On the surface, many people see no difference between “prostitution” and “being prostituted”.

While I’ve been a member of the Board of Directors for the Lake of the Ozarks Stop Human Trafficking Coalition for about three years, it has taken me until now to realize there are important misconceptions about human trafficking.  This article addresses a critical misconception about sex trafficking. 

On the surface, many people see no difference between “prostitution” and “being prostituted”.  There is a distinction, and it is critical to understanding the devastation human toll of sex trafficking.  Some people see Prostitution simply in terms of a business that commercializes sex.  Using this rationale, a prostitute is perceived as someone who ‘willingly’ sells her own body for sex- to a willing buyer- for a negotiated price, which she receives directly as ‘earned’ income.  This rationale leads to a perception that, while it may be immoral and ‘technically’ illegal, prostitution isn’t really a crime, because there is no victim.  No one gets ‘hurt’.  The entire transaction seems to be consensual.  

At first glance, sex trafficking seems like prostitution. But, there is a critical distinction.  Prostitution involves two parties: a willing buyer and a seller who “willingly’ provides her body for sex.  Sex trafficking introduces a 3rd party or more accurately,  a 3rd person.  In sex trafficking, the willing seller is a trafficker, who negotiates a price for sex with a willing buyer.  Unlike prostitution, in sex trafficking the trafficker doesn’t render sex.  Sex is rendered by a 3rd person: a victim.  The victim is always under the total control of the trafficker.  She  has absolutely no say in the transaction.  She is not a prostitute.  She is being “Prostituted”.  The trafficker gets all the money.  The victim receives no money.  The victim is constantly under duress: forced by the trafficker to provide sex.  She is told when, where, with whom, how, how long, and how often she must provide sex, or she suffers extreme consequences.  Her participation is NON-Consensual.  She is kept isolated, sleep deprived and typically hooked on drugs, for which she is totally dependent on the trafficker.  She exists in a state of constant fear.  She receives nothing, except mistreatment, often at the hands of both the buyer and the trafficker.   She is regarded as sub-human, surviving in a state of hopelessness and despair. 

Is it possible that many people fail to understand the human devastation caused by sex trafficking, because they don’t understand the difference between prostitution, which they perceive to be consensual, and sex trafficking, which is the violent act of victim being prostituted?