What is it like to be trafficked for sex - three women share their experiences

Trafficking for sexual exploitation is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world, netting $99 billion each year. 96% of sex trafficking victims are women and girls.

Although international law and the laws of 158 countries criminalize sex trafficking, it is still legally and socially acceptable to treat women and girls as merchandise in the sex trade.

Equality Now and the Sophie Hayes Foundation have collaborated on an immersive audio piece “The Lion Within” “The Lion Within”“The Lion Within” to honor the powerful first-hand experiences of three women who have personally experienced sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.

The stories of survivors give a window into the devastating human rights violations and abuse millions of women and girls suffer every year. Listening to the voices of women gives us a glimpse of what they have lived through and an insight into understanding how to combat such harms.

"I was a runaway from home, and if you run away and you have self-hatred you are likely to be attractive to the sex trade. I was prostituted from the age of 14. I feel that the men who were buying me could all see clearly that I was a child. I don’t have many photos of myself, one or two, but when I look at them not only was I a child but I was a very ill child. I was anorexic at that age, I was so thin and it made me look younger than 14 because I was ill. I think they never saw me as a child, they saw me as a prostitute and once you see someone as a prostitute you don’t see that they are human."

"When I was starting, the men specifically wanted underage prostitutes. They were particularly violent men and were in some ways more honest about it than the men later on. The guys later on who were looking for an escort or a girlfriend experience were just as violent and full of hate but they lied about why they were doing. They would pretend they cared about me or pretend that they didn’t do it very often or it wasn’t really real violence they were doing."

"My life had been reduced to a handful of basic functions: I slept, got up, ate, had sex with strangers, tried to dodge the police and avoid getting attacked by anyone, went home, gave all the money I’d earned to Kas, and slept again."

Interwoven are comments taken from a UK website where buyers of sex post reviews about their encounters, and the piece highlights how male perceptions diametrically differ from those of women we feature.

By targeting the root of the problem – the demand for paid sex – we can protect women and girls. No demand, no supply. Countless women and girls are bought and sold every year in the commercial sex trade, i.e. prostitution, which is often the end destination of sex trafficking. Without the sex trade, there would be no industry to traffic women and girls into, so efforts to address sex trafficking must also address prostitution.

Globally, there is evidence of a strong push-back on women’s rights, worsened by a rise in forces attempting to limit women and girls. Gratefully, there’s a palpable new energy from a young and re-vitalised citizenry wanting to get involved to make a positive difference.

By sharing experiences, “The Lion Within” seeks to harness some of that energy for justice, bring new audiences into the discussion and share space for creative thinking on how we can better work together for an end to sex trafficking.

Equality Now believes strongly in the power of the individual to effect change. And that together we are stronger.

We hope you will join us...