January is Human Trafficking Awareness month and believe it or not, it’s a bigger problem than you may think.
Around the world sex traffickers make more illegal profit a year than Google, Nike and Starbucks combined.
Human trafficking is modern day slavery. People are enslaved through the use of fear, violence, drugs and psychological control.
Often when we see people walking the streets or online selling their bodies we assume that they are willing participants, but more often than not, they are being forced into prostitution. The sad part is that half of the victims of human sex trafficking are children with an average age of 11 to 14 when they are first forced into sex trafficking. Many of them are runaways or looking to escape abusive and neglectful homes.
And while the face of a sex trafficking victim in the United States is usually a young White girl, young Black girls make up 40% of sex trafficking victims.
Many sex trafficking victims are looking for love, attention or even just food and shelter when they are targeted. He or she may pose as a caring figure and seduce the young girl (or rarely boy) and then turn on them using lies, manipulation, drugs, threats and violence to force the person into prostitution.
Before the victim realizes it they are sleeping with multiple people a day with all of the money going towards their sex trafficker/pimp who may give them what they need as far as bare essentials or drugs like heroin to keep them addicted.
Often they threaten to abandon them, hurt them, and kill them or their family if they leave or don’t do what they tell them to. Some even often to embarrass them by telling their family. They will use whatever they think it takes to control the person.
On the Netflix Documentary Tricked, one girl explains how she ran away with a guy she met on the internet expecting to have a great getaway only to be seduced for two days and then on day three she was told through the threat of violence that she was now his whore, was going to call her family and let them know she was somewhere safe and happy and that her life now depended on him. She went on to be forced to have sex with men for money that went directly to her sex trafficker.
One young girl I worked with was 12 when she met her sex trafficker. She was from a very bad home and ran away. She met an older man who became her boyfriend and introduced her to drugs and alcohol. He started having her have sex with his friends to support his drug habit and then he started having her have sex with strangers and even taking her to different cities and counties across the state before she got arrested and rescued.
When I met with her she was 14, had already contracted HIV and was so emotionally broken that she appeared more like a thirty something year old woman than a teenager. Still, she didn’t see herself as being victimized other than when she contracted HIV which says came from her being raped. She still didn’t see her sex trafficker as the bad guy.
Sadly, too many people see their sex trafficker/pimp that way and society doesn’t help. Often times we don’t see pimps as criminals as much as we demonize and criminalize the women who work for them. Often times the sex trafficker is never arrested while the victim is arrested multiple times.
Even their customers or “Johns” are often given a pass while the law and society comes down hard on these young women who are often just trying to do what they feel like they have to do in order to survive another day.
Many victims of sex trafficking are physically and psychologically abused, on a regular basis. One girl in the documentary Tricked was forced to douche with bleach when her pimp found out she was pregnant. When that didn’t work he beat her until she had a miscarriage. She ended up having to have a full hysterectomy.
They are used until they are broken and then they are discarded. That’s if they are not killed by their sex trafficker or a customer first.
Only recently as sex trafficking has exploded, especially online, are the victims starting to be seen as victims and being offered the appropriate help and support.
Sex traffickers present a major danger to vulnerable and unsuspecting young people. Sex trafficking is a crime against humanity. It is modern day slavery where slaves are being sold for on average $90.
So as this is Sex Trafficking Awareness month, let’s remember that anyone that is being exploited to have sex is a victim first, not a criminal. They deserve to be offered help and support and not just thrown into the legal system or treated like they’re nothing. After all, like sex trafficking, most victims have been treated as if they were invisible for far too long.