The Link Between Prostitution and Sex Trafficking
Bureau of Public Affairs
The U.S. Government adopted a strong position against legalized prostitution in a December 2002 National Security Presidential Directive based on evidence that prostitution is inherently harmful and dehumanizing, and fuels trafficking in persons, a form of modern-day slavery.
Prostitution and related activities—including pimping and patronizing or maintaining brothels—fuel the growth of modern-day slavery by providing a façade behind which traffickers for sexual exploitation operate.
Where prostitution is legalized or tolerated, there is a greater demand for human trafficking victims and nearly always an increase in the number of women and children trafficked into commercial sex slavery.
Of the estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people trafficked across international borders annually, 80 percent of victims are female, and up to 50 percent are minors. Hundreds of thousands of these women and children are used in prostitution each year.
Women and children want to escape prostitution
Prostitution is inherently harmful
A path-breaking, five-country academic study concluded that research on prostitution has overlooked "[t]he burden of physical injuries and illnesses that women in the sex industry sustain from the violence inflicted on them, or from their significantly higher rates of hepatitis B, higher risks of cervical cancer, fertility complications, and psychological trauma."
State attempts to regulate prostitution by introducing medical check-ups or licenses don’t address the core problem: the routine abuse and violence that form the prostitution experience and brutally victimize those caught in its netherworld. Prostitution leaves women and children physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually devastated. Recovery takes years, even decades—often, the damage can never be undone.
Prostitution creates a safe haven for criminals
The Swedish Government has found that much of the vast profit generated by the global prostitution industry goes into the pockets of human traffickers. The Swedish Government said, "International trafficking in human beings could not flourish but for the existence of local prostitution markets where men are willing and able to buy and sell women and children for sexual exploitation."
To fight human trafficking and promote equality for women, Sweden has aggressively prosecuted customers, pimps, and brothel owners since 1999. As a result, two years after the new policy, there was a 50 percent decrease in women prostituting and a 75 percent decrease in men buying sex. Trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation decreased as well. In contrast, where prostitution has been legalized or tolerated, there is an increase in the demand for sex slaves and the number of victimized foreign women—many likely victims of human trafficking.
Grant-making implications of the U.S. government policy
For more information, please log on to the website of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at www.state.gov/g/tip.
 Farley, et al. [back to paragraph]
 Ramsay, R. et. al. 1993. "Psychiatric morbidity in survivors of organized state violence including torture." British Journal of Psychiatry. 162:55-59. [back to paragraph]
 Raymond, J. et al. 2002. A Comparative Study of Women Trafficked in the Migration Process. Ford Foundation, New York. [back to paragraph]
 Swedish Ministry of Industry, Employment, and Communications. 2004. Fact Sheet: Prostitution and Trafficking in Women. http://www.sweden.gov.se/content/1/c6/01/87/74/6bc6c972.pdf [back to paragraph]
 Ekberg, G.S. 2001. "Prostitution and Trafficking: The Legal Situation in Sweden". Paper presented at Journées de formation sur la mondialisation de la prostitution et du traffic sexuel. Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale. Montréal, Quebec, Canada. [back to paragraph]
 Malarek, Victor. The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade. Arcade Publishing, New York, 2004. [back to paragraph]
 Hughes, Donna M. 2002. Foreign Government Complicity in Human Trafficking: A Review of the State Department’s 2002 Trafficking in Persons Report. Testimony before the U.S. House Committee on International Relations. Washington, DC, June 19, 2002. [back to paragraph]