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How Big Is the Problem of Sex Trafficking?

Last Updated: November 4, 2020

Matt Fradd
Matt Fradd

Matt Fradd is the author of Delivered: True Stories of Men and Woman Who Turned from Porn to Purity. After experiencing a profound conversion at World Youth Day in Rome in 2000, Matt has worked through full-time lay ministry in Australia, Ireland, Canada, and Texas. He has served as an apologist for Catholic Answers and has traveled all over the world, speaking to tens of thousands of teens and young adults. He and his wife Cameron have four children and live in North Georgia.

Sex trafficking is a kind of forced or coerced prostitution: it’s misusing another person’s helplessness for sexual pleasure and profit.

But just how big is the problem today, both in the United States and abroad?

Here’s a look at the numbers:

  • According to Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, today there are at least 100,000 US children per year used for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation.
  • According to Steve Wagner, former director of the Human Trafficking Program at the US Department of Health and Human Services, 300,000 children are at risk of this kind of victimization.
  • According to the 8th edition of the Trafficking in Persons Report, globally there are about two million children exploited for the commercial sex trade.

What drives this enormous business is demand: individuals, mostly men, who are willing to seek the services of women and children who have been pushed into a life of sexual slavery.

Demand Drives Sex Slavery


A major reason for this demand today is pornography: 86% of prostitutes say johns show them pornography in order to illustrate specific acts they want them to perform.

Pornography helps to reinforce and train beliefs that make sex slavery possible, beliefs that women and children can become sexual commodities.


  • Comments on: How Big Is the Problem of Sex Trafficking?
    1. Let's Get Real

      Prostitution is the world’s oldest profession and will always be around. Also, let us get really real. There are many, many, many jobs out there. The problem is not men who want sex, but rather society as a whole. If we would take care of people and provide more good paying jobs for people, women and men would not turn to prostitution. But in our greed, we do not do that. We simply do not help people in American society. Capitalism has virtually insured that prostitution will always exist. When we hold a person’s criminal background against them for life, we lock them out of jobs and guarantees that prostitution will always exist. When the cost of living continues to rise but wages do not rise with them, this means people cannot live and this guarantees that prostitution will always exist. When people cannot live, they do other things to make money.

      Our society creates these problems then we compound them by arresting prostitutes and the people who us them. We then put two people in worse situations than they were before and then expect both people to miraculously “get better”.

      Haven’t people figure this out yet?

      Our sin is not lust — rather our sin is a lack of compassion and mercy for others. Our sin is our greed. Lust? Please. It is way down the list. Heck, if churches actually spent time doing something like match making and helping single people meet — we would have a lot less lonely people and less people seeing prostitutes. But no, all churches do is condemn, throw stones, and become a place where hypocrites gather.

      • Hi there,

        I have a few responses to you:

        1. I think its this either/or thinking that is part of the problem. You said, “The problem is not men who want sex, but rather society as a whole.” You also say, “Our sin is not lust — rather our sin is a lack of compassion and mercy for others.” Why can’t it be both?

        2. No doubt modern day prostitution is part of the worst capitalism brings, but doesn’t prostitution exist in other economic systems? No doubt greed is driving much of the problem, but greed exists everywhere, not just societies with capitalist underpinnings.

        3. I do agree we should not criminalize the women—especially since so many have been forced or coerced into prostitution in the first place—and some very progressive cities are making that change. In fact, this documentary does a great job addressing that problem.

        4. I find it interesting your perception of the church is that it fails to help single people meet. I don’t discount that that may be your personal experience, but I’ve heard from many people with opposite experiences. Most of my married friends met either at church or online.

      • Unfortunately, there’s no basis of facts for your assertions. There’s prostitution in Communist countries, and Socialist Countries. Most often coercion by someone greedy is at the source of the prostitution culture. That’s not capitalism, that’s just heartless, greedy, evil.
        If prostitution is really about someone’s lack of money, why is it that the people in our country most expected to earn a living are men, yet most prostitutes are women? No woman says, hmm, I’m starving, I think I’ll go hooking. She didn’t dream about it as a little girl, and it’s repulsive as an adult woman. No, a lot happens before that, like drugs, a habit to feed, an abusive boyfriend coercing her into hooking. Why is it most people choose welfare when they don’t have enough money? There’s other reasons beyond money; money becomes the excuse.
        You’re stating that prostitution would end if everybody was married. Then the same logic follows that affairs wouldn’t happen. Have you ever stopped to consider that just because lust isn’t an issue for you, you would be the exception?

      • David

        Here’s what I see in your article. I see a lot of angry liberal rants and ideology putting blame on capitalism, society and churches without much in the way of supporting facts. What little information you do provide comes from obvious special interest groups with an agenda which taints their so-called statistics. When you sit down and start thinking about it and running some numbers it quickly becomes clear that the numbers can’t be correct. For instance, There are about 1 million prostitutes in the US. That would mean somewhere between 1 and 3 out of 10 would have to be children. Sounds like a stretch to me and that’s just the beginning of checking numbers.

        Yes, we know there is a problem with human sex trafficking. The problem I have is when people exaggerate to present it as being much bigger than it really is. We also don’t need to know all this to know that we all have to protect our families and ourselves from pornography.

        I don’t know why covenant eyes would post a piece like this that damages their reputation for honesty and accuracy.

      • Hey David,

        I’m not sure where we mentioned capitalism or churches, but I’m willing to hear you out further on that point. Care to share more?

        Please, if you know of any groups that gather statistics on sex trafficking that don’t have “agendas,” I’d love to hear more about these groups. If you have specific reasons why you don’t trust the TIP report or NCMEC, I’d love to hear about any information you have about their poor research methods.

        You may need to do the math for me again because I’m not sure where you are getting the 3-in-10 stat or the 1-million-prostitutes stat. If you could provide some sources that would be really helpful.

        I do agree that no parent needs to know this information to protect kids against porn, but that really isn’t the purpose of the article or the video.

    2. Let's Get Real

      I can’t respond to Susan so I will just make a new post.

      Of course, prostitution exists in other economic system because prostitution is inherently a business transaction. But I was referring to capitalism because we are a capitalistic society.

      I don’t fully understand your first sentence of your second paragraph. I think you are naive. The main reason for hooking is for money. It is a quick way to get money. Just do a monthly budget. You can’t live on minimum wage. Sorry, you just can’t. So how do you add income? Work another job? Possibly. The reality is a woman can make a lot of money hooking. The $200 you get for an hour of sex is equivalent to working 25 hours at minimum wage.

      Hate to tell you also, but most people on welfare need that money. Again, do a budget. My guess is you aren’t making minimum wage.

      Also, where did I say that if everyone was married, prostitution wouldn’t happen? I didn’t. Please don’t put words in my mouth. I completely understand that lust is an issue. A lot of people are unhappy in their marriages and are not having sex. That heightens lust. I am just saying that if you wanted to cut down on the number of prostitutes — pay people so they can live. But then there is the fact that women like attention and the easy money. Webcam girls prove this daily. Few women are forced to be a webcam girl from the privacy of their own homes. They just make a lot of money and it is an easy job. I know many women who had amazing job who flat out chose to be hookers, strippers, and webcams girls. Women like attention and money.

      • vic

        You say that few Webcam girls are forced to do so. How do you know that? The majority of sex slaves are used to make videos and pictures and Webcam sites in addition to outright prostitution. Some do it of their own accord but there is no way of identifying the difference.

    3. Ian

      @Let’s Get Real
      You contradict yourself:

      “The problem is not men who want sex, but rather society as a whole.”


      “But then there is the fact that women like attention and the easy money. Webcam girls prove this daily. […] They just make a lot of money and it is an easy job.”

      Yes, and where does this “easy money” come from?

      The men (mainly) who are paying for it! It’s not like it just magically appears because women like to get attention – it is those who give them the attention that pay for it in time and funds. If there was no demand there would be little to no profit for these women, nor any incentive – simple economics really. There is an opportunity, and they seize it. I don’t blame the women here, nor do I blame the men, as it is mutual.

      Although each has to look at themselves and see if they are living within their own sense of ethics, integrity and morals on a personal level, that is a different story. Also, even if it were $200 for a session vs. 25 hours of minimum wage ($8 per hour per this argument), it is not exactly a steady job, nor is it without major risks – STDs, higher odds of rape and murder, pregnancy, pretty much no further career/bad reputation after this, just to name a few. It’s a pretty big deal to go into this, and not one that people make lightly as per the above argument forwarded.

      The logic is also flawed, however, that being on welfare and/or minimum wage will likely lead to prostitution, and greed/capitalism being the problem. For one, not everyone who is poor turns to selling drugs, or robbery, or prostitution – this is absolutely a last ditch, bare bones survival mentality combined with environmental and peer factors, as the risks are extremely high. And it is because of the desperation that people do these things, which reinforces one of the points of the triangle above – the suppliers (i.e. the webcam sites, pimps, brothels, etc) who see a market demand and people willing to produce the product, as it were. In addition, if greed/capitalism truly are the problem, then by this definition the women taking $200 for a webcam or prostituting job are just as guilty if not more of greed vs. working minimum wage in a legal job (webcam can be legal, but depends as crossing state borders with porn is a felony and at that point one is an accomplice to a crime even if by ignorance if the site provider failed to register properly) or getting a skill to lead to a better paying job.

      While I don’t think marriage would solve the issue – personally, I don’t think people should get married until they sort out their deeper issues and do the work needed to continue creating that marriage successfully – and I do agree that getting people a decent living would be a larger disincentive to turn to webcams/prostitution, I think the issue is much more of an individual issue than a societal one stemming from childhood and ethical issues not addressed.

      The point of the article, by the way, is about sex trafficking, which is referring to illegal sex acts, not (sometimes) legal ones like webcams and the like. This refers to exploited women, teens, children and so forth. Please don’t confuse the two things – one being willing, one being unwilling.

    4. Robert

      Men are being exploited by strippers. Men lose money, the women get the money.

      • Jonathan

        @Robert You are either trying to be inflammatory, or you are an ignorant fool in this area. I know a woman who was trapped in the prostitution/stripping/drugs lifestyle. Nearly every woman she met was a human slave being trafficked for a pimp’s personal gain and pleasure. Men and women do take advantage of each other in offering one thing to gain another, but in the sex industries, men are blatantly disregarding the image of God in which the women are created. It is a shameful thing that men show up to be “taken advantage of.”

    5. If you truly know him

      what would Jesus say?

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