American Victims of Sex Trafficking Are Offered Different Protections than Foreigners
Wednesday, August 1, 2007 4:27 PM

In the U.S. most of the effort to investigate trafficking in women and to assist victims targets foreign nationals. However, more Americans than foreigners fall victim to trafficking.

The Department of Justice failed to request funds for a comprehensive study on the scope of the sex industry in the U.S., but it estimates that 15,000 foreigners are trafficked into this country each year. In contrast, according to a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, 300,000 adolescents are at risk for sexual exploitation in the U.S. Despite the fact that foreigners constitute a minority of victims, there is a notable disparity between the services available to foreign nationals and those for U.S. citizens.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) allocates about $1300 a month to foreign victims of sex trafficking, yet the same funds are not available for U.S. citizens. Likewise, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) distributes $400 million annually to Americans who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, but this money does not reach women who suffer abuse from pimps or traffickers.

There are a number of reasons why social and legal protection do not extend to American victims of the sex industry. First, women who work as prostitutes are stigmatized. Their behavior is branded as immoral and little attention is paid to the abuse they might suffer from their pimps and traffickers. In addition, authorities often fail to distinguish between women who work as prostitutes and victims of sex trafficking. The TVPA defines victims of sex trafficking as women who are forced to perform commercial sex acts or who entered the sex industry before the age of 18. Studies show that 70 percent of women entered prostitution as minors and 80 percent are physically, sexually and verbally abused by their pimps or are otherwise intimidated and coerced to remain in the sex industry.

Despite oppressive conditions, women who are U.S. citizens are not eligible for state funds and their position in an illegal industry makes them unable to receive legal protection. At the same time there are a number of state-funded programs which provide assistance and rehabilitation to foreign victims of sex trafficking. Often the only way American girls and women can receive assistance is when they are arrested for prostitution and can receive funds from a local organization with the goal of diversion. 

The unequal treatment of U.S. victims can be remedied if Congress funds a study to determine the scope of the problem of sex trafficking in the U.S. Also, girls and women in this country would benefit if Congress made anti-trafficking and VAWA funds available to U.S. citizens.

Compiled from: "Enslaved in the U.S.A.:American Victims Need Our Help," Donna M. Hughes, National Review Online, 30 July 2007.