Condoms are super. They guard against the transmission of HIV and other STDs. They help people plan when and how to start a family. And if you look hard enough, you can often get them for free or cheap. But when it comes to helping sex trafficking victims, condoms just aren’t the answer. At least, the male ones aren’t.
While traditional male condoms are generally considered very effective in preventing unwanted pregnancy and STDs, there is one key to their effectiveness: you have to use one every time you have sex. That means you have to make an active choice about your sexual situation, be able to present it to your partner, and be able to insist on it. Sex trafficking victims, almost by definition, aren’t able to make active choices about their sexual situation. They aren’t able to choose who they have sex with, when, or how often. Why would they be able to choose whether or not to use a condom?
This doesn’t mean sex trafficking victims never use condoms. Some are able to successfully negotiate condom use with some of the men who buy them. Others find that their pimp insists upon regular condom use to protect his investment, though an increase in price will speedily throw this rule out the window. And some of the men who buy sex with trafficking victims also choose to use condoms. But the availability of male condoms near trafficked women and girls doesn’t guarantee their use by any means, and may actually do nothing to protect them against STDs and pregnancy.
One possible solution for this is the female condom. The female condom is the only female-initiated form of birth control that also protects against STDs. It has been available for several years, but lack of marketing, cost, and unavailability in some areas has kept it from coming into wider use. The female condom may be especially important for victims of human trafficking and domestic violence who aren’t able to control male condom use during sex.
Increasingly, advocates are beginning to realize that female condoms may be crucial to helping women who have been disempowered to protect themselves during sex. Chicago, for example, is conducting a campaign to promote female condom usage. In Washington, D.C., female condoms have been available for free in beauty salons, gas stations, and drive-thrus, and are now available for sale throughout the city.
Even female condoms aren’t going to solve the central problem of sex trafficking — that victims aren’t free to control their sexual situation. That means buyers and pimps can still object to even female condom use. But getting trafficking victims access to female condoms may give them a tool to protect themselves that they can actually use.
Photo credit: celebdu