Sharon Sullivan, professor of theatre, held a Brown Bag Lunch where she spoke of human trafficking, specifically the causes and reasons people buy and sell sex.
Sullivan started by talking about how it occurs. She said most people did it through fraud, force and coercion. In the case of fraud, someone would be told they had an employment opportunity and were tricked into prostitution or stripping due to desperation.
Force and coercion are when the trafficker uses intimidation or physical harm to convince a person to get involved.
According to Sullivan, the average age someone enters sex trafficking in the United States is 13, which is also the average age children run away.
After running away the child commonly finds someone who acts as a caretaker who in return convinces the child to sell their body.
Those who do not run away are often sold by their own family members. This makes up nearly 40 percent of the sex traffic population, according to Sullivan.
Eighty to ninety percent of the people involved in these acts of prostitution do not want to be there, according to Sullivan, resulting in approximately 27 million sex slaves around the world. Seventy-five percent of the roughly 27 million people are women and around 99 percent of those who purchase sex from either the prostitute or the trafficker are men.
“This makes it a gender problem,” Sullivan said.
She said the problem generally deals with women because most women do not buy sex, but 10 to 15 percent of American men do.
Sullivan then stated supply and demand is the reason behind sex trafficking and to stop it, demand would have to drop to no men buying sex. She used an example from her time in graduate school where she sold crochet blankets. When the demand stopped, she stopped making them. The same is true of sex trafficking. If the demand is zero, so is the supply.
“We need to change our cultural assumption that we have a right to utilize another person’s body for sexual gratification,” said Sullivan. “That’s the foundation of buyers, they think they’re entitled to use another person’s body. So if we change that, there won’t be any demand for sex trafficking.”
Sullivan also stated that 97 percent of those involved in sex trafficking had been sexually abused before they became involved, showing underlying problems in the person’s self-esteem and confidence.
“The most important thing we can do is instill our children with good self-esteem,” said Sullivan.
According to Sullivan, legalizing prostitution also wouldn’t solve any problems. In Amsterdam, where prostitution is legal, women selling sex can be independent workers, receive health services and have access to job training if they wanted to leave the field. The problem is, it became a tourist destination because of the demand and they didn’t have the supply to match, therefore making Amsterdam a sex trafficking destination.
Sullivan said the thing victims need to know the most is that there is hope.
“You have value, you matter, you deserve better,” said Sullivan. “There is hope for something different in your future.”