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The Costs of Sex Trafficking
April 6, 2017

When we talk about child victims of the sex trade, the moral costs are clear: no child should fall prey to sexual predators. That message alone should provide the rallying cry to end trafficking and exploitation, however, what it doesn’t say is that society bears costs as well. The focus is on the effect on victims and their families—as it should be. It is relevant and useful, however, to also examine the effects on society.

The Financial Costs of Sex Trafficking

–When victims of trafficking eventually surface in the system, the trauma from the abuse requires help: rehabilitation and restoration. This includes professionals: medical help for any physical trauma, therapeutic help for mental, emotional, and spiritual trauma, and guidance to help the survivor return to work or school and hopefully eventually rejoin society in a healthy way. All of these things cost time and money, usually paid privately or publicly by others.

–If the abusers responsible are caught, then begins the long process of prosecution and incarceration. The time and money involved for police investigators, lawyers, the judicial system, and prison also do not come for free: it is paid for by society in taxes.

–The children who remain trapped in the sex trade until adulthood are taken from a normal path in life. It has a negative impact on their educational attainment and on their chances of contributing to a solid, legitimate job in which they earn wages and pay taxes. If and when they do escape the sex trade, they may have to turn to public assistance to sustain themselves for however long it takes them to recover—if they ever do.

–The money paid in the illicit sex trade is money that is not going towards tax-paying legitimate businesses and workers, but rather into the hands of trafficking criminals.

The Social Costs of Sex Trafficking

–The obvious one is the trauma inflicted upon the victim, and the effects that radiate outward to the victim’s family and loved ones.

–One less discussed is how trafficking facilitates the transmission of disease. Because trafficking happens in places with unsanitary conditions, not only does it encourage the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, it also contributes to the spread of other communicable illnesses—causing sex trafficking to become a public health concern. This is one reason why there has been a big push in the health care industry to train doctors and nurses and other health care professionals to recognize potential victims and alert authorities. h

–The popular image of sex tourists involves seedy old men that no one would want to approach within a 10-foot radius. This stereotype is highly distorted. If you walk through Nana Plaza or Soi Cowboy, two of Bangkok’s most famous red-light districts, you see businessmen still carrying their briefcases straight from work, wedding rings still on their fingers. You see college age kids on holiday. You see a father “initiating” his son. You see men who could be your grandfather. You see couples out for a good time. You see…just about every kind of conceivable person. What does this bring home? What is the effect of infidelity on marital relations? What is the effect of the commodification of sex on gender relations in general?

–Last but not least, trafficking is a criminal activity that involves underground networks of illegal migration that are also known for use in moving drugs, weapons, and terrorists. To the extent that trafficking is allowed to grow unchecked, it leads to the breakdown of law and the breakdown of national security.


All told, the costs borne by allowing trafficking to continue are significant. Meanwhile, studies suggest $1 of prevention is worth $34 of cure. Directing resources to stopping trafficking before it happens is not only our moral obligation—it makes financial sense too.

Dr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The Freedom Story (formerly The SOLD Project). After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness.

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