The Intersection of Human Trafficking and AIDS

With World AIDS Day today, it’s important to understand that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is by no means isolated from other social issues. It intersects with a number of other human rights concerns, including children’s rights, international violence against women, and human trafficking. Trafficking victims, particularly in commercial sex, are more vulnerable to becoming infected with HIV. And sex trafficking as an institution spreads AIDS. Here’s a quick guide to how human trafficking and AIDS are intersecting epidemics.

Sex Trafficking Victims are More Vulnerable to HIV/AIDS

All people in commercial sex are more vulnerable to HIV infection, but human trafficking victims are especially so. Since trafficking victims cannot make free choices or control their situation, they cannot insist on safer sex practices, like using a condom. Even if condoms are available in the brothel where a trafficking victim is held, she may not have the power to insist upon, or even suggest, their usage. Trafficking victims are also more frequently raped and exposed to violent and high-risk sexual behavior. Violent sex can cause ripping and tearing of tissue, making HIV transmission more likely. Since many trafficking victims are young girls in their early teens, their age may make their bodies even more vulnerable to infection. Once a trafficking victim contracts HIV, it is highly unlikely she will be tested, diagnosed, and treated for the disease, thus allowing the AIDS to develop.

Sex Trafficking Spreads HIV/AIDS

Sex trafficking also contributes to proliferating the global AIDS epidemic. Since trafficking victims are rarely tested and treated for HIV infections, they may continue to be forced to have unprotected sex with hundreds or thousands of men before exhibiting any symptoms. The cross-border transportation which sometimes accompanies sex trafficking operations spreads the disease, as one infected victims can infect the men who buy her in several different regions or countries. Those men may go on and infect other partners, both in and out of the commercial sex industry. Some cultural myths about AIDS, like the idea that sex with a virgin will cure an HIV infection, cause infected men to seek out unprotected sex with young trafficked women. All of these conditions allow HIV to flourish and spread.

AIDS and Trafficking Prevention Efforts Have Clashed

Perhaps one of the trickiest parts of the intersection between HIV and human trafficking is the history of clashing between trafficking prevention and HIV prevention groups. HIV prevention groups have focused on getting condoms into brothels, even if it means befriending brothel owners, to help prevent transmission. Trafficking prevention groups, on the other hand, have focused on removing enslaved women from the brothels, even if it means pissing off the brothel owners and condom distributors. It’s not surprising well-intentioned groups with these different philosophies have butted heads, but that conflict has done little to help trafficked women from becoming infected with HIV.

Both trafficking prevention and HIV prevention groups should understand that they are working for related goals. When the AIDS epidemic destroys a village or family, it makes people more vulnerable to sex trafficking, which in turn makes people more vulnerable to AIDS. These dual epidemics fuel and support each other, lining the pockets of criminals and destroying the lives of vulnerable people all over the world. Only when we truly understand this intersection can we put our differences aside and begin to address these issues the way they exist in the world: together.


Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 7:03 am  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. You really got the point. For recent 5 year, prevalence people get infected with HIV/AIDS shifted to Injected Drug Users to Sexual Doers. This is a really good article. People, somehow, got focus only on preventing HIV transmission by using condoms, while they’ve totally forgotten to decrease Sex Trafficking. Just for adding, this sex trafficking will shift to sex for fun, one night stand, and other free sex stuffs.

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