Sexual exploitation is the abuse and degradation of a person through the exchange of sex/sexual acts for drugs, money or other items. In most cases, sexual exploitation involves women and youth but in some cases may include young children. Drug use is linked to sexual exploitation in a number of ways. Firstly, many individuals who are exploited are sexually assaulted, raped and abused when they are under the influence of drugs. Secondly, many people may become involved in the sex industry to finance their drug addiction and often trade their body for drugs. Thirdly, human and drug trafficking are often linked and through threats of violence and promises of freedom.
Prostitution and Substance Abuse
Drug use is intrinsically linked to prostitution, especially street prostitution. Estimates suggest that between 40 and 85 per cent of all prostitutes are drug users. Many prostitutes, men and women, are selling sex to support their drug habits and are often the victim of sexual exploitation, violent crimes, rapes, assaults and other serious crimes but these are very often unreported crimes.
In some cases, a person may begin to prostitute herself as a way to finance a drug habit. In other cases, a third person may be forcing a person to work on the street or in a brothel to make money. Drug use may be a consequence of the life that a prostitute leads and drugs may be taken to numb themselves, deal with the reality of their life and as a way to be able to get on the street and continue to do the degrading and often violent work. In some cases, a prostitute will be forced by a pimp or other person to take drugs to ensure that they do as they are told and have sex with people. This is particularly true in the case of young people and children.
Sadly, children are often the victims of sexual exploitation. Some children are forced to take drugs or drink alcohol, to have sex or to perform sexual acts without consent. Some are also made to prostitute themselves for the sake of a third person. Children are often lured by older people who befriend them, with presents, drugs and alcohol and force or coerce them into having sex with people many times older than them. In some cases, the young boy or girl may believe that they are being mature when they spend time with older people but more often than not they are simply being taken advantage of. Some older people will take a young person into their homes as a boyfriend or girlfriend and then make them have sex with other people, exposing them to sexually transmitted diseases and violence.
Sex trafficking is the act whereby a person is induced by force, fraud or coercion to perform a sexual act. Sex trafficking often involves a person being promised a job in another country, being sold by a family member to a third part, a false marriage proposal or a kidnapping situation then made to work as a prostitute or perform sexual acts as a payment. Women and girls are the most commonly trafficked people for this purpose.
Sex traffickers will use a variety of ways to make a person conform to their demands. Rape, physical abuse, starvation, violence, drugs, gang-rape and guilt are used to break a person and shame a victim into the life of a sexual slave or prostitute. Drugs such a heroin and methamphetamine are commonly used to make a person become an addict and force them to do the work the traffickers want them to do.
Under the fear and pain of withdrawals or while they are high on the drugs, many of the victims of exploitation will do acts they would otherwise not ever consider doing. They may also find it near impossible to leave the grasp of the abusers or traffickers and return home to families and friends. Getting help from the police or health workers is often difficult because of the illegality of the lifestyle they have been forced into and attending rehabilitation or detoxification may be beyond their grasp due to associated poverty.
Many of the victims of exploitation will suffer from anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems as a result of the crimes they have been involved in. Resolving these issues at the same time as overcoming a substance abuse problem may be difficult but with appropriate care and training, recovery is possible.