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Sex Trafficking & Commercial Sexual Exploitation?

Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world.1

  • At least 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude, forced labor and bonded labor.2
  • About 2 million children are exploited every year in the global commercial sex trade.3
  • Almost 6 in 10 identified trafficking survivors were trafficked for sexual exploitation.4
  • Women and girls make up 98% of sex trafficking victims.5

Elements of Sex Trafficking

  • ACT: Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons;
  • MEANS: Threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim;
  • PURPOSE: Prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, or slavery.

From the 2000 UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, ratified by 154 countries.

Sex trafficking–whether within a country or across national borders–violates basic human rights, including the rights to bodily integrity, equality, dignity, health, security, and freedom from violence and torture. Key international human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), consider sex trafficking a form of sex discrimination and a human rights violation.6

Millions of women and girls around the world are exploited in the commercial sex industry (i.e. the buying and selling of sex). The commercial sex industry preys on women and girls who are particularly vulnerable. Most have experienced significant trauma and many are still children when they enter prostitution.

This buying and selling of sex is often intrinsically linked to sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is a criminal industry that operates on the market principles of supply and demand. The demand is created by men who pay for commercial sex, ensuring that sex trafficking continues to exist. Traffickers, pimps and facilitators profit from this demand by supplying the predominantly women and girls who are exploited on a daily basis.No demand, no supply. No client, no business.

Some countries, including Sweden, Norway and Iceland, have adopted the “Nordic Model” approach to addressing sex trafficking and prostitution. These countries have adopted a set of laws that penalizes the demand for commercial sex while simultaneously decriminalizing individuals in prostitution. It is based on an approach which was first adopted in Sweden in 1999, followed by Norway and Iceland. The Nordic Model aims to curb the demand for commercial sex that fuels sex trafficking and promote gender equality between men and women.


1.While some statistics exist on sex trafficking, more accurate and comprehensive research is still needed.
2. International Labour Organization, ILO global estimate of forced labour: results and methodology (2012) p. 13.
3. UNICEF, Children Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Out of Reach; Abused and Neglected, Millions of Children Have Become Virtually Invisible (Dec. 2005).
4. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, 2012, p. 7.
5. International Labour Organization, Minimum Estimate of Forced Labour in the World (April 2005) p. 6.
6. See CEDAW, Art. 6; also, trafficking for sexual exploitation is “incompatible with the equal enjoyment of rights by women and with respect for their rights and dignity. They put women at special risk of violence and abuse.” General Comment 19: Violence against women (11th Sess., 1992), para. 14.