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Improving the Statistics and Prevalence Data on Human Trafficking in the United States

Lisa Fedina is a PhD student in the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Her research interests include family and gender-based violence, sex trafficking, trauma, and violence prevention. She has worked with adult and child sex trafficking victims and also managed a statewide anti-trafficking initiative led by the Illinois Department of Human Services in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She is a member of the National Research Consortium on Commercial Sexual Exploitation.


Nearly 15 years have passed since human trafficking was first legally recognized and criminalized under the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons (2000) and the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (2000). To date, the U.S. federal government has allocated over 500 million dollars to combat human trafficking domestically and internationally; yet, only 2,515 domestic human trafficking incidents were investigated by law enforcement between the years of 2008 and 2010; and only 46,000 human trafficking victims were identified worldwide in 2012 (note: this is the most recent data available). Similarly, the U.S. Department of Justice prosecuted only 125 human trafficking cases in 2011, though this was a 19% increase from 2010 and the highest number of cases prosecuted in one year. Human trafficking has certainly received a great deal of attention over the past decade and the number of trafficking prosecutions seems to be improving, but our understanding of the overall scale of the problem and the number of victims in the U.S. and globally remains unknown. Attempts have been made to measure the problem, but these estimates are unreliable, based on flawed or unscientific methodologies, and are vastly disproportionate from one another. (more…)

The sex trade in Northern Ireland: the creation of a moral panic?

This week TTRP are delighted to have Dr. Graham Ellison as a guest contributor. Dr. Ellison is a Reader in Criminology in the School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast. He is currently principal investigator on a project funded by the British Academy investigating the policing and regulation of prostitution in four European cities (with Prof Ron Weitzer and Dr Susan Dodillet). 

Commercial sex – “prostitution”, or in the United Nations’ preferred terminology “sex work” – has once again been thrust into the spotlight in Northern Ireland in the aftermath of Lord Morrow’s Human Trafficking Bill, which has attracted intense publicity, including a recent BBC documentary. Now in its second reading in the NI Assembly, the Bill includes a raft of provisions to support victims of human trafficking. The main focus of attention is Clause 6, which, for the first time in the jurisdiction, would make it a criminal offence to pay for sex. Drawing on the claimed “successes” of the so-called Swedish or Nordic model, the rationale is that this will reduce “demand” and that trafficking into the commercial sex industry will be seriously impaired. However, Northern Ireland already has fairly robust penalties in place to deal with sex trafficking. Since 2009 it has been an offence (punishable by a long jail term) to knowingly procure sexual services from a trafficked victim, while existing law rightfully prohibits any sexual activity with someone who is underage or otherwise vulnerable (as defined in the legislation).

Lord Morrow’s Bill has come under fire from academics (myself included), the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), civil society, the NI Department of Justice and sex worker rights organisations, which all raise rather different criticisms of the proposal. My view, as a criminologist, is that the proposed law conflates two very different issues (prostitution and trafficking), is premised on a particularly narrow abolitionist view of sex work, grossly overestimates the extent of “demand” in Northern Ireland, and is out of line with policy developments occurring elsewhere in the United Kingdom and indeed continental Europe. (more…)

Collective action: seizing opportunities in opposition

This week TTRP are pleased to present a jointly authored post with SWEAT – a sex workers rights organisation based in Cape Town, South Africa. SWEAT works to ensure that sex workers’ rights are defended, that sex workers have access to health and other services and that sex workers are respected and valued members of society. The organisation takes a rights-based approach to its work and has three central programs: Advocacy and Human Rights Defence; Outreach and Development; and Research and Knowledge Management. Their goals are to: advocate for the decriminalisation of adult sex work in South Africa; to address health and human rights abuses with sex workers; and to support the development of self-representation of sex workers on a national and continental level in issues affecting them. 

TTRP and our blog guests have previously highlighted difficulties within the anti-trafficking movement, and the NGO sector more broadly, of collaboration. This lack of collaboration between stakeholders is a chorus repeated ad nauseum, but, often overlooked, are the less public, daily exchanges that take place between groups that create space for opportunity and constructive engagement. (more…)

Minor practicalities: adolescents in the sex industry

The idea of adolescents working in the sex industry is not socially or politically palatable. In fact, under international law, prostitution is considered to be a form of severe exploitation for any individual under the age of 18 and constitutes one definition of child trafficking that does not necessitate the use of force, deception or coercion. There is widespread agreement that children should not participate in any form of sex work. As a result, older adolescents, those aged 16 and 17 who undertake sex work, usually fall into a policy black hole in which they lack access to much-needed services. This can be further compounded by instances in which an individual may work in an illegal industry (where sex work is illegal) and/or commit employment offenses (due to migration or age). (more…)

Spellbound: witchcraft and human trafficking

At the end of October 2012, Osezua Osolase was found guilty of five counts of trafficking, one count of rape and one count of sexual activity with a child.  What made this case significant was the use of ‘juju’ rituals or witchcraft as a method of controlling his victims, one of whom was only 14 years old.  Though it received sizeable media attention, the Osolase case was not the first of its kind in the UK.  For example, in July 2011 another man, Anthony Harrison, was also found guilty of trafficking young Nigerian girls into the UK for the purposes of sexual exploitation and similarly used witchcraft.

So what is ‘juju’? Why is it such an effective coercive tool in the facilitation of trafficking? Is the perverted use of this West African religious/cultural practice inherently any different from other methods of control used by traffickers? Is it Euro-centrically arrogant to focus on this method of coercion –reinforcing a salacious obsession with the ‘dark heart of Africa’?

The Collins Dictionary states that the word ‘juju’ probably originates from the Hausa word djudju – meaning evil spirit – and defines ‘juju’ as:

an object superstitiously revered by certain W African peoples and used as a charm or fetish; the power associated with a juju; a taboo effected by juju; any process in which a mystery is exploited to confuse people.

The use of ‘juju’ in trafficking takes a range of forms and is most common in the trafficking of victims from West Africa, particularly Nigeria, into Europe.  According to The Independent:

There are 100,000 trafficked Nigerians in Europe, and 80 per cent come from Edo – a southern state that is home to only three per cent of Nigeria’s population. It is the trafficking capital of Africa, and home of the traditional West African religion they call juju. (more…)