Unfortunately, it isn’t just about recognizing if someone is being trafficked. Often law enforcement uses the threat of prostitution charges so that they can get the name of the pimp. As much as we want the pimp to be locked up, threatening a victim with arrest for prostitution is abusive, a hindrance to fostering trust between victims and authority figures, and another hurdle for getting that victim to begin to think of herself/himself as a survivor. (Source)
The way to create change in our law enforcement’s treatment of survivors is to create change in the laws they are enforcing. We have made some great strides recently in legislation, but public support and pressure is what is going to make the most impact. However, we regularly encounter people that are not aware that sex trafficking is a problem in the United States. Part of this comes from the fact that people do not want to imagine people doing horrible things to other humans. People walk out of theaters during torture scenes, or refuse to show rape on television—it is difficult for us to watch other people in pain. If people have such a hard time watching it on the screen, they must jump at the chance to help someone who has actually been a victim of that kind of abuse, but instead those victims’ stories are questioned.
As we at Courtney’s House know, the victims are often the ones that get put into jail, and it takes a lot of therapy before they can accept that they were not guilty. People say that the victims are the ones selling their bodies, and it is their decision—but we know better. Almost always there is a pimp controlling them, but if someone is truly doing it on their own free will, what got them there in the first place? Ask yourself if you would ever sell your body for money; it is not about liking sex. These people put their lives on the line for money; they are abused and destroyed by the people who buy them. And their abusers are the ones that manipulate them into thinking that they did everything of their own choice. So when we support that idea, it makes it even harder for them to come to the realization that they were victims. Just taking at look at the media’s handling of trafficking cases, they consistently refer to the survivors as prostitutes, which has a connotation of choice. How bad is this problem? Take a look at the list I’ve compiled in the last few weeks:
1. “multiple adult women were compelled to engage in prostitution”
2. “A 14-year-old girl caught up in a prostitution ring helped police arrest her hustlers, who sold underage girls for sex out of local hotels and a D.C. apartment.”
3. “The court has acquitted one of the men suspected of having sex with a 16 year old girl in the Valkenburg teen prostitution case”
4. “Witnesses told investigators that Webster set all the prices for the women and took all the money the women received from the prostitution.”
5. “Lala, who began working as a prostitute in 2005, when she was 16, and didn’t want her full name used. “You turn tricks, that’s all you do, and you’re lucky if you just run through them, and don’t get raped or robbed or beat up.”
6. “Earlier this month, a 21-year-old man was jailed for two years for encouraging the girl to become a prostitute”
As human beings we do very disgusting things to each other, and we cannot allow people to keep refusing to face the truth. Ignorance is not bliss if there are people suffering— the best thing you can do is eradicate this business instead of hiding away from it.
One of the worst things you can say when someone names someone as their rapist, is “Oh he/she would never do that.” That takes the attention away from the crime and is already giving credence to the claims of the attacker. Even if that is how you feel, these people cannot be dismissed like that. There must be serious attention paid to these survivors, and if less time was spent in surprise, and more time spent helping the survivor cope with what has happened, then maybe we could help more people.
Face it folks, people are doing worse things than can even be imagined to each other. We need to get out of this shock culture, and be there as human beings to help these victims claim their status as survivors.
Volunteer Coordination Intern