On February 22, Robert Kraft, league owner of the NFL’s New England Patriots, faced charges related to solicitation of prostitution. Kraft, a billionaire, has categorically denied the charges. This high-profile situation sheds light on something that has permeated American society in recent years: the sex trafficking of young women. The girls involved in the sting operation were believed to be brought to the U.S. from Asia and forced into prostitution.

The Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863. Slavery, as America had known it, was to end. Yet, modern-day slavery numbers around the world are staggering. Human trafficking includes both labor and sex slavery. The International Labor Organization’s 2016 estimates indicate there are nearly 40.3 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. That means there are 5.4 victims for every 1000 people worldwide. Approximately, 4.8 million of those victims are exploited sexually. Sex trafficking is big business, profitable, and organized, generating $150 billion in 2014, $99 billion of which is associated with prostitution.

According to Exodus Cry, an international non-profit organization committed to abolishing sex trafficking and the commercial sex industry, “The International Labor Organization also estimates that 55 percent of all trafficking victims and 98 percent of sex trafficking victims are women and girls.” Though young boys are also exploited, the vast percentage are female.

There are an estimated 17,500 people trafficked in the U.S. annually. This number is likely vastly low as underreporting is common. One of seven endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex trafficking victims. Not surprisingly, the average age of a sex trafficked victim in America is 13 years old.

The Palermo Protocols, adopted by the United Nations, define human trafficking as: “The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

Our nation’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act defines sex trafficking as “…sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.”

Even one victim is too many. Prostitution has always been heralded as the victimless crime. But is it? Those exploited wouldn’t agree. A survey of 854 prostituted women in nine countries concluded that 63% of women in prostitution were raped and 71% were physically assaulted. Sixty-eight percent met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder similar to treatment-seeking combat veterans and victims of state-organized torture.

Exodus Cry states, “Once enslaved, victims typically are forced into unsanitary and stressful living conditions and receive little to no healthcare or basic services. Their movement is often restricted, their personal documentation withheld, and most experience significant physical, emotional, sexual, and psychological violence. Escaping from slavery is extremely difficult and dangerous, putting the victim at great personal risk. If rescued, integration back into society is incredibly difficult because of the shame, stigma, threat of retribution, and trauma experienced during enslavement.”

Some victims are raped 10-12 times per day, six to seven days a week. In some instances, that number is higher. How could anyone endure such traumatic exploitation and not have deep wounds? The average lifespan in trafficking is seven years.

Like most sexual sin such as pornography, trafficking is a secret sin. It happens repeatedly and no one knows, except the victim and the perpetrator. Prostitution many times occurs due to a lack of choice on the part of the victim. Poverty, physical or emotional abuse, rape, or the need to survive set the victim up to be marginalized, vulnerable, and easily exploited. It’s rare to find a person in trafficking that hasn’t at some point been abused and the wounds are themselves used to exploit the exploited.  

Already having a sense of worthlessness or wounded through undeserved guilt related to a rape or other abuse, victims are ripe for the exploitation of the trafficking industry. Once coerced into the industry, many times through the “love” of someone they come to trust, they are virtually unable to find freedom. Victims become throwaway commodities with no value beyond their intended use. Rescue is rare though it does sometimes occur. Ministries around the world risk life and limb to rescue the exploited.

Consequently, regardless of whether those in the Florida sting operation are charged or not, we must not forget those victims having been forced into an industry that manipulates, betrays and destroys. There are no innocent victims in human sex trafficking. No one chooses that life; it is forced upon them.

To learn more, visit Exodus Cry, Polaris, or International Justice Mission.