The prevalence of forced abortions is an especially disturbing trend in sex trafficking."- Laura J. Lederer, the Senior Adviser on Trafficking for the US State Department.
“[While in forced prostitution,] I saw 10 to 20 men a day. I did what he [the pimp] said because he got violent when I sassed him. I took all kinds of drugs— even though I didn’t really like most of them . . .I had forced unprotected sex and got pregnant three times and had two abortions at [a clinic]. Afterward, I was back out on the street again. I have so many scars all over my body and so many injuries and so many illnesses. I have hepatitis C and stomach and back pain and a lot of psychological issues. I tried to commit suicide several times.” – Kayla, sexual trafficking survivor.
Worldwide, over one million children are trafficked each year and forced into sexual slavery and prostitution. In the United States, there are currently an estimated 400,000 domestic minors involved in trafficking. Sex trafficking generates an estimated $39 billion a year as the demand for prostitutes continues to rise.
It is now estimated that there are more people enslaved today than in any other period of human history.
Reports like these have drawn much attention to the plight of girls and boys as young as 14 who are forced to serve as prostitutes in major cities all over the country. A number of high profile documentaries and the blockbuster film Taken have drawn public attention to the increasing epidemic of forced prostitution.
However, what has often been ignored by the media is the link between forced prostitution and forced abortion.
Kayla was thirteen when she found herself in the forced prostitution that led to her forced abortion. Rather than being an extreme example, Laura J. Lederer, the Senior Adviser on Trafficking for the US State Department, says it is “typical of women and girls trafficked for commercial sex in the United States.”
In their groundbreaking study The Health Consequences of Sex Trafficking and Their Implications for Identifying Victims in Healthcare Facilities, Laura J. Lederer and Christopher A. Wetzel examined the stories of sixty-six victims of sex trafficking. They found that fifty-five percent of these women had undergone at least one abortion while being trafficked and more than thirty percent underwent multiple abortions.
They wrote, “The prevalence of forced abortions is an especially disturbing trend in sex trafficking. One victim noted that ‘in most of [my six abortions,] I was under serious pressure from my pimps to abort the babies.’ Another survivor, whose abuse at the hands of her traffickers was particularly brutal, reported 17 abortions and indicated that at least some of them were forced on her.”
Even more upsetting was the discovery that a full quarter of these underage trafficked women visited Planned Parenthood and other healthcare providers for abortions and contraceptives, but many were never asked about whether they were being coerced to engage in sex or to have an abortion.
A survivor was quoted by the researchers saying, “During the time I was on the street, I went to hospitals, urgent care clinics, women’s health clinics, and private doctors. No one ever asked me anything anytime I ever went to a clinic. . . . I was on birth control during the 10 years I was on the streets—mostly Depo-Provera shots which I got at the Planned Parenthood and other neighborhood clinics. I also got the morning-after pill from them. I was young and so I had to have a waiver signed in order to get these.”
The high percentage of victims who crossed paths with Planned Parenthood and other clinics caused the researchers to call for training protocols to ensure that trafficked women are not simply given contraception or abortion and sent right back to their pimp.
Other investigations have found that some abortion providers not only fail to investigate whether a woman is a victim of human trafficking, but actively ignore evidence that they are.
In Arizona, police allege that a 15-year-old girl’s medical records were deliberately falsified by a Planned Parenthood counselor. Investigators told reporters, “The counselor intentionally miscoded the assault as a consensual encounter…. The counselor told them that they did not want the hassle of having to report the assault to law enforcement as they were a mandatory reporter.” Police say that the girl’s rapist has assaulted 11 other girls ages 12-17.
Life Dynamics has launched a website dedicated to tracking cases of sexual predators using abortion to cover up their crimes. They list more than 60 criminal cases where underage girls were raped, taken to a clinic for an abortion, and the abortion clinic failed to report the underage pregnancy or to take measures to ensure that the young girls were not victims of sexual assault or trafficking. For many of these girls, the sexual abuse and trafficking continued until a party that did not profit from their abortion intervened.
Pro-choice advocates often use the language of feminism to defend abortion. They argue that women and women alone should be in charge of making decisions regarding their pregnancies. One would then expect that abortion clinics like those run by Planned Parenthood would take measures to ensure that their patients are not being forced to have an abortion. Yet, investigators continue to find examples of the exact opposite.
For women like Kayla, their abortions were not moments of feminine empowerment, but rather male control, not just of their sexual lives, but of their wombs as well. This is why Care Net provides resources and training to all of its centers on how to recognize the signs that a woman is the victim of sexual abuse and trafficking. Our affiliated pregnancy centers also help clients identify whether they are in an abusive relationship, and if so, how they can get help.
A pregnant prostitute means a loss of income for their pimp. Reporting an underage abortion, or asking patients questions that ensure they are not victims of trafficking makes matters difficult for clinics that earn abortion revenue. Sadly, for these victims, it is far easier for Planned Parenthood and other healthcare providers to simply look the other way and disperse contraception or provide abortion than it is to ensure that these women are making their “choice” freely.
As long as abortion providers put convenience and profit ahead of the safety of their patients, pimps will continue to win and women lose.