Photo by Office of Congresswoman Katherine Harris, Wikimedia Commons

This post was created in collaboration with the Minnesota Journalism Center.

Recent estimates from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Walk Free Foundation found that more than 40 million people are in modern slavery. The ILO has valued human trafficking as a $150 billion industry, with $99 billion coming from commercial sexual exploitation. Prostitution and trafficking are both illegal in America (except for several counties in the state of Nevada where prostitution is legal), but the two terms are often conflated. With regard to terminology: When one is coerced or forced into selling themselves for sex, it is a form of trafficking, and those who enter the regulated sex industry voluntarily are deemed sex workers.

The “normalization” of sex work worldwide is still in flux. Scholars divide the international community into two camps with regard to this issue: abolitionist feminists, who believe both voluntary and involuntary prostitution and sex work is exploitative; and human rights feminists, who de-link prostitution/sex work and trafficking by arguing that some adult women and men are in prostitution/sex work voluntarily and should not be considered victims, and only those who are forced or coerced to be prostitutes or sex workers should be considered trafficking victims.
Scholars demonstrate that NGO coverage of trafficking often portrays “ideal victim” and “ideal perpetrator” stereotypes that don’t always reflect the truth about who is subject to trafficking worldwide. Further, journalistic coverage of trafficking is often written through the lens of “episodic” frames that provide personal narratives but lack trend statistics, quotes from experts, or social forces at play in perpetuating demand for trafficking worldwide.
As anti-trafficking campaigns evolve in the Digital Age, technology also plays an integral role in efforts to curb demand and address supply that flows through social media networks and the Internet. Initiatives — including research about online demand for sex and working partnerships between social scientists, law enforcement, and anti-trafficking NGOs — are shaping the future of anti-trafficking efforts worldwide.