This LGBTQ+ History Month, we shine a spotlight on the plight of thousands of LGBTQ+ people around the world trapped in modern slavery.
Human Trafficking causes misery to millions of people around the world, and while it’s mainly women and girls who are targeted for exploitation in the sex industry, people in the LGBTQ+ community are also disproportionately affected by sex trafficking.
When criminals look for people to exploit, they target those who are vulnerable, so will seek out those who are poor, young, marginalised, or desperate.
LGBTQ+ people often fall into these vulnerable categories due to ongoing stigma surrounding same-sex relationships. Thousands of LGBTQ+ people around the world live in countries where same-sex relationships are illegal, and can risk the death penalty if their sexuality is exposed. For those who live in countries where same-sex relationships and transgender identity are legal, they often face abuse and stigmatisation.
This can lead to LGBTQ+ people looking for ways to flee their countries or leave an abusive situation. This desperation can lead to risky decision making and leave them open to manipulation and exploitation.
How are they exploited?
LGBTQ+ people can be exploited by traffickers in a number of ways depending on their circumstances. If the victim is from a country or culture where their sexuality puts them in danger, traffickers will use this fear of exposure to coerce their victims into performing sex acts, and then use the fear of arrest to silence them and prevent them from seeking help.
Traffickers may also dangle the carrot of a better life elsewhere in order to gain their victim’s trust and encourage them to migrate. Once they have begun their journey abroad, victims may find themselves trapped in debt bondage for the cost of their travel, and made to work for free in order to ‘pay back’ their trafficker.
Even in ‘progressive’ countries such as the UK and USA, a disproportionate number of young homeless people identify as LGBTQ+. Family rejection and violence as a result of their sexuality is often the reason given for leaving home. Homeless LGBTQ+ people both in the UK, and around the world, are vulnerable to trafficking because they are often young, unprotected, and living in poverty.
Discrimination and grooming.
LGBTQ+ people living on the streets are more likely to be subjected to sexual violence than their straight peers, and are also more likely to be discriminated against by law-enforcement and care services. They are also more likely to engage in ‘survival’ sex, where they trade sexual favours for food, shelter and money. Young teenagers engaging in these practices are considered easy to manipulate and control by traffickers, so are often ‘befriended’ by traffickers and ‘groomed’ with the view of controlling and exploiting them under the guise of friendship. The desperate state of their circumstances, their young age, and former experiences of rejection or abuse at the hands of their own families, makes LGBTQ+ youth vulnerable targets for grooming. They are then controlled through alcohol, drugs, violence and coercion.
What can be done to help?
Making people less vulnerable and attractive to traffickers in the first place is key to preventing modern slavery from taking place. Therefore increasing levels of acceptance, protection, and equality across society for all people in the LGBTQ+ community would decrease the number of people who become victims.
For those who have already been exploited, the UK, and other countries around the world must ensure that specialist and sensitive support is in place to cater for the needs of the LGBTQ+ community, and to ensure there are services available where they can feel safe and included.