Latinas/os and the International Sex Trade: A Qualitative Study on the Perceptions of Customers, Victims, and Service Providers



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The U.S. is a leading destination country for foreign-born victims of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual and labor exploitation. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 established the T-visa in order to annually certify 5,000 international victims, making them eligible for services afforded to refugees such as access to housing, medical, social, legal, and vocational services. However, the certification status and access to such services are contingent upon a victim agreeing to support investigations, testify against their trafficker, and assist with the prosecution process. Despite the estimated 17,500 international victims trafficked annually, roughly 2,300 total T-visas had been granted in the first 10 years of the TVPA. In 2005, the largest international sex trafficking case in U.S. history happened in Houston, TX. Latino traffickers forced over one hundred foreign-born Latinas into the sex trade in cantinas that cater to a Latino clientele. In U.S. cities with the highest rates of international sex trafficking, Latinas have the highest incidence and prevalence. Yet persistent gaps between estimated and actual numbers of victims identified reflect a flawed identification process. An explanation of the nuances involved in getting services to Latina victims of international sex trafficking demonstrates the different ways in which proper identification and assistance is necessary in helping to restore victims. This study explores the perceptions and experiences of international sex trafficking of Latinas as told by its various stakeholders in order to assess their impact on identifying and assisting victims. Narrative interviews were conducted with male customers who frequented cantinas where victims were rescued, law enforcement, legal, and social service providers who have identified Latina victims, and victims themselves. The dissertation is a three-manuscript dissertation and the three papers explore the disconnect all stakeholders feel about the role of men in Latino sex networks; the Experiences of Social Service Providers in Victim Identification and Service Provision for Latinas Trafficked for Sex in Houston and Los Angeles; and Latina Victims’ Experience of Sex Trafficking in Houston’s Latino Sex Networks. A more comprehensive process of victim identification is necessary in the fight against human trafficking.



Human trafficking, Latinos, Victim identification