In the US, prostitution is a crime. Any woman caught selling her body is arrested for prostitution. The problem is that most prostitutes never had a choice, nor were complicit in what they were being arrested for.
This is not to say that every prostitute did not choose that life–but if you an any choice, would you really choose to be raped repeatedly, day in and day out?
Many (not all) prostitutes began as human trafficking victims. They were runaways, mainly from the foster care system who were taken in by a pimp, who then manipulated them into the life they are in. This doesn’t sound like human trafficking, does it? But there is no such thing as a teenage prostitute. If a teenager is manipulated into selling her body, then they are a victim.
For instance, I went to a conference where a young woman who had been trafficked spoke to us about her experience. She was one of the lucky ones, having been rescued, because only about 1% of all trafficking victims are ever rescued.
This woman had been invited out by an old friend and the friend’s boyfriend, who she did not know. She found herself in a room being lectured on how to sell her body. I do not recall how long they held her, how long they forced her to have sex for money, but I do know that it was for a relatively short time. She escaped and called her mother, who immediately came to get her.
In another case, there was a woman walking home from the train station late at night after watching a movie with friends. She was sober, but alone, and walking in a bad part of town. While she was walking, she was approached by a man. She had been approached before, the usual catcalls that a woman in the city has to endure, but this guy didn’t tell her how sexy she was or demand her phone number. He asked her if she wanted a job.
Although there is no proof this was a trafficker as the woman said no, this is one of the ways that traffickers approach their victims, and although the woman was slightly older than the usual age of those approached, she both looks younger and was alone. Whether this was a trafficker or not, this incident was highly suspect. First, if someone is going to offer you a job, why would they approach late at night, and why would they approach someone they know nothing about other than appearance and the fact that you are alone?
The woman in question was me, and the incident occurred on Vermont Ave heading toward King Blvd, a short drive from USC, in South Los Angeles. I was returning home from watching the movie on Mother Teresa at the Newman Center at USC. I had made the walk up Vermont Ave countless times when I was living at that address and was used to the comments from men I would receive, but this was one of the most bizarre encounters–I was offered a job during daylight hours as well, which I again, turned down, but found a nighttime offer to be extremely suspicious and nerve wracking. The individual did not follow me or harm me in anyway. He simply made an offer that was refused, and this is consistent with stories that I have heard about human trafficking victims.
I remember reading at one point a story about a couple in a mall that approached over thirty teenagers about a modeling job-until one said yes, and they trafficked this young woman. Traffickers’ tend to go after those that they can control easily, those they can manipulate into going with them without a fight. This is not to say that they do not snatch individuals off the streets–although I have never heard any stories of this occurring in the US. They approach and manipulate, so is it any wonder that domestic violence survivors, child abuse survivors, and runaways are among those who are targeted? These individuals are more vulnerable, because they are already in the mindset of being a victim.
I survived a bad family situation, but I’ve spent a great deal of time healing, and even if I hadn’t, my reaction was to become more suspicious and to be on the lookout for signs, rather than looking for someone to trust. My focus early on was learning how to trust myself, so even if I hadn’t known enough about human trafficking to be suspicious (and I didn’t know at the time that a common way of recruiting was to offer a job), I still would have been suspicious and said no, but not all individuals who are approached are suspicious. Traffickers go after people who they think might be desperate, and in many cases they are, so they say yes, and the traffickers only need one person to say yes.
Please continue praying with me. Today the focus is on community workers who assist trafficking victims and survivors, and tomorrow’s prayer is about educating at risk populations. The more stories that turn out like mine than end up in tragedy the better.