Women are one of the major groups considered most vulnerable to human trafficking. For purposes of sexual or commercial exploitation, women and girls are kidnapped, sold, and coerced by slavers in nearly every country in the world. Though many human rights and governmental organizations agree that trafficking in women is a serious violation of human rights that needs to be fought, the complex and widespread operations of human trafficking make prosecution and punishment of traffickers nearly impossible in many cases.
Trafficking in women is an ancient enterprise that dates back nearly to the beginnings of civilizations. Female slaves were often highly valued in the ancient nations for use as prostitutes, concubines, or to breed more slaves. In addition, trafficking in women has long been one of the mainstays of the domestic servant industry; during the Colonial era in America, many women desperate to escape poor conditions in Europe would trade several years of their freedom in exchange for a ticket to America. The even darker side of Colonial trafficking in women included the shipping of unmarried girls to become mail-order brides, an industry that still thrives today.
One of the most common reasons for trafficking in women today is to fuel the prostitution trade. Traffickers often recruit or buy women from destitute areas, promising to smuggle them to a new country and find them work as domestic servants. In truth, the women are often raped and abused by their recruiters, and then sent to brothels or underground prostitution rings where they are sometimes literally held under lock and key. Many are told that they will have to work in the sex industry until the debt for their transport has been paid off, which may effectively be for the rest of their lives.
Health officials insist that trafficking in women causes significant health risks to the general public, especially in terms of sexually transmitted diseases. Women sold into prostitution are often discouraged or forbidden from using contraceptives such as condoms, and thus become high-risk candidates for the spread of diseases. Since these women are usually tightly controlled, they also have limited access to any type of health care, and are thus far more likely to suffer from illnesses of all kinds.
Women are also trafficked into commercial markets to serve as laborers or domestic servants. Kuwait is considered a major center of women trafficked for commercial exploitation, who, like those sent into prostitution, join recruiters who promise money and a better life. Their passports and immigration papers are frequently seized by their new owners once they reach Kuwait, leaving them completely vulnerable and without legal recourse. Though Kuwait, according to investigations by the United States State Department, is one of the worst centers for trafficking in women, it is far from the only one. As of 2009, 17 countries were listed as Tier 3 by the US State Department, meaning that not only do they suffer high amounts of human trafficking, but that the government does not meet minimum standards for eliminating the trade.