INTERVIEW-Human trafficking risks to LGBTQ people poorly understood - campaigner

by Astrid Zweynert | azweynert | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 7 April 2017 09:23 GMT

Polaris advertising in New York, USA. Credit : SKOLL FOUNDATION/Gabriel Diamond

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"There is a wider lack of understanding how there is an LGBTQ element to the sex trade, whether in person or through remote interactive web cams, or other remote interactive sex acts"

By Astrid Zweynert

OXFORD, England, April 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The risks of human trafficking to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people is poorly understood despite evidence of exploitation via webcams and other technology, the head of an anti-slavery group, Polaris, said on Thursday.

Polaris analysed data from 40,000 likely cases of human trafficking and labour exploitation based on calls to a national U.S. hotline since 2007 and split these into 25 types of slavery.

The analysis found a "surprising" number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people had been exploited in sexual acts through webcams and other technology, said Polaris's Chief Executive Bradley Myles.

While sexual exploitation in bars and forced labour in tobacco fields, nail salons and homes is well known, other forms of slavery are going under the radar with little action to tackle these crimes, a recent Polaris report found.

"There is a wider lack of understanding how there is an LGBTQ element to the sex trade, whether in person or through remote interactive web cams, or other remote interactive sex acts," Myles told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Polaris found out of 78 cases reported in the "remote interactive sexual acts" category in its report, a "surprising" 12 percent involved the LGBTQ community, mostly as victims.

Such acts can involve live commercial sex acts through webcams, or exploitation through text-based chats and phone sex lines, according to Polaris.

This is regarded as sex trafficking if the victims are participating under force, through fraud or coercion, or if the victim is under 18.

Bradley Myles, chief executive of Polaris, and winner of the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. SKOLL FOUNDATION/Gabriel Diamond


Although the number of such cases is small, it warrants more research because the rate is higher than the two to five percent of LGBTQ cases commonly found in other types of human trafficking, said Myles.

Myles said he hoped Polaris' move to introduce more categories identifying different types of trafficking would also help sexual minorities to be better protected.

"I'm glad this is helping to paint a broader picture, so people don't gravitate towards the obvious aspects of trafficking and so we can help to unearth the parts that are getting ignored, especially in the LGBTQ community," he said.

Homelessness among sexual minorities, particularly among youngsters, is likely to contribute to the problem, said Myles, who was awarded the $1.25 million Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship on Wednesday.

"There is an added vulnerability there through homelessness," he said.

A high number of homeless young people in the United States identify as being LGBTQ, studies have shown, although exact figures are not available.

A 2012 survey by the Williams Institute at the University of California indicated 40 percent of homeless young people identified as being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Polaris, which runs the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, said its study was based on the largest amount of data gathered on human trafficking in the United States.

Last year, 7,572 trafficking cases were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, a rise of 24 percent on 2015, according to the report, with at least 5,550 cases related to sex trafficking and 1,057 to trafficking for forced labour.

The most common form of trafficking was sexual exploitation taking place in hotel rooms or via escort services.

(Reporting by Astrid Zweynert @azweynert , Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit

*This story was update to correct the spelling of surname 

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