Human sex trafficking. Society used to call it prostitution, and many people still do. Why the paradigm shift?
Consider Stacy’s story. At age 19, Stacy was walking home one evening, the same route she took most nights. It was getting dark when a car pulled up and an elderly man offered her a ride. He told her it was not a good idea to be out walking late at night. He seemed nice enough — but little did Stacy know that this elderly man was paid to find girls like her. He did not drive her home. He delivered her to a pimp. She was taken at gunpoint and drugged. This is how Stacy became trapped in human sex trafficking. It would be 10 years before she could escape.
Stacy’s is not an unusual story, other than her age. Most victims are taken between the ages of 12 and 14, and they’re imprisoned through threats of violence against their family, psychological manipulation and isolation. Pimps use all manners of coercion to maintain their dominance over their victims. The fear of violent harm is real and likely has been experienced or witnessed.
The general public should acknowledge that most persons engaged in prostituting themselves are not criminals, even though our criminal code may provide otherwise. They are victims. If we treat them like criminals, they will feel like criminals and respond like criminals. That dynamic further reinforces the “bond” a pimp has with victims, by sending the message that no one else really cares for them and no one will look out for them. That no one will ever accept them or see them as anything other than a prostitute.
If we recognize and treat trafficked individuals as victims, we have hope they will recognize the sincerity of our offer of resources. Basics such as food, shelter and protection from their pimp are essential. Basic education and chemical abuse therapy are typically additional crucial needs, along with medical care, mental-health needs and life skills.
As Stacy’s tenure suggests, we may not get a victim’s attention the first time. If a victim is not successful, we keep trying. With “adult victims,” we can leverage the power and discretion of the prosecutor to strengthen the sincerity of an offer to get out.
Stacy is no longer a victim. She is a survivor — another paradigm shift.
Learn more at Mark Ostrem’s Post Bulletin article: Sex trafficking victims need help and hope.