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The Impact of Trafficking On The Trans Community by Eduardo Duarte

As I usually say, I will know that mankind has coursed a great length of its path towards a world free from prejudice and segregation when I see a black trans-woman sitting behind the main desk of the Oval Office. Even though I’m afraid that not even my grandchildren will be able to testify such a remarkable event, to imagine the world we would love to live in is the first step to build it. But as fulfilling as it is to keep wondering about this utopia in which men, women and all in-between are allowed to use every color in the crayon box, today's raw reality is not as bright and joyful.

As we leave another Pride Month, it is essential for us to look back and reflect about the five decades that separate us from the first pride. Fifty one years ago, all sorts of queer people stood up against police repression in a riot nowadays known as the Stonewall Uprising and since then, the LGBTQ+ community gather every June to celebrate it’s existence. However, as the Stonewall pioneer Marsha P. Johnson once said, there’s “no pride for some of us, without liberation for all of us”. What she meant, one may wonder, might be easily explained by a Forbes’ headline from one of its 2019’s issue: “Murdered, Hanged And Lynched: 331 Trans People Killed This Year”.

To understand this outrageous data, it is needed to take an intersectional look at a range of facts and statistics that follows trans people since their birth and throughout their life. Facing discrimination in every social space and identity-building atmosphere (starting within their own family, school and finally, workplace), this group of people is more likely to go through a scope of hardships than their cisgender fellows. For instance, a study performed by UCLA shows that 67% of the trans homeless youth were forced out of their homes by their own parents. Another research testifies that due to the lack of legal protections to the transgender community, more than 60% transgender females of color reported employment issues.

Therefore, trans people are marginalized further and further from the society, as they are forced out of their own homes, drop-out of school due to constant harassment and aren’t even able to own a spot at the job market. As a consequence, they are defied by poverty, substance abuse, mental illness, violence, sexual assault and incarceration. It is also important to emphasize how the exposure to just one of those factors may lead to all the others, which make it possible to categorize the transgender community as one of the most vulnerable social groups in existence.

Thus, we are lead to an issue that might go unnoticed by even the most active LGBTQ+ or human rights activist: this increased vulnerability puts a huge target behind trans people’s backs when it comes to human trafficking. The Palermo Protocol (Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children) states a sexually exploited and vulnerable woman as that the ideal victim.

With their own existence at stake, it’s unfortunate that frequently they do whatever it takes to survive. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act establishes survival sex (the selling of sex in exchange for shelter, money, food or drugs) as a form of sex trafficking. And according to a study published at the Journal of Sex Research, transgender youth is almost six times as likely as cis-gender people to engage in this type of exploitation.

As the victims are dragged into this hideous crime network, they “don’t think it’s exploitation, trafficking or abuse”, says the director of Peru Trans Network, Miluska Luzquiño. All those years of distress, mistreatment and harassment make them easily coerced and emotionally blackmailed.

Furthermore, the victims suffer from what is called “double victimization”, when besides all the exploitation, they face the inequity access to protection and care services, whose major causes are the binarism and simplicity of the government registration system. Also, being physically assaulted by police authorities throughout their lives, trans people find it infinite times harder to seek for help from those who should be protecting them.

All things considered, I want to take a look at a 1992 July’s warm night, when the body of the black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson was found floating in the Hudson River with a massive wound on its head. Even though the death was ruled as a suicide, Marsha was seen being harassed by a group of men the night she disappeared. So, it doesn’t take much to realize that Johnson may have been brutally murdered for doing the most powerful thing a human can do: to be the image of their own truth. And yet the murderers expected to shut down one of the fiercest and strongest voices of the history of the transgender community, her voice echoes. Echoes through the heart of everyone who aspires to make this world a place in which we are all free to live as our true selves. Hence, we must break this cycle of marginality and vulnerability that exposes our brothers and sisters to hardships that no human being should ever go through. For her. For Marsha.


  1. Tomasiewicz, M. L. (2018). Sex trafficking of transgender and gender nonconforming youth in the United States. Chicago: Loyola University School of Law Center for the Human Rights of Children.

  2. “Transgender People and Human Trafficking: Intersectional Exclusion of Transgender Migrants and People of Color from Anti-Trafficking Protection in the United States.” Taylor & Francis. Accessed July 18, 2020.

  3. “Unique Obstacles Put Transgender People At Risk of Trafficking.” Polaris, February 12, 2020.

  4. Wareham, Jamie. “Murdered, Hanged And Lynched: 331 Trans People Killed This Year.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, June 15, 2020.

  5. Written by Escrito por Elizabeth Salazar Vega* -, Written by Escrito por, Elizabeth Salazar Vega*, -, and Anna Grace. “Trans Women: The Unseen Victims of Human Trafficking.” InSight Crime, September 10, 2019.

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