Spring Break: Shining a Light on the Dark Side

The brilliant Haley Halverson on the increased risk of sex trafficking during spring break

Blue skies, gorgeous water, big fun — in these environments especially, our kids need to beware of a sex-trafficking industry in overdrive

“Spring break” and “sex trafficking” are not terms you often find in the same sentence — but rather than provide parents with details about popular destinations or best hotels for vacations at this time of year, it’s time to shed some real light on the dangers that exist out there for our young people, whether they’re in high school, college or even beyond.

“Young women are historically vulnerable to sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation as a part of the hook-up culture that infuses spring break venues,” warned Haley Halverson, vice president of advocacy and outreach at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation in Washington, D.C. “Some young women could even fall prey to sex traffickers in this environment.”

It’s also important to recognize that male spring breakers who participate in the commercial sex industry, whether that’s strip clubs or purchasing people in prostitution, could be perpetuating the modern-day sexual slavery market, Halverson told LifeZette.

“The conditions surrounding spring break — such as a large influx of males, the celebratory atmosphere, high alcohol consumption, and having money to spend — can create an increased demand for sex trafficking,” she explained. “Research from the Arizona School of Social Work found that any large event that provides a significant concentration of people in a relatively confined urban area becomes a desirable location for a sex trafficker to bring their victims — for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation.”

Halverson and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation shared similar concerns about sex trafficking and prostitution demand each year during the Super Bowl.

While it’s important for women to exercise safety at any spring break events they attend, Halverson said it is vital to send young men the message that spring break is not an excuse to buy sex, or to sexually exploit another person in any way.

Meanwhile, this type of activity can happen anywhere — it's not confined merely to spring break at the beach.

"Unfortunately, due to online websites, we see that sex trafficking is occurring all across the country," Halverson pointed out. "While cities with higher populations will often attract higher numbers of traffickers, we know that no community is immune from commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking."

As for which ages tend to be exploited and or trafficked, Halverson said both minors and adults can be victims of sex trafficking.

"It is important, though, to point out that anyone under 18 years old who is engaged in selling commercial sex is a sex trafficking victim, according to federal law, because minors cannot consent to participation in commercial sex acts," she continued. "As persons who have not reached the age of majority, the adults who market and purchase them are the culpable parties — not the minors."

And while women are the majority population exploited in sex trafficking, boys and men can be victims, too. It's a situation that Halverson said people fail to recognize.

"Our failure to do so has resulted in a lack of services or programs to meet their needs."

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation highlights these issues in a campaign called Out of the Shadows.

"Every survivor has a voice."

Originally published for Lifezette. Photo credit to Ryan Loughlin

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