Exploited Trans-Females: A Growing Epidemic

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Transgenders don’t have it easy — largely rejected by their families and society — bounced between group homes, roommates, short-term romantic and often abusive relationships — denied employment — and all too often fall prey to drugs — sex trade — and now — "human trafficking."

The Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking reports that Florida has been identified as a hub for human trafficking activity, citing one of the highest incidences of human trafficking in the country.  It's estimated that 2.5 million individuals are enslaved in the nation, with nearly half of the victims are minors, and around 10 percent of the millions who are trafficked are LGBT.

Human trafficking is the exploitation of vulnerable victims through abduction, deception, force, fraud, or coercion for financial gain and is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights.  In the transgender community it is primarily common as the exploitation of trans-females forced into the sex trade or any other form of sexual exploitation.

The Victims Of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 combats trafficking in persons, especially into the sex trade, slavery, and involuntary servitude, to reauthorize certain Federal programs to prevent violence against women, and for other purposes.

The experiences and needs of transgender persons are almost never included in the conversation on human trafficking, yet it's important to remember that trafficking affects everyone, regardless of their gender or gender identity.

Crystal DeBoise, co-director at the Sex Workers Project The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center says:

"A combination of vulnerable situations, lack of economic opportunity, and a lack of awareness or interest on the part of law enforcement and many services providers translates into this void of attention to the rights and needs of trafficked trans-women."

Other related factors that make transgenders vulnerable to trafficking include poverty, family violence, domestic violence and we can broaden the dialogue to include transphobia and gender intolerance.

Transgender females experience alarming levels of discrimination when it comes to gaining employment, so the few available jobs that exist may have substandard or unacceptable working conditions.  These sort of jobs are often underground and invisible and are fertile for abuse and exploitation.  This abuse often meets the legal definition of human trafficking in itself.

Too, the lack of respectful employment for transgenders exists nation-wide partly because a profound phobia and ignorance with employer's who aren't educated about trans-people.  People still fear what they don't know, and though the world is evolving on gay issues, transgenderism still remains at the bottom to the totem pole.

In 2011 the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force launched a survey by interviewing approximately 6,500 transgender people and the results were shocking.

Transgender people are unemployed at alarming rates and experience unemployment at twice the rate of the population as a whole.  Ninety-seven percent (97%) of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment or mistreatment on the job and forty-seven percent (47%) had experienced an adverse job outcome,such as being fired, not hired or denied a promotion.

Study respondents experience poverty at a much higher rate than the general population, with more than 27 percent reporting incomes of $20,000 or lower and more than 15% reporting incomes of $10,000 or lower. Only 7 percent percent of the general population reports incomes of $10,000 or lower.

Where are the resources?

Services to individuals in the sex trade are often gender- speci?c or gender-segregated, and do not respect transgender’s self-de?ned identity.  Many organizations are run by religious institutions that discriminate against transgender people.  Close relationship between service providers and the law enforcement makes it particularly difficult for transgender females to access them.  Transgender women do not ?t the “save innocent girls” media spectacle about sex trafficking and sexually exploited women.

Transgender Health In Action (THIA), www.T-HouseOnline.com, in cooperation with the Broward County Health Department provided training to many local service providers so they will have the knowledge to address the needs of transgender clients. During the third annual Medical Symposium on Saturday April 13th in Ft Lauderdale awareness on transgender trafficking was raised by Adriane Reesey of Broward County Sheriff's Office: "Community Involvement."

Building Empowerment By Stopping Trafficking (B.E.S.T) is an organizations whose mission is to combat trafficking by aiding the victim to pursuing and prosecuting the trafficker, nationally and internationally.

B.E.S.T. reports, "Human trafficking, or modern day slavery, is a global issue.  It is currently estimated that over 30 million people are enslaved by the human trafficking industry which weighs in as the second largest criminal industry in the world at $32 billion per year."

B.E.S.T has the only outreach center in Florida that provides immediate assistance to trafficking victims by providing medical, psychological, legal, and coaching assistance on a pro bono basis.  It also has a full service lifestyle center in Florida that readies survivors for their new lives, with skills, jobs and education to re-enter the world.

Human trafficking and exploitation is a complex issue and remains a growing epidemic here in South Florida and throughout our state.  Often the belief of who exploited victims are clouds the imaginations and minds of the general public and law enforcement.  Regardless, it is an abuse that no one should have to experience, and with awareness comes aid for these victims who exist right here in our own communities.  Visibility and identification of trafficked individuals are the key to combating this dilemma and it's imperative that we as a community raise awareness and remain vigilant.

As a LGBT community we cannot just care about issues that we think are "ours."  If we are human, then human trafficking is about all of us.  We are all in this together, so we must battle this together. Victoria Michaels