Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

The Exploitation of Trafficked Women

Guide No. 38 (2006) by Graeme R. Newman

The Problem of Exploiting Trafficked Women

This guide begins by describing the problem of exploiting women who have been trafficked into the United States, and the aspects of human trafficking that contribute to it. Throughout the guide, the word "trafficked" shall mean internationally trafficked, unless otherwise stated. Additionally, the guide's focus is on the final period in the process of trafficking at which women are further exploited by those into whose hands they are passed. This is the point at which human trafficking becomes a problem for local police and so the guide identifies a series of questions that can help analyze local problems related to trafficking. Finally, it reviews responses to the exploitation of trafficked women and examines what is known about the effectiveness of these responses from research and police practice.

Concern about the exploitation of women who have been trafficked into the United States derives from the international issues of human trafficking and slavery.† The characteristics of international human trafficking, including the profits, resemble those of the international drug trade.[1] In the United States, until the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000, human trafficking was approached as an immigration problem, which meant that police viewed trafficking as a federal rather than a local responsibility. The TVPA clarified the definition of human trafficking-a particularly difficult problem, as will be seen below-and introduced a number of important protections for trafficked individuals (see BOX 1). The TVPA defines two forms of severe human trafficking:

† The trafficking of women within the United States is an old concern, dating back at least to the Mann Act of 1911, which criminalized taking persons across state lines for the purpose of prostitution. This law was directed towards prostitution in particular, without regard to immigration issues.

  1. "...sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age;"
  2. "...the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery." [2]

Because some 70 percent of internationally trafficked women end up in the sex trade, the effect of the TVPA is to define many such women as crime victims rather than criminals. Whether pressed into forced labor or prostitution, the exploitation of these individuals is continued upon entry into the United States, whether in the same hands of those who trafficked them, or whether passed on to others who profit from commercial sex or cheap, often forced, labor.

The TVPA does not require that a trafficked person be actually transported anywhere; it simply requires that the victim's freedom be constrained by force, fraud or coercion. The focus of this guide, however, is on those women who are transported into the United States for the purposes of commercial sex or forced labor. The operational elements of forced labor, such as occurs in domestic service, agriculture, and sweatshops, [3] are similar to those of forced prostitution: in both cases women may be kept in slave-like conditions, exploited for their labor and are physically and mentally abused. They also share the same trafficked experience: a system built on fraud, coercion, and false promises, which is meant to ensure that the women remain under the control of their traffickers from the moment they are recruited continuing indefinitely through forced labor or the commercial sex trade. [4]

BOX 1: THE TRAFFICKING VICTIM PROTECTIONS ACT 2000 (TVPA) [5]

  1. Established a task force comprising the U.S. Secretary of State, the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Director General of the CIA, and the Attorney General.
  2. Required the establishment of programs designed to increase public awareness of human trafficking, including sex trafficking, forced labor and domestic servitude.
  3. Required an annual report from the U.S. Department of State on human trafficking
    around the world.
  4. Threatened economic sanctions against countries that failed to act against trafficking.
  5. Substantially increased punishments for offenses involving involuntary servitude and extended definitions to include traffickers or others who knowingly benefit from human trafficking.
  6. Defined victims of severe forms of trafficking and gave them refugee status.
  7. Removed the threat of deportation for those trafficked into the United States illegally, provided these victims cooperated with law enforcement.
  8. Provided protection for victims in federal custody and provided government housing, detention centers, shelters, medical care, and other services commensurate with victim status.
  9. Deemed victim consent irrelevant in determining trafficked status.

Related Problems

Exploiting internationally trafficked women is only one of a number of problems that are related to or are examples of, human trafficking. Other related problems not directly addressed by this guide include:

Extent of the Problem

Statistics concerning human trafficking are necessarily unreliable because of the clandestine nature of the activity and the difficulties in defining it. [6] The U.S. State Department estimates that between 600,000 and 800,000 persons were trafficked across national borders worldwide between April, 2003 and March, 2004. Eighty percent of these were female, 70 percent of whom were trafficked for sexual exploitation.† In 2003, between 14,500 and 17,500 were trafficked into the United States.[7] Most originate in poorer countries, where human trafficking has become a significant source of income;†† these include states in Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Commonwealth of Independent States of the former Soviet Union, and Central and Eastern Europe. Most women are trafficked to developed countries, with the United States being the most popular country of destination. [8] Human trafficking is reportedly as highly profitable a business as are arms smuggling and drug trafficking.[9]

† Sixty to seventy-five percent of trafficked women in prostitution have been raped; 70 to 95 percent have been physically assaulted (U.S. Department of State 2005).

†† In some countries, the sex trade has become an important economic development strategy and source of income, with profits amounting to 14 percent of gross domestic product (Raymond and Hughes 2001).

In fiscal year 2003, the number of victims certified or eligible for refugee benefits under TVPA was just 151. [10] When this figure is compared to the estimated 14,500 females who were trafficked into the United States in 2003, it becomes clear that either the estimates are enormously exaggerated or trafficking victims are simply hidden from view. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Those who exploit trafficked women work hard at keeping their activities hidden from the authorities by constantly changing the locations and telephone numbers of their businesses and by isolating trafficked women from the public. In addition, because the requirements for meeting the TVPA are quite narrow, the collection of the appropriate information concerning the victim may take considerable time and resources. Thus, an important response for local police is to locate and identify trafficking victims who are hidden† in their communities.

† While sweatshop workers may be hidden from the community, exploited women in the sex trade are not hidden in the same way, since their services are often openly advertised. They are only hidden in the sense that the public turns a blind eye to their existence.

Trafficking causes serious trauma to exploited women and adds to existing public health problems. Trafficked women in the sex trade are so isolated from the community that their clients and handlers physically abuse them with impunity, subjecting them to repeated rape and assault. They also deny them prenatal care or medical care in case of pregnancy, infections or injury, and force them to have abortions. Having no recourse, the women are forced to comply with client demands, the majority of whom, research has shown, refuse to use condoms.† Thus, the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted disease is more likely.†† Furthermore, women are induced into heavy alcohol and drug use as a means of ensuring their continued dependency on their traffickers. [11] Needless to say, their illegal status makes it difficult or impossible for trafficked women to receive the social and health benefits that might otherwise be available to them. [12] They are understandably reluctant to seek medical attention for fear of being turned over to immigration authorities.

† Historically, trafficked women have been looked upon as transmitters of HIV and AIDS, rather than as victims of the disease. Measures, including forced HIV testing and medical examinations, have been implemented in order to protect the customers and the larger community—not the trafficked victims themselves (HumanTrafficking.com 2004).

†† In some communities, up to 86 percent of sex workers are infected with HIV (Willis and Levy 2002).

Because they are out of sight of the authorities (though often in plain view of local communities), sweatshops and other forms of forced labor invariably fail to meet health and safety regulations. Sub-standard housing and working conditions are associated with increased illness and injury in these populations.[13] In addition to being beaten and starved, women may be made to work long hours without breaks, or forced to work in hazardous or polluted environments. Even in locations where the presence and employment of undocumented immigrants is known, enforcement of health, safety, and labor regulations is at best sporadic.[14] Language and cultural limits may prevent victims from understanding and appreciating both the risks in the workplace and the use of preventive measures. Injury and death rates of foreign workers have been shown to be higher than normal in some work environments.[15]

The illegal status of trafficked women also makes them ready victims of other crimes. For example, undocumented immigrants are often easy and lucrative robbery targets, because those few who manage to earn any money at all are often fearful of opening bank accounts, lest their illegal status be discovered. And when victimized, many are too fearful to report the incident to the police. [16] Furthermore, traffickers in the sex trade tend to concentrate their activities in immigrant communities that are often neglected by local government, which results in a higher incidence of crime. [17]

The Four Stages of Human Trafficking

Table 1 displays the typical stages of human trafficking and the techniques used at each stage. These techniques are listed as examples and may differ depending on the particular recruiting locality ("catchment area") and the constraints or opportunities that may arise in moving humans across borders. Depending on the organizational sophistication of the traffickers, the third or even the fourth stage of exploitation may be directly linked to the initial stage of recruitment; that is, recruiters who are organizationally linked to the delivery end of the process may select women specifically for particular tasks, such as domestic servitude, escort services, brothels that specialize in providing very young women, or cheap labor for garment industry sweatshops. Although the extent to which all stages of trafficking are linked is unknown, it is usually assumed that where gangs or criminal syndicates are involved, considerable linkage exists.

Table 1: The Four Stages of Human Trafficking
Stage Strategies Techniques
ONE
Recruitment
  • Select vulnerable women—usually poor, young, and uneducated—who are easy to trick and will believe promises of future employment
  • Hide behind an apparently legal business, such as an employment or travel agency
  • Get client into debt † or find a debt-ridden family
  • Traffic from countries that benefit from foreign exchange resulting from export of trafficked women ††
  • Offer services as “coyote” or smuggler
  • False promises of work and well paying jobs
  • False promises of work visas and passports
  • Offer of safe passage to destination country
  • Use person from victim’s culture to recruit
  • Use of tourist visas without work visas
  • Recruiter buys young girl for small sum
  • Arrange marriage to American men including serviceman
  • Advertise for women needed for “housekeeping” work
  • Kidnapping
  • Trafficker convinces the woman he loves her
  • Pay for client travel, give loan
TWO
Transportation and entry
  • Provide a service such as all necessary documentation and travel arrangements
  • Use a tourist or employment agency as a front [18]
  • Provide guide service
  • Search for weak points of entry into the United States
  • Document forgery
  • Stolen passports and visas
  • Bribery of border officials
  • Transportation in concealed vehicles
  • Provide recruits with tourist visas
  • Employers manipulate special visas [19]
  • Handlers (e.g. “coyotes” on Mexico/U.S. border) guide individuals across borders or over difficult terrain, [20] sometimes providing transportation
THREE
Delivery and marketing
  • Make contact with clients using standard marketing techniques
  • Prearrange deals through legal or illegal businesses, such as domestic employment agencies, entertainment agencies, and escort services
  • Market through organized crime rings for sex trade
  • Keep trafficked woman dependent on trafficker until delivery
  • Advertising in pornographic magazines and websites and in the ethnic media
  • Establish matchmaking websites to advertise women
  • Deliver to farm labor, sweat shops; domestic service agencies etc.
  • Mail order brides and matchmaking camps
  • Retention or confiscation of travel documents
  • Traffic women domestically by constantly moving them between cities and states to satisfy demand for new women and to keep the women isolated

FOUR
Exploitation

  • Exploit alien status
  • Threaten violence against woman’s relatives in home country
  • Use actual violence to ensure compliance and silence
  • Create and maintain debt
  • Create and maintain alcohol and drug dependency
  • Exploit ambiguities in and lax enforcement of sex trade laws
  • Keep in isolation
  • Retention of passports and visas
  • Threaten to turn over to authorities
  • Keep imprisoned in the place of employment
  • Sex trade: forced prostitution, off street prostitution, night clubs, exotic dancing, escort services
  • Forced labor: bonded labor, virtual imprisonment, indentured labor, coercion and violence; labor intensive manufacturing (e.g. clothing trade) or rural farm labor
  • Massage parlors, nail salons, employment agencies as fronts for illegal activity
  • Move from place to place

† Fees to traffickers and recruiters range from $2,000 to $47,000 and often vary by countries of origin:
e.g., $40,000 to $47,000 for Chinese women, $35,000 for Korean women, and $2,000 to $3,000 for Mexican women (Raymond and Hughes 2001).

†† In the Philippines, overseas workers are required to send back a percentage of their wage as a condition of permission to travel abroad (Gatmaytan 1997). The Dominican Republic depends on more than 100,000 women working abroad as a source of foreign exchange (Wijers and Lap-Chew 1999)

Recruitment

Although there are many reported cases of kidnapping for trafficking purposes-as well as reports of parents selling their daughters to traffickers-it is likely that the majority of trafficked women are recruited through fraud, deception, and other enticements that exploit real social and financial needs. [21] A typical human trafficking scheme begins not with violence or coercion but rather as a confidence game-the young woman is convinced by traffickers that a desirable job awaits her in a foreign country. At that point, she believes that she is going to voluntarily participate in a smuggling scheme, in which she will incur a debt in return for being brought into the destination country. In the case of individuals trafficked for forced labor, the victim may enter into a "contract" with the trafficker that is very much against her interests.† The woman may be enticed by the offer of a "loan" for travel to the United States or of aid in finding employment. The complicated interplay between trafficking and smuggling is very much at work here (see BOX). Employment agencies are used as a front for these deceptions, as are agencies for mail order brides. Mail order bride agencies, [22], †† exploit the blurred line between deception, trickery, and the voluntary attitudes of would-be brides.‡ However, human trafficking charges under the TVPA must always involve forced labor or commercial sex of some kind. Abuses of mail order bride situations may or may not include these elements. Nonetheless, it is clear that numerous mail order bride agencies utilize the same kind of deception that traffickers do in luring foreign women to come to the United States.

† In one excellent study of women recruited in the Philippines, all women stated that they had willingly agreed to be transported to the country of destination; some even paid the travel costs up front. All those interviewed, however, subsequently fell into heavy debt and became enslaved in the sex trade (Aronowitz 2003).

†† The United States is the number one importer of mail order brides and the number one importer of Philippine women. One company charges men a modest sum for its catalog of Russian women and holds a "mixer" in Russia to which U.S. men travel; the company charges the women a substantial amount, often their life savings, to travel to the mixer, the catch being that there are many more women at the mixer than there are men (Caldwell et al. 2001).

‡ Traffickers find marriage agencies and mail order bride services attractive because as legal businesses they can recruit women openly; they are also virtually unregulated (Lloyd 2000). However, the overall extent to which traffickers use such businesses is unknown (Hughes 2004b:13).

Transportation

Research suggests that the main means of trafficking into the United States is by air. [23] Most often, women are trafficked according to a previously planned route, often using the services of a tourist agency that may or may not be linked to trafficking. Trafficked women may be transported across borders with or without legitimate documentation. The use of forged or stolen passports and visas and the use of tourist visas is common.† Again, the interplay between smuggling and trafficking (see BOX 2) is evident at this stage of the process. In locations where borders are porous or stretch across inhospitable or isolated territory, smugglers may offer safe passage across established or known routes. In locations where border security is tight, traffickers may help individuals conceal themselves in trucks or trains in order to enter the country illegally. Military bases are also popular points of entry.

BOX 2: Trafficking vs. Smuggling

Smuggling and trafficking are closely connected. Generally, smuggling does not involve coercion, but rather is performed at the request of the alien, who pays a fee for safe, albeit illegal, passage. In its simplest form, it involves only the second stage of trafficking: transportation. However, trafficked women who begin their trip voluntarily may become victims at the delivery stage, when their illegal status is exploited by those seeking cheap labor. If the smuggling is part of an organized activity, the smuggler may deliver the smuggled individual directly into the sex trade or another form of forced labor. In this case, the individual is both smuggled and trafficked. [24]

Trafficking Smuggling
  • Crime or violation against a person
  • Contains element of coercion (cannot consent to enslavement)
  • Subsequent exploitation and/or forced labor
  • Trafficked persons seen as victims by the law
  • Unauthorized border crossing
  • No coercion
  • Facilitated illegal entry of person from one country to another
  • Smuggled persons seen as criminals by the law

† One study found that over 50 percent of trafficked women entered the Unites States with tourist visas and overstayed their visas (Raymond and Hughes 2001).

Delivery/Marketing

Both before and after a woman has reached the United States, her services can be marketed through standard outlets, such as advertising in personal columns; but by far the most effective marketing is via Internet chat rooms, bulletin boards, and the many websites that offer matchmaking services for men and women. [25] Where a prior arrangement has been reached, the trafficked woman is handed over to her intended employer once she reaches her destination. Forced prostitution may also be confined within particular ethnic communities, where men seek to purchase sex from women or young girls of their own ethnicity. This serves to further isolate trafficked women from the broader community. [26] Recent research suggests that there is considerable trafficking of women between various U.S. cities. Frequent movement of women serves three purposes: first, it makes detection more difficult and removes the incentive for local investigative agencies to become involved; second, it provides a variety of women for customers; and third, it inhibits women from establishing ties to their communities. [27] In cases where there is no delivery to a specific person or organization, the woman is technically not trafficked, but smuggled. In this case, if she is young, without family, and without the ability to speak English, she may end up in the sex trade, and her trafficked status will be difficult to determine by local police.

Exploitation

Trafficked women are extremely vulnerable, for three reasons. First, as illegal aliens, many women who do not know they have rights are fearful of seeking assistance from police or other service agencies. Second, women and their families are often in debt to the traffickers who exploit their labor. Third, should a woman's situation, such as working in the sex trade become known back home, her family's honor may be damaged. As a result, those who "employ" trafficked women have enormous control over them. In effect, conditions of employment become conditions of slavery.† However, the definition of exploitation is difficult, because trafficked persons-and even legal immigrants-often consent to exploitation in the hope that they can improve their circumstances by doing so. [28] This creates a serious problem for local police, because victims may refuse to cooperate and may even resist attempts to improve their circumstances.

In fact, the problem of definitions of the many activities involved in the trafficking of women is considerable. Only in recent years has a definition of human trafficking been agreed upon internationally. It was not until the passage of TVPA in 2000 that the U.S. Congress defined trafficking and its associated terms in an attempt to clarify the difficult overlap between smuggling, trafficking, coercion, consent, bondage, and exploitation. The extremely complex interplay among these terms as well as their links to other crimes is displayed in Appendix B. The definitions now accepted are reproduced in the accompanying Box 3.

† In the pre-Civil War South, replacing a slave cost the modern equivalent of $40,000. Slaves in the twenty-first century can be purchased for as little as $90. For example, a family in Thailand was reported to have sold a daughter into the sex trade in order to buy a television set (Florida State University, Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, 2003:14)

BOX 3: TVPA DEFINITIONS OF TRAFFICKING
AND TRAFFIC-RELATED ACTIVITIES [29]

Severe human trafficking. (a) Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or (b) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Sex trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.

Involuntary servitude is defined as (a) a scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that, if the person did not enter into or continue in such condition, that person or another person would suffer serious harm or physical restraint or (b) the abuse or threatened abuse of the legal process.

Peonage is defined as a status of involuntary servitude based upon real or alleged indebtedness.

Debt bondage is defined as the condition of a debtor who has pledged his or her personal services in security for debt but whose services are not reasonably applied toward relieving the debt, or the length and nature of services are not limited and defined.

Smuggling is having knowingly encouraged, induced, assisted, abetted, or aided any other alien to enter or try to enter the United States [illegally]. [30]