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Sex Trafficking by Organized Crime Groups


The modern world is experiencing tremendous paradigm shifts as consistent and systemic efforts are being made to eliminate discrimination and create a tolerant and egalitarian society. Feminism is a movement and ideology which seeks to redefine social attitudes towards women and establish the provision of equal rights. Despite significant progress and massive advocacy efforts on behalf of individuals, groups, and international organizations, gender-based discrimination is present in practically every region of the world. Transnational sex trafficking is a prevalent issue that serves as evidence that a persistent problem exists surrounding the exploitation of women due to the lack of social protection. The modern globalized world provides numerous opportunities for organized and transnational crime to align the efficient system of women sex trafficking. It is critical to comprehend the link between the social vulnerability of women and inherent economic conditions in developing nations that cause transnational sex trafficking in order to implement comprehensive and systemic solutions that address the needs of the victims and promote a paradigm shift in accordance with feminist theory.

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The United Nations has established human trafficking as a quickly growing criminal activity. It is estimated that approximately 2.45 million are trapped in forced labor and trafficking networks worldwide, with 43% being targeted for sexual exploitation. An 80% majority of these transnational victims consist of women and girls (Erez, 2010). International organized crime creates problems for all victims and vulnerable populations. However, there is an adverse impact on women as a whole. For example, migration intensifies the gender-linked vulnerability of females, making them dependent on male husbands, employers, or sponsors within the ethnic communities.

Human trafficking is based on obtaining control over a person through illegal and inappropriate methods of force, fraud, and deception with the purpose of exploiting them. The definition established by the United Nations emphasizes that trafficking is more than a criminal act. Rather, it is a complex process that is a crime against humanity. It mentions that abuse of power and a vulnerable position of a person can be considered methods of control. Furthermore, there is a clear indication that “exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation” (Erez, 2010, p. 552).

Feminist Theory

Sex trafficking is inherently a form of violence against women, which is a common occurrence in a patriarchal society that exists today. The second wave of feminism demonstrated the intricacies of violence that exists in industrialized nations. This horrific aspect can take many forms, but it is based on a universal theoretical concept of power and control. It has been shown that sexual crimes are often not centered around sexuality but rather positions of power and social order in the patriarchal society. Men engage in violence against women because society has allowed them to do so, with social institutions and the criminal justice system tacitly overlooking numerous cases of control and abuse (Rosenberg & Duffy, 2010).

These patterns of violence were part of the mechanism designed to sustain social male domination and subordination of women. Feminist research over the years has identified the complex model of abuse that extends beyond physical and sexual into economic and psychological dimensions. The issue is not based so much on individual men or their gender in general, but rather a social order which creates an environment and pressure conducive to abuse. Violence becomes less of an external threat but rather an internal process as women are affected by attitudes of learned helplessness and a sense of self which leads to victimization (Rosenberg & Duffy, 2010).

The theoretical background for sex work and sexual exploitation of women is complex and diverse as a social concept but is often underdeveloped at the individual level. The moral debates considering these macro-level theoretical contexts impact large-scale social systems (such as law) that determine the legality of whether a woman can choose to exchange sex for money (both willingly and involuntary). Academic and legal scholars on the issue offer various viewpoints on comparing sex work with sexual exploitation. However, micro-level theories view sex work as a process that consists of victimization and entry as well as the difficulty of exiting this industry (Gerassi, 2015). This is an important aspect to discuss because sex trafficking often leads to women becoming sex workers or being exploited for sexual purposes.

The feminist theory seeks to question whether any type of sex work or prostitution can be a voluntary act. Service providers of such services (escort) tend to argue against the interpretation that that industry maintains an overrepresentation of women. Regarding this topic, generally, two opposing sides exist, each arguing a different theoretical perspective. Neo-abolitionists condemn any form of sex work, even if voluntary, viewing it as oppression against women in general. Their argument is based on the premise that prostitution cannot be fully consensual. However, the opposing group, consisting of sex positivists, states that a woman has the right to choose this line of work (Gerassi, 2015). Sex trafficking has been consistently associated with services offering sex in exchange for money. These women are kept under strict control, abused, and not allowed to leave. Even if their entry into the profession was voluntary at first, there are numerous instances of the issue becoming oppressive.

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The Impact of Globalization on Sex Trafficking

Globalization is the trend of socio-economic interconnectedness amongst countries around the world that is promoted through a free-flowing movement of capital, goods, and ideas across borders. Neoliberal economic policies implemented in the 1980s have actively contributed to creating the modern global system of open financial markets and competition with little government regulation. The aim was to improve global economic growth by providing entry to markets for poorer nations. While the goal of reducing absolute poverty was achieved, these policies resulted in a tremendous wage gap between the rich and developing countries. The effect on agriculture and industry, which lowered wages, has created a pull factor that attracts migrant workers to affluent nations such as the United States. However, stringent immigration policy has led to the creation of forced labor, and human trafficking practices as migrants become dependent on third parties (Encinas, 2018).

In the modern globalized world, criminals have learned to take advantage of numerous opportunities for the trafficking of people. It is achieved through modern methods and networks of transportation which have been created by globalized trade (Bromfield, 2015). This applies to sex trafficking as well, which has become one of the primary objectives for criminal organizations. As borders are blurred, more opportunities arise for the transport of women from more impoverished regions into affluent countries for the purposes of sex work and exploitation (Flynn, Alston, & Mason, 2013). Tighter border controls result in poor and vulnerable migrants relying on brokers to make perilous journeys. The cost of transportation amounts to a person’s life savings and more which places them in debt to these powerful criminal organizations. Therefore, people are forced into slavery or prostitution for compensation.

It is critical to consider that most women involved in sex trafficking come from poor regions of the world. Poverty, illiteracy, cultural patriarchy, and the widening gender gap all contribute to the rise of trafficking in these regions (Jani &Felke, 2015). Furthermore, the political climate, buried in corruption and where the rule of law is rarely enforced on such issues, becomes conducive to crime. Governments of such regions are not actively involved in resolving sex trafficking. Meanwhile, legal systems are based on cultural traditions of patriarchy which promote the vulnerability of women. This leads to practices of forced marriage and rape, as well as creating barriers to education and employment (Gilbertson, 2015).

Therefore, globalization negatively impacts women from these regions of the world as they become sources of cheap labor to be used in developed countries, including sex services (Jani &Felke, 2015). The countries where women are trafficked are commonly affluent. It does not matter whether prostitution is legalized or regulated. Women will be funneled into either the legal industry or the underground sex trade, depending on the policies of that specific country. Nevertheless, women become slaves, even if they are integratedinto the legal system of sex service. Furthermore, participation in such systems creates a possibility for arrest by law enforcement. Most often, this leads to deportation on the charges of illegal entry or forged documentation. Meanwhile, traffickers themselves are rarely convicted (Gilbertson, 2015).

Case Study

Eastern European countries are common sources of sex trafficking. Romania is one particular country impacted by the issue. The cause of this is considered the low standard of living in the country with significant demographical, unemployment, and financial issues after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Families are commonly unstable as women are left by their husbands. Therefore, they are left vulnerable and can be entrapped by traffickers through the promise of good income. The social mindset for women focused on attracting a wealthy man in order to have a decent quality of life is commonly manipulated by traffickers. Furthermore, there is a lack of a strong legislative base or federal structures to protect women and prevent trafficking, which is abused by criminal organizations. The post-Soviet government corruption and relaxation of border control have allowed for criminal activity and sex trafficking into the European Union nations (Caramello, 2013).

FeministsEfforts to Improve the Situation

Sex trafficking most commonly occurs in regions or situations where there is a lack of social guarantees for women. In order to resolve the issue, a redefined legal environment should be created. Women are significantly empowered when the criminal justice system protects them and becomes a resource to resist violence and victimization. The trafficking of women for sexual exploitation requires a collective response that provides support services and respects the rights and dignity of women. The needs of vulnerable populations such as migrants should be considered as their immigration status should not jeopardize access to services. Overall, existing institutions, social structures, and community networks should be utilized in providing support and protection for women at risk of sex trafficking and attempting to escape victimization (Erez, 2010). While there are limited resources to help each victim individually, a collective effort is undoubtedly effective against transnational sex trafficking.

In terms of interventions, social workers must examine the process and system comprehensively. A criminal justice response is commonly rejected in favor of harm reduction programs. These seek to employ case management which interconnects clients with counseling, medical care, housing assistance, and advocacy groups. It is important to note that despite common misconceptions (even amongst social workers), women experiencing violence in both domestic disputes and sexual exploitation are inherently similar. These women are faced with physical and psychological abuse, dominance, social rejection, and overbearing control (Bromfield, 2015). This is an important concept to consider within the context to address the issue since efforts and interventions targeted at the issue of sex trafficking can be used in other social situations and vice versa.

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Moving forward, change is most likely to occur through legislation. However, as history has shown, policies are often ineffective at addressing the root of the issue and, at times, create more barriers. Some concepts to consider is that both academic research and legislation passed regarding the issue of sex trafficking should focus on the needs of the victim rather than the demands of the criminal justice system as it has been doing. The process of prosecution is often traumatic and detrimental to the victim, particularly migrants. Police practices and procedures should take a holistic and investigative approach as the issue requires a collaborative approach amongst agencies, both domestically and internationally (Kingshott& Jones, 2016).

There is a significant gendered policy discourse regarding sex trafficking. The subject is often viewed as men trafficking women (which may be somewhat supported by anecdotal evidence). Women are portrayed as victims that are naïve and unaware of the risks and oppression that are associated with human smuggling. Meanwhile, men are portrayed as most likely to deliberately break the law and to be perceived as criminals. Therefore, human rights violations against men are not taken into account, and men are viewed as less deserving of compassion. Therefore, protective policies lead to the restriction of women’s choices. They are creating a legislative framework that places abuse of female migrants as the sole fault of traffickers as detrimental. This way, the women’s agency is denied, and the role of the state is unclear. The discussion on the topic fails to consider that human smuggling and trafficking is a by-product of “restrictive migration regimes, exploitative employment practices and inequality between poorer and richer countries” (Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, 2011, p. 62).

Policies should be more comprehensive in assessing the problem. Through feminist efforts, politicians should consider questions of whether the legislation values or empowers women and addresses inequality without creating loopholes or double standards. Eventually, policy creation will evolve towards creating a significant impact on the prevention of transnational crime (Noyori-Corbett & Moxley, 2016). Inherently, this will require a paradigm shift in social thinking which will be difficult to achieve but will produce equality amongst genders and end the horrific practice of sex trafficking.


Advocacy efforts against sex trafficking highlight several distinct principles:

  1. Prostitution directly causes sex trafficking;
  2. Sex trafficking and prostitution are interconnected;
  3. Prostitution is a form of violence against women (Jackson, 2016).

In the continuous battle of formulating social perceptions of sex work and the individuals participating in it, as well as those who seek to help and support these women, it is critical to establish precise definitions surrounding the issue. This requires challenging stereotypes and reclaiming labels. Feminist advocates seek to highlight the experiences of women involved in sex trafficking in order to clarify their side of the story. The primary objective is to destigmatize sex work and repel criminal prosecution of the victim rather than the abuser. These narratives are difficult to accept as they challenge mainstream cultural morals and attitudes. However, such “counterstories” of marginalized and oppressed victims effectively disrupt the social constructs manipulated by media and political agendas (Jackson, 2016).

In order to identify the best practices on the issue of sex trafficking moving forward, one must avoid participating in the moral panic that commonly arises in the discussion of the topic. As evident, the problem is complex, requiring an in-depth understanding of political and social contexts, theoretical background, and the process of victimization in sex trafficking. The scholarly human rights framework needs to recognize that while consensual sex work exists, there are a number of participants who are coerced and exploited in the industry due to sex trafficking (Bromfield, 2015).


Gender-based discrimination and exploitation of women remain prevalent issues in the modern world. Feminist theoretical perspectives highlight that violence against women occurs due to the systemic social status quo which sustains such conditions. Rapid globalization, which is a positive occurrence, has been overshadowed by transnational sex trafficking that has become widespread due to ease of transportation. Women experience discrimination due to gender-linked vulnerability and a common perception of women as sexual objects. Feminists attempt to redefine social norms and resolve the issue by establishing social guarantees for women through the removal of barriers to financial stability and protection from crime.


Bromfield, N.F. (2015). Sex slavery and sex trafficking of women in the United States: Historical and contemporary parallels, policies, and perspectives in social work.Affilia, 31(1), 129-139. Web.

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Caramello, I. B. (2013). A case study of sex trafficking in Romania. Web.

Encinas, P. (2018). The correlation between globalization and human trafficking. Web.

Erez, E. (2010). Women as victims and survivors in the context of transnational human trafficking for commercial sex exploitation. Revue Internationale de Droit Pénal, 81(3), 551-562. Web.

Flynn, C., Alston, M., & Mason, R. (2013). Trafficking in women for sexual exploitation: Building Australian knowledge.International Social Work, 57(1), 27-38. Web.

Gerassi, L. (2015). A heated debate: Theoretical perspectives of sexual exploitation and sex work. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 42(4), 79-100.

Gilbertson, M. (2015). Globalization and the sex trafficking industry: Examination of effects on regional value chain operations. Web.

Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women. (2011). Smuggling and trafficking: Rights and intersections. Web.

Jackson, C. A. (2016). Framing sex worker rights: How U.S. sex worker rights activists perceive and respond to mainstream anti-sex trafficking advocacy.Sociological Perspectives,59(1), 27-45. Web.

Jani, N., &Felke, T. P. (2015). Gender bias and sex-trafficking in Indian society.International Social Work, 69(4), 831-846. Web.

Kingshott, B. F., & Jones, T. R. (2016). Human trafficking: A feminist perspective response. In Advancing justice on all fronts (pp. 1-22). Denver, Colorado: Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. Web.

Noyori-Corbett, C., & Moxley, D. P. (2016). A transnational feminist policy analysis of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. International Journal of Social Welfare, 26(2), 107-115. Web.

Rosenberg, L., & Duffy, A. (2010). Violence against women. In N. Mandell (Ed.), Feminist issues: Race, class, and sexuality (5th ed.) (pp.161-196). Toronto, Canada:Pearson Education Canada.

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