There are an estimated 403,000 people living in modern slavery in the United States (GSI 2018). Sex trafficking exists throughout the country. Traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage and other forms of coercion to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will. The situations that sex trafficking victims face vary, many victims become romantically involved with someone who then forces them into prostitution. Others are lured with false promises of a job, and some are forced to sell sex by members of their own families. Victims of sex trafficking include both foreign nationals and US citizens, with women making up the majority of those trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. In 2015, the most reported venues/industries for sex trafficking included commercial-front brothels, hotel/motel-based trafficking, online advertisements with unknown locations, residential brothels, and street-based sex trafficking. Sarah grew up in California. Her cousin was the leader of a gang and its members were often guarding the house. One of the gang members abused Sarah as a child and when her cousin found out, he was forced to retaliate, and Sarah now owed him. After this incident, she became a source of income and was put to work trafficking drugs. One day, her cousin bought her new dresses, took photos of her to sell to older men. When Sarah tried to seek help at school, she was locked up for a week as punishment. Later, when she was seventeen, Sarah’s cousin was arrested and though she was free from his control, she had nowhere to go and she was soon trafficked again by an old friend into adult entertainment. When she was 23, Sarah stole her second trafficker’s car keys and escaped. After living a life of abuse, trafficking, and drug abuse, Sarah struggled to go about ‘normal life.’ She talks about her journey overcoming her trauma and moving forward.
Countries in Latin America are source, transit and destination countries for trafficking in persons. People are exploited within their own countries and trafficked to other countries in the region, with Latin America being the primary source region for people trafficked to the United States. Major forms of trafficking in persons include commercial sexual exploitation of women and children, labour trafficking within national borders and among countries in the region, and the trafficking of illegal immigrants in Mexico and Central America. The two countries in Latin America and the Caribbean with the largest percentages of their population subjected to modern slavery, are Haiti and the Dominican Republic, according to the Walk Free Foundation. Romina was living on the streets with her father from the age of 9. One day her father was killed and Romina was put into the care of his friend Hugo. From the age of 13, Hugo trafficked Romina into commercial sexual exploitation. Romina was drugged and subjected to daily sexual violence until one day she was rescued during a police raid.