When most of us hear the term “human trafficking” we tend to envision a young child, kidnapped, handcuffed to a radiator, locked in a room somewhere. If you’re like me and born in the eighties, you may even think “Stranger Danger.”
When I tell people that I am a survivor of human trafficking, they tend to say, “Oh like the movie Taken?” Because I MUST have been pulled out by one leg from underneath my bed in order to be forced into prostitution.
While those scenarios may absolutely take place, that is not the most COMMON form of trafficking here in America. Trafficking looks very different based on the culture and community in which you live. How it looks in the karaoke bars of Thailand or Cambodia, is very different than it looks in Nigeria, then it does on the streets of New York City, the cantinas in Houston or the illicit massage parlors in California. According to the Polaris Project there are actually 25 different types of trafficking in America alone and if we continue to only picture that one way, from that one movie, we’re going to miss it every time.
So, the question is… if we’re not identifying it, does that mean we’re fueling it? Here are three ways you can unknowingly be perpetuating sex trafficking:
1. Glamorizing Commercial Sex
To glamorize commercial sex, we first need to define commercial sex: Pornography, Exotic Dancing, Prostitution. The majority of which exploit human beings and make them an object for sale or personal use.
Glamorizing these industries only fuels that stigma the using people is acceptable, which encourages the demand and I don’t really need to explain Supply & Demand, right?
How might we glamorize it? Well, since glamorous is defined as “charming, fascinatingly attractive, especially in a mysterious way, full of excitement and adventure.”
If men or women portray the sex industry as any of the above, you may be fueling the misperception that is keeping the industry attractive – and anywhere where this is an opportunity to make money, corruption will follow.
2. Embracing “Cultural Norms”
It’s not funny or cool or normal to dress up like a “Pimp and Ho” for Halloween, or to use terms like “pimpin’” when describing something. Pimps beat and sell women and children, it’s not cool or funny. When I was trafficked, we’d see girls dress up as in Vegas as a “working girl” and our trafficker would use that as an opportunity to sell us a false sense of empowerment. He’d say, “see those girls want to be like you.”
It is not normal to visit a strip club for your 18th birthday or attend a bachelor party with “prostitutes” and “strippers” for your pre-wedding celebration (thank the box office hit Hangover). Somehow in our American Cultural, these items have become standard, expected and normal.
Parents, when you turn the other cheek and think “Oh, boys will be boys” or tell your daughter that “It’s just what’s in now,” you are filling the minds of children that glamorizing these industries is perfectly acceptable.
Here’s the thing to keep in mind – kids have it pretty hard these days. What used to be considered “soft core porn” is now are main stream media, plastered as every billboard, shopping mall window dressing, and commercial. Four and five-year-old little boys and girls are having soft core porn put in front of them often and if we don’t think there will some sort of long-term consequence of “sex for sale” then we’re being naïve. Let’s take the initiative to talk to our kids about these issues and not turn the other cheek when you see something that doesn’t sit right with hyper-sexuality.
3. Using Demeaning Terms
Anytime I hear the term “prostitute” I cringe; and “hooker” is a bad word in my world. Even more appalling is when used as an adjective to describe a child: Child Prostitute or Teen Hooker.
This is seen not only when people talk but a lot in the media. If we want to make a change, when we read or hear that term used we can correct that person simply by saying something like, “Do you mean prostituted children? Victims of trafficking or forced prostitution?” You may even feel led to email that journalist, reporter or news station/paper to help see the problem instead of placing the blame on the victim – because children can’t consent and prostitute isn’t who anyone is, it’s often something they’re forced into.
In most anti-trafficking efforts, it tends to be seen as a “woman’s issue.” I’ve spoke at events that parents don’t attend because “they have sons.” Not only can boys be victims of exploitation, but even more statistically speaking, men are the number #1 buyer of sex. If you are accepting and laughing along with your kids about that “teen hooker” or when your kid describes their new phone as ‘pimp’—you are setting the standard that could lead to your son being a buyer. Let’s change the culture, let’s be more aware of how we can set the bar in our homes and talk to our kids about engaging in hypersexuality and where the normalization of commercial sex begins!