by Cass Clemmer

When I tell people that I work in raising awareness for sexual and gender based violence, often the first thing they think of is sex trafficking. Recently, I’ve started wondering why it is that this type of violence is often in the forefront of many American’s thoughts, while I have to challenge them for any response concerning sexual or domestic violence.

In the past few years, the trafficking of sexual slaves has become a popular rallying point for faith communities to do their part in fighting sexual and gender based violence, but more often than not, their focus lies on the violence perpetrated outside US borders.

I suppose it’s easier to tackle a problem we perceive as occurring far from home; if it’s not in our faces, we don’t have to directly deal with it. We can fundraise for victims of sex trafficking with a comfortable wall between our lives and theirs, convincing ourselves that nothing so horrific could happen in our own backyards.

But what this tells me is two things:

  1. Our eagerness to address violence is often proportional to the distance we perceive this violence occurring from ourselves and our communities
  2. We don’t realize that sex trafficking is actually prominent within our own borders

Sexual and gender based violence isn’t a pretty topic, I know. It’s hard to bring up in conversation when you don’t know if the people you’re talking to are survivors, victims, or perpetrators of rape or domestic abuse. According to recent statistics, SGBV affects one in three women, even in the United States, so of course it makes us uncomfortable – it happens among us.

In the spaces of this discomfort is where sex trafficking comes in – by considering it, we thus are freed from the guilt we feel about not addressing or talking about SGBV.

Sex trafficking is a foreign concept, we tell ourselves. It’s a violence that affects people in Asia, Africa, South America – a violence from which we can distance ourselves. We can once again place ourselves into the position of the philanthropist, the hero- the one who fights for the rights of the oppressed in a far off nation. And when we’re finished, we can return to the comfort of our own American homes, satisfied that we have done our duty to combat SGBV while assured that such barbaric enslavement couldn’t possibly happen within our own communities.

It’s their problem, not ours.

But while these good intentions have sparked wide-reaching and positive efforts to reduce the horrific practice of sexual slavery, they come with a certain set of blinders which lead us to continuously associate sex trafficking with the “developing” world.

The reality? It is our problem.

The United States has served as a hot spot for sex trafficking since colonial times, from the use of plantation slaves as sexual commodities for their masters to the import (and export) of individuals through the highly profitable industry of forced prostitution.

The devastating truth is that not much has changed – sex trafficking is human sexual slavery, and it continues to occur in our backyard.

According to the Department of State’s 2006 Trafficking in Persons Report, an estimated 17,500 individuals are trafficked annually into the United States, generating almost $10 billion in yearly profits for traffickers.

US citizens are also at risk for sex trafficking, with approximately 300,000 children at risk of forced prostitution within our borders.

So what can you do about it? You can help beat misinformation by encouraging conversations about sex trafficking to acknowledge its existence within the United States, you can work to educate yourself and your faith community to how sex trafficking is linked to other types of violence under SGBV, and you can start to SPEAK OUT.

These are difficult conversations, but they’re absolutely necessary. The more we focus solely on international sex trafficking, the more we turn a blind eye to its widespread impact on our own nation. This post is not to say that we should stop seeking to end the global market for sex trafficking, but that we should take the chance to examine within ourselves why we’re more comfortable addressing violence outside our borders than within our own communities.


For more information on sex trafficking within the United States check out the sites below!