What is Sex Trafficking? History, Examples

Sex Trafficking is a form of human trafficking, in which illegal transportation or trade of women and girls takes place for sexual exploitation. In this, women are manipulated and exploited into prostitution.

Some of the common methods through which sex traffickers try to get their victims are by generating a close relationship or friendship with them, giving false hope about job opportunities helping them financially, and more.

In this article, we are going to take a look at sex trafficking examples, cases, history, and how these sex traffickers get to you. 

What is Sex Trafficking?

Sex Trafficking is a part of human trafficking where women and girls are traded and manipulated into commercial sex acts. Perpetrators or sex traffickers are likely to trick or manipulate women into such acts by creating a friendship or relationship with the victim.

These Perpetrators use fraud, force, manipulation, and coercion as a method to recruit, transport, and provide their preyed victims as prostitutes. Every aspect of trafficking is considered a punishable crime from acquisition to transportation and exploitation of victims.  

History of Sex Trafficking

Sex Trafficking or slavery was common, regulated, and legal in much of human history across cultures and continents. It was often perpetrated by one person, grouped into another. But things changed during the 19th and 20th centuries when an international movement took place to abolish slavery in all forms.

Slavery or Sex Trafficking isn’t legal anywhere in the world. However, this doesn’t mean human trafficking doesn’t exist in every country. Here is a brief timeline of Sex Trafficking and the fight that took place behind it. 


In the 16th century, various people from Portugal began traveling across Africa to capture people, enslave them, and bring them to Europe.

The first slave voyage from Africa to America was marked in 1525. While this can be said as the potential beginning of the slave trade, in the next 350 years, it was witnessed more than 12.5 million slaves being shipped from Africa across the world. 

In the mid-1800s, a significant number of Chinese people began arriving in the US. After being drawn to the opportunities surfaced with the California Gold Rush and the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad. 

The Page Act of 1875 sought the limit of immigration of Asians in the US. It prevented the traffic of unwilling personnel and “immoral” women i.e. prostitutes. It even created fines and jail time for anyone who tried to bring people into the US without their free and voluntary consent. This stopped the immigration of almost every Chinese woman. 

In the early 1880s, the Chinese population in the U.S. was overwhelmingly male, comprising around 95% men. This gender disparity enabled criminal groups known as Tongs to exploit the situation, smuggling Chinese women into California and the American West.

From the mid-1880s onward, a significant number of these women were tragically forced into slavery and coerced into prostitution by these gangs. This exploitative trafficking of Chinese women persisted relentlessly in the United States, enduring well into the early 1900s.

1900-1910 “White Slave Traffic” 

The abolition of the African slave trade, “white slavery” became a huge topic of discussion in the international government. Making people aware of the scenarios of European women, most of the time immigrants, ensnared into forced prostitution. 

An international conference took place in Paris in both 1899 and 1902 against white slavery. The International Agreement for the Suppression of “White Slave Traffic,” was signed IN 1904 as the first international agreement on human trafficking.

A total of 13 countries marked the International Convention for the Suppression of the white slave trade in 1910, in order to make it illegal. 

The world witnessed a high rise in human trafficking during the 1900s. This included the exploitation of both labor and sexual purposes. In the year 1920, it was the first time the League of Nations was founded.

This was the first international organization that centralized on the topic of “Human Trafficking.” A total of 33 countries decided to sign the International Convention for the Suppression of Traffic in Women and Children in 1921. 

In 1949, the United Nations members collectively embraced the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. 

2000: United Nations Protocol

In the year 2000, the United Nations ratified the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. This groundbreaking agreement marked the first acknowledgment of contemporary slavery and recognized that men could also fall victim to human trafficking.

Furthermore, the protocol broadened its scope to encompass heinous crimes such as organ harvesting, slavery, and forced labor.

Present Day 

Currently, numerous Non-Governmental Organizations are collaborating with governments to combat human trafficking, including prominent organizations like Polaris. Apart from this, many other NGOs have also joined hands to fight against sex trafficking. 

What is an Example of Sex Trafficking?

Here are some of the examples of Sex Trafficking documented in the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline. 

Romeo pimps or “boyfriending”

Recruitment: A man and a woman meet up briefly at a party and start making contact with them by providing emotional support and gaining their trust. This starts a romantic relationship between the two and soon he asks the victim to be “nice” to his friends to earn jewelry. 

Familial Trafficking 

Recruitment: In such scenarios, the mother is a victim of sexual abuse who has been already in the prostitution business for years to support her family. Soon, men start expressing their interest in one of the children and the kid is asked to support her family financially through her contribution. 

Online Trawling

Recruitment: A lonely insecure teen dreams of having a successful modeling career and gets contacted by a fake modeling recruiter online. Receiving a plane ticket to come and audition in his studio. Soon she has been taken out and is asked to be friendly with people in the business to gain contracts and is sent out to prostitute. 


A woman grew up in a gang-influenced neighborhood that controls all the activity surrounding the commercial and street. She joins them for protection and the gang tells her to engage in prostitution to help them pay the drug debts they owe. 

Exploitation of addiction 

A trafficker hangs around the municipal courthouse where people come out of drug court, busted for use charges. The traffickers offer people free drugs in exchange for sex acts for money. 

What Are the 5 Stages of Sex Trafficking?

Sex Traffickers often follow a pattern through which they prey on their new victims. This usually involves 5 stages which are luring, grooming, manipulation, exploitation, and recruitment.

Let’s take a deep look at these 5 stages of sex trafficking and understand how traffickers get to their new victims: 

Stage 1: Luring 

The first stage of sex trafficking involves luring. In this stage, sex traffickers tend to approach potential victims by pretending to be their friends to help them try to get job opportunities.

These traffickers post fake newspaper ads and internet ads about jobs and make fake promises to victims about money, education, work, and financial aid. At times, they will even offer gifts, give compliments, offer help, and try to lure them into a friendship or romantic relationship. 

During the sweet interaction stage, the trafficker will collect personal information about the victim such as your family support system, friends, background, and more. Currently, one of the most common ways of luring victims is through social media.

Social media provides predators easy access to connect with naive and needy victims. Traffickers will look through different social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook and try to create a friendship with young children or teens by sending private messages.

Stage 2: Grooming & Gaming 

Amidst all the favors, the trafficker will now begin to slip in offers in the name of “great opportunities” for “easy work” that would help the victim earn good money by making fake promises. 

This stage involves the trafficker getting closer to the victim and gaining their trust to ensure they are emotionally attached to them. Since it’s easier for the trafficker to manipulate the victim once they have gained their complete trust. 

Now, the trafficker will start grooming the victim and slowly begin exposing them to the commercial sex industry. One of the most common ways to do that is by exposing them first to pornography. During this stage, the trafficker might also get involved with the victim physically. 

Stage 3: Coercion & Manipulation 

Once, the trafficker has created a relationship with the victim. He will start manipulating and tricking the victim into getting involved in various commercial sex acts. In this stage, the trafficker will try to exploit the victim by using her personal information and details to take advantage of the victim. 

Stage 4: Exploitation 

In the exploitation stage, the victim’s self-esteem has already been broken by the trafficker. The victims will be physically, emotionally, and psychologically will be manipulated and forced to get involved in the sex work.

The trafficker will even use previously collected information about the victim to threaten to expose the victim to her family if she tries to report or leave. Victims will be isolated by the trafficker at this point, restricting them from getting any help. 

Stage 5: Recruitment 

In this stage, the victim has been completely manipulated by the trafficker and some of them will think of themselves as willing participants within the trafficking culture. The trafficker will now use the victim to contact other girls preferably her friends and ask her to introduce them to the trafficker.

In some cases, the trafficker might also offer “commission” or promise some sort of “freedom” with every new recruitment. 

How Do Sex Traffickers Get You?

Sex trafficking is based on exploration of the innocent and unsuspecting individuals. Here are some of the ways through which traffickers can get to you: 

Romantic Relationship 

Some of the common methods used by sex traffickers to get you are seduction and romance. In such cases, a stranger might try to start a friendship or relationship with you by starting sweet talks, compliments, gifts, and more.

The traffickers will try to get your personal details such as your financial situation, education, family, and much more. Once you have completely opened up to the trafficker, he will manipulate and even force the victim into prostitution or illegal activities.

Traffickers often collect the personal information of the victim to manipulate and blackmail the victim into compliance. 

False Job Opportunities 

Another common way sex traffickers use to entice people is by providing fake job opportunities ads. Traffickers often post various job ads on legitimate websites, using a registered business as a front.

They post ads about various job positions such as nanny, hospitality, or tourism-related industry work. On arrival, the documents of the victim are seized and the victim has been forced into complying through various abusive acts. 

Religious Beliefs

Often Religious beliefs are exploited and misused by traffickers into recruiting or manipulating victims into trafficking. In such cases, traffickers manipulate the victims by suggesting that this is how things are supposed to be and “God’s will” as a method to ensure compliance. 

At times, the victims are made to take an oath, where they swear they obey the trafficking as a way to repay their “debts.” Traffickers use psychological bonds to place victims in such a state of compliance.  

Recruitment through trafficked slaves 

In a few cases, previously trafficked slaves tend to recruit innocent and new people into the trafficking industry. The traffickers often offer “commission” or some sort of new “freedom” with every new recruitment. 

How Does Sex Trafficking Happen?

Sex Trafficking can happen in a variety of ways. This includes traffickers trying to create a romantic relationship, or friendship, offering job opportunities through internet ads, and contacting victims through social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and more.

In some cases, victims are also threatened or kidnapped. False promises about money, financial aid, education, and more are made to the victim in this process.  

Most traffickers tend to prey on those victims who are struggling with money or looking for a better life for themselves, a job, or a romantic relationship. In some cases, the victims are being transported or moved around another country or place and being isolated by the traffickers.

This helps restrict victims from contacting their families or their friends for help. Then, traffickers seize the documents of the victim and force them into working as a sex worker.  

What is Sex Trafficking in the United States?

Sex Trafficking in the US can be described as a form of “Human Trafficking.” It is a criminal act where women and girls are exploited in commercial sex acts. Sex traffickers tend to use different methods such as force, fraud, or coercion to manipulate and exploit others into commercial sex acts. 

It was estimated that two-thirds of the trafficked victims in the United States were claimed to be US citizens. The United States Department of State estimated that around 15,000 and 50,000 women and girls in the United States are being trafficked every year. Most foreign-born victims of sex trafficking were migrated to the US legally on various visas. 

There has been a wide range of media campaigns generated in the United States to ensure the public is well-informed about trafficking. A Polaris project was started in 2002 in the United States available 24 hours to assist victims and provide essential information and guidance for those who are at risk. 

Sex Trafficking Vs Human Trafficking

Sex Trafficking is a form of Human Trafficking where humans, particularly women and girls are traded for sexual exploitation. However, Human Trafficking isn’t limited to sex trafficking and involves the trade of humans for labor trafficking.

Although Human Trafficking and Sex Trafficking are not completely the same, it does share some similarities. Since sex trafficking victims occupy the largest percentage of the human trafficking industry.

In 2020, it was reported by the National Human Trafficking Hotline that out of 10,836 victims, 7,648 incidents were involved with sex trafficking taking up to 72% of human trafficking

Even though sex trafficking is related to human trafficking, both crimes cannot essentially be labeled into the same category. Since there are certain differences in the purpose as well. The second largest form of human trafficking is labor trafficking which takes up to 10% of the industry. 

Where is Sex Trafficking Most Common?

Sex Trafficking takes place almost everywhere. However, some of the most common places where sex trafficking is likely to occur are Asia, the United States, and Africa. 

Talking about Asia it was reported back in 2014, by GSI that around 36 million victims have been trafficked across the world. It was also stated that about two-thirds of the victims are associated in Asia.  

India topped the list of sex trafficking cases with 14 million victims, followed by China with 3.2 million victims, and Pakistan with 2.1 Million victims. 

In Africa, sex trafficking is the second most common type of trafficking of women and children that takes place. In Ghana, traffickers are regularly witnessed at the border crossing and transport individuals with their fake visas. The most common places where women are likely to be trafficked are the United States, Belgium, Italy, Lebanon, Netherlands, Libya, and Nigeria. 

Meanwhile, another common area where sex trafficking is likely to take place is the United States. It was reported by the United States Department that every year around 15,000 to 50,000 women are being trafficked across the United States.