Women and girls are more commonly trafficked into the sex industry, however the trafficking of boys or men for sexual exploitation is largely under-reported. This is due to a combination of reasons including the more hidden nature of male prostitution; cultural and gendered stereotypes that do not consider it possible for men to be sexually exploited and inadequate legal systems and reporting frameworks that may not identify victims correctly. In many cases, girls and women who think they are going to work as domestic help or in restaurants, bars and karaoke venues, are tricked or forced into sex work. People may also choose to work in the sex industry but end up in an exploitative situation that they did not agree to. Many people who travel to find work or to study are tricked into the industry. This is often because they are culturally isolated and are not fully aware of their rights, so they become more vulnerable to exploitation.
Sex trafficking can occur in every country in the world. People who have limited access to protection, education or opportunities to make money are more vulnerable to being exploited. Many victims are found in countries where there is a large pool of unskilled labour and the labour protection system is weak. However, victims are also found in developed countries – many of who are migrants who may have travelled to pursue work or education opportunities and have been tricked or forced into exploitative situations. It is impossible to accurately assess how many people are victims of sex trafficking worldwide. It is a hidden crime and even if victims have the opportunity to report the abuses, in many cases, they will not do so out of fear of their traffickers or cultural shame. Frontline law enforcement authorities are also not always trained in identifying potential victims. For example, in a country where prostitution is illegal, people may be considered guilty of being sex workers, rather than as victims of trafficking. Trafficking for sexual exploitation turns individuals into commodities which dehumanises them. It occurs partially due to the demand for prostitution and other forms of commercial sexual practices that traffickers seek to supply. In certain cultures virginity is highly prized and ignorance and myths about HIV and AIDS transmission and cures have contributed to the demand for sex with young girls. Gender inequality contributes to high numbers of women being trafficked into the sex industry.
As sex trafficking is often a transnational crime, governments and organisations working across national boundaries, such as the United Nations and World Vision, must work together throughout the trafficking cycle. This includes collaboration to prevent potentially vulnerable individuals from becoming exploited; training law enforcement and other officials to identify and protect victims; prosecuting traffickers and their accomplices; securing justice for victims; and playing an active part in a global movement for the promotion and protection of human rights, especially for children.