Human Trafficking Through History

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Many societies throughout our history traded money, goods , or services for sex.This isn't anything different today. Sex is seen whether it is in movies, music, television shows, and social media.The me too movement shows how many women and children were sexually abused by many celebrities and were not given justice. Often, these victims are not taking seriously and people getting accused get away with little to no jail time but this isn't new.

Today 21 million men, women, and children worldwide is trapped in human trafficking including all forms of trafficking according to Tonnessen, author of Historic Slave Trade and Present Day Human Trafficking in Africa .That number steady increases every year and it’s not going away anytime soon. Many men, women , and children are constantly traded from all the world just so traffickers along with countries profit millions of dollars off sex tourism. At least 4.8 million victims are stuck in sex slavery according to the polaris project in 2017 and 25% of them are children. They try to justify having sexual relations with young girls and boys since they have their “virginity” and it could possibly prevent them from getting stds like HIV according to the nonprofit organization,Humanium.

Historically, prostitution was allowed as an occupation and many societies had them classified into different classes.Young children were also used as sexual objects in civilizations going all the way back to the Greeks and Romans in which they have young girls and boys perform sexual acts in brothels for entertainment.In ancient rome, boy brothels were very popular among their citizens.Michel Dorais in Rent Boys : The World of Male Sex Trade Workers” states, “Other child prostitutes on the streets would lift up their tunics to show their genitals to get clients. Roman emperors like Augustus and Caligula have attempted to pass laws to limit prostitution but it still was legal.

This idea continues to many kings who tried to ban prostitution but they put the blame on the victims instead of the men who were doing the crime. In the early first century, Visigoth King of Spain banned prostitution and offered no punishment for men who hired or exploited prostitutes found by tom head author of world history 101. Women found guilty of selling sexual favors were punished by being whipped 300 times and exiled from the country, basically giving them a death sentence.The catholic church itself had many scandals dating back to the 11th century with higher members of clergy sexually abusing mostly younger boys but some girls and ignoring the victims.Prostitution was widely accepted no matter what consequences were put out. It was common for major towns and villages to have brothels.Many young males and females would become prostitutes as a way to survive since there wasn't a lot of work to do other than begging or thieving using public baths to gain clients.Majority of the kings regulated these brothels.King Henry II of england in 1160 mandated that prostitutes must be single and ordered weekly inspections of London's infamous brothels to ensure that other laws were not being broken(tom head).In Italy during the 1300s, prostitution was embraced by the government. The Great Council of Venice had government run brothels that were built in major italian cities during the 14th and 15th century.

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During the 1800s , the anti-prostitution movement become popular.The earliest part of the movement, the main focus in Europe where white women and children were the main victims of sexual exploitation.Hence the name “white slave trade” was used during this time since all the other groups excluding whites were not included in the anti-prostitution movement. Josephine Butler started it in England in 1828.The goal was to repeal the Contagious Disease Acts. It required prostitutes to be registered and periodically examined for STDs. If a woman was determined to be infected, she could be held until she was deemed to be“clean” according to Hughes.Antibiotics not sterile equipment weren’t developed yet so many of the women were abused and injured during the exams.The police overused their power and label a person who they thought “prostitutes”.They were forced to register as a prostitute whether they were or not and examined causing the woman’s status to be lowered.The contagious disease act was abolished in 1883 accomplishing their goal.

As time progressed into the 20th century,more anti-prostitution laws came into place.By 1904, the movement was able to get all the kings and queens of Europe to sign an agreement to suppress “white slave Traffic” which made them agree to stopping the traffic women and girls in their home countries another d colonies. In 1910, 13 countries created and signed the International Convention for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic.The convention stated: “Whoever, in order to gratify the passions of another person, has procured, enticed, or led away, even with her consent, a woman or girl under age, for immoral purposes, shall be punished.”(hughes).More progress was made when the UN in 1949 created the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. In this, they defined what is free and forced trade, emphasized that “traffic” is to be prohibited, even if the woman consents to the exploitation, and that all countries that ratified the agreement to prohibit the legalization of prostitution.Many countries tried to make prostitution legal by this act prohibited them from doing so. The women's movement in the 1960s brought more attention to the cause when they also focused on stopping all commercial use of women and girls in prostitution and the production of pornography.

Today, this laws are now focusing on punishing the traffickers instead the victims. For example, sweden in 1990 started punishing criminals dealing with prostitution cases and worked on rehabilitating the victims with programs dedicated to moving them into different work. Others followed in the 2000s confronting sex trafficking head on. The US passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act which defined sex trafficking as a criminal act when a minor is used for a commercial sex act or force, while fraud or coercion is used to compel an adult to perform a commercial sex act(Chaung). in 2003, Congress approved the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act which offered protection to the victims.Even in February 2016, Congress enacted legislation referred to as the International Megan’s Law requiring registered sex offenders to carry passports with “unique identifiers” and U.S. agencies to notify foreign governments when registered sex offenders are visiting their countries according to Seekle.

Those are examples of laws that have been implemented in other countries today have helped many women and child victims stuck in sex trafficking but not enough are implementing them to protect these victims especially the children.Many countries today still don’t have stricter laws and easier punishments of people trafficking these victims since trafficking is hard to track since it involves many other countries excluding the host country. Human trafficking can’t be stopped overnight but implementing stricter laws punishing people trafficking children would lower the number of children.

Works Cited

  1. “Child Prostitution.” Humanium • We Make Children's Rights Happen,
  2. Dorais, Michel, and Peter Feldstein. Rent Boys : The World of Male Sex Trade Workers. MQUP, 2005. EBSCOhost,
  3. Head, Tom, and ACLU. “Prostitution Isn't Quite the World's Oldest Profession -- But It's Close.” Thoughtco., Dotdash,
  4. Hughes, Donna.“Combating Sex Trafficking: A History.” Fair Observer, Fair Observer, 8 May 2014,
  5. Janie A. Chuang. “EXPLOITATION CREEP AND THE UNMAKING OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING LAW.” The American Journal of International Law, vol. 108, no. 4, 2014, pp. 609–649. JSTOR, JSTOR,
  6. Tønnessen, anne martine Havnen. Historic Slave Trade and Present Day Human Trafficking in Africa. UNIVERSITY OF OSLO, Nov. 2016,
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