking after people browsed the website and realized that several cabinets were priced upwards of ten thousand dollars and were advertised under the names of various missing girls such as Neriah, Samiyah and Yeritza.
Wayfair promptly removed the overpriced cabinets from their website, invoking even more suspicion around the whole incident to those who were bought into this conspiracy. While the rest of the world may have just written this off as one of the many bizarre things to come out of the year, and out of the internet, it opened the door for sex trafficking to be talked about more openly.
Sex trafficking, also known as human trafficking, is the act of illegally transporting people from one area to another for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
It's a type of modern day slavery where traffickers typically target people who are in a vulnerable state — whether it be of mind or physical state.
Media often portrays sex trafficking as a kind of kidnapping — where maybe something is left on your car and while you're distracted removing it, someone comes up and grabs you and shoves you into a vehicle.
This is not the norm.
Just like sexual assault happens most often by those you know, sex trafficking is very much the same.
Sex traffickers often gain a victim's trust over a period of time and use that to manipulate their victims into thinking they are going to help them out of whatever situation they are trying to escape.
There are several different types of sex trafficking, including but not limited to:
Some of the easiest targets for sex traffickers are children — which leads to child sex trafficking rings. Children are more susceptible of grooming tactics, which makes it easier to manipulate them. Traffickers, who are sometimes referred to as pimps, often take their victims and sell them to people where they are forced to perform a variety of commercial sex acts.
Commercial sex acts often include, but are not limited to, prostitution, the creation of video or image-based pornography, and performing in sex shows.
There are several signs and key terms that every person should be aware of when talking about trafficking situations.
Some of these include:
You can find more sex trafficking terms here.
While sex trafficking happens all around the world, it is most common in Asian countries.
Some of the more notable, in terms of numbers, are Pakistan, Thailand, China, India, and Bangladesh.
India leads with more than 14 million trafficking victims working at one time, with the next being China with 3.2 million victims.
Victims can be trafficked within the country they were enslaved, or they can be transported across national borders in which case they would then become migrants who are being smuggled. Unfortunately border control in the countries where this is likely to happen are not all that strong, and foreign nationals are not working together to make sure that the issue does not cross country lines.
Women and children, most young girls, are disproportionately affected by human trafficking — accounting for 71% of all victims.
Human trafficking earns global profits of roughly $150 billion a year for traffickers, $99 billion of which comes from commercial sexual exploitation.
You can read more sex trafficking statistics here.
Even though the sex industry is more abundant overseas, that doesn't take away from the trafficking situation in the United States.
According to research conducted by the Polaris Project, a non-profit organization that works to prevent sex and labor trafficking in North America, the most popular venue for trafficking situations for U.S. citizens to take place is in hotels/motels.
In more urban areas, there are certain areas and streets that are known for offering commercial sex acts. While most people would assume victims consider their sex trafficker as just that, the person responsible for selling them into modern day slavery, that is not always the case.
The majority of women develop a romantic relationship with someone else in the sex industry and consider them an intimate partner. The next most common relationship victims of human trafficking have with their trafficker is as a family member. That’s right, a lot of family members are responsible for selling their children and other family members to to earn a profit.
The most common targets for trafficking in the US are runaways and homeless children.
Traffickers will often lure their victims through false promises of a better living situation/life. Many victims of sex trafficking get tricked into a situation where they are believe they are creating a better life for themselves and seizing an opportunity, but then find themselves in debt bondage with their trafficker and then feel further trapped in their situation.
Other people who are victims have been linked to similar home situations. The majority of women in the sex industry, especially in the United States, faced sexual abuse by family members as a child.
Some of the more common ways that women are enslaved are seen as personal choices, or don’t appear to be involuntary servitude. Examples of this are women who are forced into escort services, massage parlors, and women who are seen in strip clubs with their pimps.
Trafficking in person is not the only way that traffickers now find their victims. A lot of people are now manipulated by people they find online. They get convinced that the people they are talking to are safe and kind people to the point where they meet up with them in-person. The use of force becomes less prevalent for a trafficker if their victim comes with them willingly.
The battle against the sex trade was brought to the public eye in the early 2000s with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
It became a priority of the George W. Bush Administration where laws against the practice were implemented at the both the state and federal level in order to preserve human rights.
The federal law that was created, otherwise known as the Commercial Sex Act, makes it illegal to recruit, entice, obtain, move or harbor an individual knowing that it will cause them to participate in commercial sex acts where the person is under 18 years of age. Law enforcement officials within the State Department publish an annual report stating the progress the U.S. and other countries have made in combating human smuggling/trafficking.
We can all do our part to reduce and eliminate sex and human trafficking.
First, you can talk to the people, especially young people, in your life about the realities of human and sex trafficking.
Second, you can not engage in the commercial sex trade as a buyer because you never know if someone is being forced into sex trafficking.
For more information and additional resources, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888.