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Uncovering the Silent Sex Trafficking Epidemic in New York City

Last year, the New York Police Department (NYPD) rescued one person a week from sex slavery and busted 228 traffickers while working 265 sex trafficking cases—more than...

Last year, the New York Police Department (NYPD) rescued one person a week from sex slavery and busted 228 traffickers while working 265 sex trafficking cases—more than double the number in 2016, according to a report by the New York Post.

“Trafficking is a bigger problem” than what the numbers show, says Inspector Jim Klein, commander of the NYPD’s Vice Enforcement Unit and a 36-year department veteran.

“I have 200-and-however-many pimps I’ve locked up. On average, a pimp is going to have at least four or five women, girls, that he’s going to be working. [And] I haven’t locked up every pimp… It’s modern-day slavery.”

Examples of trafficking all around the Big Apple

Trafficking happens everywhere, in any variety of circumstances and situations. From the New York Post report, here are just a few of the real-life examples:

There was the Prospect Heights apartment where those two 16-year-olds were allegedly raped for money in fear for their lives by a trio of 20-somethings.

There was a Bronx homeless shelter just blocks from Yankee Stadium where convicted sex trafficker Maria Soly Almonte repeatedly sexually exploited three of her sisters and a 13-year-old girl.

When she wasn’t raped for money, the 13-year-old attended eighth grade at PS 29—where the school nurse figured out what was going on when the girl came in weekly requesting STD and pregnancy tests.

At a Howard Johnson hotel in Brownsville, Brooklyn, a couple allegedly forced two 14-year-old runaways to be raped by man after man and give up all their earnings.

There also are the women and girls brought here from overseas and forced to work in an estimated 700 illicit “massage” parlors across the city.

And at a Manhattan youth shelter, kids escaping broken homes were lured into a life of selling sex with offers of booze, cash, and a warm bed—lured by ads posted openly on Craigslist.

“Are you a female that wants to stop living in Covenant House?” it read, alongside photos of tequila and hundred-dollar bills.

Trafficking isn’t an issue that is isolated to one town, one country, or one area. It can affect anyone, and it can happen anywhere. Even in one of the most famous, “glamorous” cities in the world.

Trafficking happens everywhere

Sex trafficking activists occasionally have to defend their use of the word “slavery.” [1]

Some people don’t believe the sex trafficking problems we have today rise to a level that would merit such an emotionally charged word. Others feel the word somehow romanticizes the problem. In fact, believe it or not, arguing about the word “slave” is just one small part of the larger debate about sex trafficking, especially in the United States. Some people question whether the problem is really as bad, or as big, or as widespread, as the reports make it sound. [2] Others question the motives of the abolitionists and human rights activists on the front lines of the fight. [3]

Here at Fight the New Drug, we know sex trafficking is a huge global problem and that this modern form of slavery is inherently, inseparably linked to the problem of pornography. Because this is an underground issue numbers are harder to come by, but if anything, the numbers reflecting what is actually happening around the globe are bigger than what has been reported.

And isn’t even just one person being trafficked, one too many?

Now, before we go any further, we know what you might be thinking. This is the part where most people start visualizing the Hollywood version of sex trafficking: young boys and girls kidnapped or tricked in some Third World or Eastern European country, kept in chains and forced to perform in black market pornography, or to work as prostitutes in some massage parlor, seedy motel, or other makeshift brothel—or boys and girls from the same backgrounds, smuggled into the United States and abused in similar ways.

Related: Popular “Smallville” Actress Allison Mack Arrested On Sex Trafficking Charges

Although trafficking absolutely can look like this, at least in New York City, and in every other state in the US and most countries in the world, this often isn’t what it looks like.

These trafficking crimes in the New York Post’s report aren’t just happening in run-down buildings in the bad parts of town, and the victims aren’t always chained up. This is why sex trafficking can infuse itself so seamlessly into society and what we see online—victims don’t announce themselves, speak up, or even understand that they’re victims in the first place.

“It happens right under our noses . . . This is something that could be happening right in our neighborhoods,” says Juanito Vargas, vice president of the victim-assistance nonprofit Safe Horizon.

“You go to the deli in your neighborhood and are served your morning coffee by someone, and you don’t know if that person is being trafficked,” he says.

What does this have to do with porn?

This is the reality of what the porn industry fuels (and fantasizes): real people being sexually abused and exploited at the hands of family members, traffickers, and pimps. Each click to porn content directly fuels the demand for sex traffickers to make money by selling videos and images of their sex slaves to porn sites. But what about major porn studios and porn sites—aren’t they completely separate from the sexual exploitation issue?

Absolutely not.

After all, when someone is sex trafficked, there are undoubtedly videos and images taken of them for commercial purposes, like advertising them online. Consider how, in one survey, 63% of underage sex trafficking victims said they had been advertised or sold online.

Sometimes, these images and videos end up on popular sites. And unfortunately, the more the mainstream adult entertainment industry flourishes, the bigger the opposing globalized black market for porn and exploitation will become, and the more difficult it becomes to differentiate whether content is from an illicit source or not.

Not to mention that the higher the demand for porn, even porn that was produced in professional studios (which, newsflash, also abuse their performers), the more sex traffickers will want to profit from that lucrative demand for sexual exploitation, and the more they’ll exploit vulnerable people to get there. After all, considering the numbers, it’s big business to do so.

Stopping the demand starts with us shining a light on the realities of what’s happening around us, even in our own countries and cities.

Learn to recognize the signs of trafficking, and know what local law enforcement agency to call if you see something. Get involved with local anti-trafficking organizations by seeing which ones are in your specific area. Together, our voices make a difference, and together, we can end sexual exploitation and slavery.


[1] Talking About Trafficking: Should We Use The Words Slave And Slavery? | Human Trafficking Center (N.D.). Retrieved From Http://Humantraffickingcenter.Org/Talking-Trafficking-Using-Words-Slave-Slavery/
[2] Human Trafficking Evokes Outrage, Little Evidence. (2007, September 23). Retrieved From Http://Www.Washingtonpost.Com/Wp-Dyn/Content/Article/2007/09/22/AR2007092201401.Html
[3] Graham, R. (2015, March 5). How Sex Trafficking Became A Christian Cause Célèbre. Slate. Retrieved From Http://Www.Slate.Com/Articles/Double_x/Faithbased/2015/03/Christians_and_sex_trafficking_how_evangelicals_made_it_a_cause_celebre.Html