Racism Hides in the Depths of Sex Trafficking

Sex traffickers receive less jail time for trafficking black women. You are probably asking yourself how that could possibly be true in 2023, in the age of Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and social justice sweeping through social media. The short answer to this question is that it is not true, however, according to a study by the Urban Institute, many traffickers do believe this.  

While we are in a world where you can’t open a social media app without seeing advocates for social justice, how is there still a belief that trafficking young black women is a less severe crime than trafficking young white women? This is in part due to racist ideology coupled with systemic injustices that are still in place today and have been for centuries.

Sex Traffickers Prey on Systemic Challenges Facing Communities of Color

When looking at communities of color, you cannot ignore the obvious ways that they have been, and in many ways continue to be, held back in terms of economics based on our social institutions. One must remember that slavery was abolished only 5-6 generations ago, and segregation ended only 60 years ago. Many of that generation and their offspring are still navigating an environment where policies are being enacted that make upward mobility a challenge.

Examples of systemic challenges facing communities of color include predatory and exclusionary practices like redlining, financial lending practices, discrimination, unequal distribution of government subsidies/services and restricted entry into white collar or higher paying jobs. These policies have survived in part because of other policies put into place that attempt to deconstruct community or family units and make young people of color feel or be more isolated. Due to these policies being enacted or upheld, traffickers often see people of color as commodities and easy targets to control, or abduct, within a society where they are seen as less important and powerless. It therefore becomes obvious that when these policies are in place, it can be easier to take advantage of young women from these marginalized communities.

The aforementioned policies also create an atmosphere of isolation and obstacles for all marginalized people who, at the end of the day, only want to find a place in society where they can fit in. The sex trade is the perfect breeding ground for victimization, nested within a system that creates obstacles for success, self-esteem and a sense of belonging. Most traffickers use the victim’s sense of disenfranchisement to lure them with promises of a better life, without revealing their true intentions of profiting off of their sexual exploitation.

How Can We Move Forward Towards a More Equal Society?

You might think to yourself, why don’t these women leave their traffickers? Simply put, they are under financial control, and often the threat of violence or death. Further, these women normally don’t go to the police, not only out of fear, but because they are often ignored or not treated with the same action as their white counterparts who are oftentimes seen as the “real victim”. The main question should not be about why these women are not helping themselves, but should be about how YOU can help these women and how society can start to SEE them. It is only through this visibility that traffickers will not view them as easy targets and disposable objects within our society.

The first and possibly most important step to creating a society where one’s victimization is not built on race is to be informed. Listen to these women if they tell you they need help, they should not have to prove their victimization. Pay attention to what bills and acts are being put forward to your local and state lawmakers. If there are policies that, through unintended consequences, empower traffickers to make money from the sale of anyone, you must push back. Keep your eyes open for signs that people in your community are in trouble. Keep putting pressure on the people who have the power to make big changes. Keep in mind, you might be one of the people who can make the biggest changes in the lives of these women.

Traffickers should not be able to feel as though one victim is easier than another based on race. All traffickers should know that they will be held accountable, regardless of any racial ideology.

Request Information about the ELEET Training Program

The Equipping Law Enforcement to End Trafficking (ELEET) training program was developed with a working group of survivors, prosecutors, and seasoned officers in order to educate law enforcement and/or prosecutors on the importance of developing a victim-centered approach during initial contact with victims of human sex trafficking while minimizing the court appearance of victims and addressing implicit bias, such as racial biases. Request to book a training or get more information here

You can also make a donation to help support NCOSE’s work to fight against the sexual exploitation and abuse of vulnerable populations. 

The Numbers


NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.


The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.


NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.

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