Written by: Jordyn; Alverno College Social Work Student, Exploit No More Fall 2018 Intern
A few weeks ago, on my way to my internship, I received a call from Melania giving me a heads up that a young survivor of trafficking would be in the office with us that day. I didn’t know it yet, but receiving that call drastically changed my understanding of the world of sex trafficking.
After completing many hours of research, I thought I’d be prepared for my first interaction with someone I knew had been trafficked. Julie, name changed for confidentiality purposes, came to us after a family member had dropped her off at a police station, not knowing what to do after Julie had revealed that she was being trafficked. Like most victims of sexual exploitation, Julie had gotten caught up in the life without fully understanding what was happening to her. When she finally reached out to someone she knew and loved, she was turned away and left at a police station, expected to tell her story to strange men who couldn’t possibly understand what she was going through.
When we talk about sex trafficking and exploitation, we’re given a list of warning signs and indicators to look for that can identify possible victims and survivors of trafficking. Physical signs like; physical and sexual abuse, unexplainable tattoos or brandings, large amounts of cash, multiple cell phones, and not making eye contact or avoiding answering questions are some of the major signs that I knew could be present in this young person. These indicators, along with behavioral warning signs, have been burned into my mind. I’ve read them, heard them, watched them play out, contemplated, and explored them in more ways than you can know.
As we mature, we're given categories, labels, definitions, ideas, and are expected to use them to shape our worlds. For the most part, we do a good job following these expectations, toeing the line and never straying too far from the norms. Even as we begin to see the false realities that define our understandings of others; the false realities of the stereotypes we assign to each other; it is hard to let them go.
Growing up in a household where labels were defined, we were taught to love and accept everyone, and judgments were passed only after you got to know someone, didn’t have the effect I’d thought it would. You see, despite this loving environment, I spent the majority of my time in a world where labels defined us, stereotypes existed for a reason, and what we learned in school was the gospel truth.
All of this is to say that despite all of my research, despite the hours spent contemplating and researching, trying to understand how this system of exploitation has lead so many victims and survivors down a path that changes their lives, when Julie came into the office, I was shocked.
Julie did not show any of the indicators listed above. She wasn’t malnourished or unkempt. She didn’t keep her head down or avoid having conversations.
Julie laughed loud. She spoke to me as if we’d known each other our whole lives. She was kind, confident, energetic.
Julie is human.
Julie is human. She defied the expectations of having been broken by experiences too awful to put into words. That she might get triggered by any mention of trafficking or that she wouldn’t be able to talk about what had happened to her. There were no tears in her eyes as she collected clothes and blankets, necessities for her new life. She did not exhibit any sadness in having nothing, nowhere to go.
Julie is beauty.
In all that she is and all that she has been. Julie is beauty in all of the scars and experiences that have contributed to who she is.
Julie is light.
She is the sun, shining in a dark world that tries to extinguish any and all light.
Julie is power and courage.
In the way that she carries herself without fear for the future. She is a force to be reckoned with. She is the brave warrior that stands up even when she is scared, when her voice shakes, she speaks her truth.
Julie is hope.
She is hope that tomorrow will be another day, filled with more opportunities and less exploitation. She is hope that one day, every person who has been trafficked will be able to rise up and fight back against their abusers.
If I hadn’t known that she had been trafficked, I never would have been able to tell. Julie looks like any and every girl that walks around the office, down the halls of a school, across campus, down the street. She looks like your neighbor, your niece, your friend, your family member.
Yes. This is a scary thought. That sex trafficking can and does happen right under our noses, every second of every day. That humans have the ability to be so cruel, so heartless, that we would buy, trade, and sell each other for sexual pleasure. But this is our reality.
Victims and survivors of sex trafficking are not the exception and they are also not the rule. They come in more forms, shapes, and sizes than anyone could have imagined. There is no model victim.
Despite all of the work that we do, this is something that we too often forget.
What Julie has taught me is that we have the power to change the way we move through this world. And yes, sometimes it will be hard to break free of what we have been taught, to step out of our ignorance and see the world in all of its chaos. But when we take that first step, when we are filled with a courage that allows us to connect with others, it is one of the most beautiful things we can ever do.
A Note from Our Executive Director, Jarrett Luckett
In Southeastern Wisconsin, news stories of creepy guys asking odd and invasive questions to women and kids have been in the news and on social media a lot more lately, along with stories of attempted abductions. Thankfully in most of the situations, no one was harmed. These articles have been portrayed as possible attempts to abduct someone for human trafficking. Yes, abductions happen for multiple reasons, including human trafficking. However, in Southeast Wisconsin and throughout the United States, abduction isn’t the common way that someone is forced into selling their body.
Individuals are typically forced into selling their body by someone that they know. I know it is hard to believe but it’s true. A woman or young girl is often pursed by someone within their family or someone they may enter into a romantic relationship or friendship with. In this relationship, the perpetrator works to gain trust and find vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities can include lack of basic needs (food, clothing, shelter), the need to make more money, lack of love, lack of a father’s love and engagement in their life, insecurities, promised a job, and the list goes on.
While the recent stories of attempted abductions and creepy guys asking weird and invasive questions is alarming, it is important to not miss out on how human trafficking victims are usually groomed and tricked. I have taught personal defense classes for over 4 years to thousands of people, so please be aware and stay vigilant however, don’t let what is shocking cause for us to miss out on the subtle tactics most traffickers use.
For more information:
Psychology Today - Human Trafficking: Psychology of Recruitment
Written by: Katie Linn | Previous Executive Director of Exploit No More
As we address the demand side of domestic minor sex trafficking, it is important to discuss how prevalent pornography, and specifically child pornography, is within today’s culture. This issue has been highlighted in recent news, as high profile celebrities and spokesmen have been arrested and sentenced for possession of child pornography. However, what few may realize is that within the pornography industry, child pornography makes up $3 billion of the total global sales annually, with the majority of the child pornography being produced, distributed, and possessed in the United States.
Child pornography is not only an exploitation of children, but also clearly falls within the definition of sex trafficking. The typical age of a child that is exploited through pornography is between six and 12 years old; however in recent years there has been a steep increase in exploited children even as young as infants. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a 2005 report stated that of the offenders arrested for child pornography possession throughout the year, 83% had images of children ages six to 12, 39% had images of children ages three to five, and 19% had images of children under the age of three.
As the pornography industry grows with new technologies, the number of sexually exploited child images also increases. As the use of web cameras and smart phones have become a norm, it has made it easier to produce, access, and distribute these images. Furthermore, anyone can have access to large storage devices, which allows offenders to collect thousands of photographs of a child.
According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in October of 2003, they reviewed more than 20,000 images of child pornography each week. Further, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Victim Identification program has reviewed over 90 million photographs and videos since 2002, when the program began. 22 million of those suspected child sexual abuses images were in 2013 alone.
Child pornography and the solicitation of sex from children often go hand in hand, and it is important to address both within the same conversation. There have been many men who have spoken out against pornography, highlighting the dangers and harm that it causes to the viewer and their relationships. However, as advocates for victims of trafficking, one must also view the child, woman, or man in the image as a likely victim of exploitation.
Written by: Katie Linn | Previous Executive Director of Exploit No More
There is no question that media and entertainment have a deep and profound impact on youth, the way that they view the world, and how they interact with it. From a very young age, they are continually bombarded with images and sounds that shape their worldview – from the music that they listen to, the movies and television shows that they watch, and the advertisements that they view in magazines or on billboards.
Throughout the years, entertainment and media has become more sexualized in it’s portrayal of women and of relationships between men and women. When we view this in light of demand and normalization of sex trafficking and exploitation, there are two main cultures within the media that play a factor in the normalization of prostitution.
Sexualization of Women
Many discussions have taken place in recent years about the portrayal of women in media and entertainment. While the message may or may not be so straightforward and clear, media continually gives men the idea that they have a right to control women and that women should pleasure them, while also giving women the idea that they need to work to meet certain standards of beauty and behave a certain way in order for men to give them attention.
Many images and messages, specifically within advertisements, portray women in a particularly sexual and exploitive manner, often with the women wearing little to no clothing or in violent positions. In a recent fashion clothing advertisement campaign, images showed men dressed in suits touching and interacting with fully nude women. While the company received a great deal of pushback due to their controversial campaign, there have been many other advertisements that have pushed the boundaries and portrayed men’s control over women.
Advertisement campaigns, fashion magazines, and celebrities styles also often indirectly have an impact on exploitation. Media often shows youth and young women in a more mature light, encouraging young girls to grow up faster and to act in a way that is beyond their physical years. Young teenagers often deal with self-esteem issues and insecurities, striving to become culture’s ideal picture of beauty, causing some to soak in any attention that they receive from boys and men. Yet, on the other side of the coin, media and entertainment also sexualizes childhood and youth, with some pop artists and advertisement campaigns dressing down in age to look like a child or a teenager, while still maintaining the sexual aspect.
The Pimp Culture
Another aspect of media and entertainment that normalizes prostitution and ultimately trafficking is the normalization of the pimp culture. There are many forms of media that glamourize this culture, causing young men to strive for the dream of being a pimp, without fully recognizing who a pimp truly is.
There are a number of popular songs that address the pimp culture and glamourize the idea of this culture. In 2006, a song by Three 6 Mafia’s song It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, which was featured in the movie Hustle and Flow. In the song, the writers discuss their desire and the struggle to make money, their lavish material items, and the girls that work for them. They also sing that for the right price the girls will perform sexual acts.
Other main stream artists have also included the pimp culture in their music, including Jay-Z in his song, Big Pimpin, and his collaboration with Kanye West, Niggas in Paris, where they sing, “You know how many hot b****** I own?”. Even the well known indie pop singer Lykke Li perpetuates the prostitute culture as she sings, “Like a shotgun needs an outcome, I’m your prostitute, you gon’ get some” in her song Get Some.
One of the most popular adventure-action video games, Grand Theft Auto, has had many controversies surrounding it’s violent and criminal fictional activities since it’s first version. In Grand Theft Auto III, the violence and crime within the game continued to get worse, with new technologies making the image look more realistic. Also within this new version, the characters were able to solicit sex from prostitutes in order to boost their health, and were also able to then kill them in order to keep their money.
Reality TV and Marketing
In 2004, MTV debuted a new reality television show called Pimp My Ride, which upgraded and customized older and run-down cars. While the show itself did not promote the pimp lifestyle, simply by naming the show as they did begins to normalize the word ‘pimp’ and gives a misrepresentation of the definition of the word.
In addition to Pimp My Ride, there have numerous other shows and products using the word pimp out of context, using it to imply that something is made better or improved from what it once was. It was through these names that the word become used in everyday language.
There are also a number of celebrities that are former, or current, pimps – showing a glamorize side to the life that young men, and women, strive to achieve. Highly recognizable people like Snoop Lion (previously known as Snoop Dogg) and Hugh Hefner pride themselves in their grand lifestyle that includes an abundance of material items and women. However, Snoop Lion has been open about his past life as a pimp, while Hugh Hefner is known for his Playboy legacy, which includes the Playboy mansion and bunnies – the women who live with him. While some of the women who have been a part of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy world have denied rumors of exploitation, others have spoken out about being forced to perform sexual acts against their will and about unwillingly participating in Hefner’s reality television series without compensation.
Another celebrity who is very well known for his involvement as a pimp is Don “Magic” Juan, who is highly regarded among pimps as a poster child for the pimp culture and who ran one of the most successful prostitution rings. Currently a hip-hop artist, actor, and fashion designer, he founded The Player’s Ball, an annual award ceremony for pimps around the country, most often hosted in his home city of Chicago.
All of these messages – whether obvious or subtle – help to form the minds of children, youth, and young adults, as well as sometimes older adults, making it seemingly alright to belittle women and exploit them. It is encouraging to see actors, musicians, and other leaders in the entertainment and media world taking a stand against stereotypes of women and speak out against trafficking, but it is also important to form a greater sense of self-esteem and good morals in the youth in our own communities. The task of changing certain parts of our culture is not an easy task, but can be done over time with the help of many.
Written by: Katie Linn | Previous Executive Director of Exploit No More
As we look at a number of different types of sex trafficking that youth can fall victim to, there are some that are still hidden from view, specifically the exploitation of boys and homeless youth.
Child exploitation consists of more than just the traditional idea of sex trafficking – it can also include survival sex and the exploitation of boys, which can look different than the exploitation of girls. These two types of exploitation can be closely related, as can the exploitation of homeless youth and gang or pimp controlled trafficking.
Of all the factors that make youth vulnerable to exploitation, homelessness and running away from home are two of the most prevalent. Traffickers specifically look for youth who are missing the family connection and aim to fill that position in order to lure them in to be trafficked. Within 48 hours of being away from home, one in three adolescents will be sexually exploited.
In addition to runaway and otherwise homeless youth, many youth find themselves on the streets and in vulnerable situations due to being forced to leave home or prevented from returning by their own parents. These children are known as throwaway youth – those who have been thrown out of their homes. As a child often becomes a throwaway through conflict or discord with the family, many children who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) are at a higher risk for exploitation. Through their own journey to discover who they are, some families are not supportive and refuse to allow their child to live in their home, giving the child no place to go other than the streets and potentially to traffickers.
While living on the streets, youth typically tend to meet and stick with others their age who are in the same situation. They will work together in order to find food and shelter for each other, may travel to a new or different part of the city or state together, and form a familial bond between them – often calling each other ‘brother’ or ‘sister’. In the sense of relationships, traffickers also aim to create this sense of family among themselves and their victims, with girls calling each other ‘wifeys’ or ‘sister-wives’ and their trafficker ‘daddy’. Therefore, for youth who have their alternative family on the streets, coming into an alternative family of a trafficker does not feel out of the ordinary or different – it feels normal.
Many youth who find themselves with a home – whether it be from running away, being thrown out by family, or other factors – go without the basic necessities of shelter, food, and clothing. In order to fulfill these basic needs, some engage in survival sex, which is the exchange of sex for food, shelter, clothing, or money in order to meet those needs. Survival sex, while exploitation within itself, also forms greater vulnerabilities to being trafficked.
Exploitation of Boys
Despite the main focus on exploitation of girls, it is thought that boys make up anywhere between 10-50% of all exploited youth. This wide range of a possible percentage is due to the fact that it is much more difficult to identify male victims, due to a few key differences between the exploitation of boys versus girls.
The majority of exploited male youth are not trafficked by a pimp, but rather work independently. They often secure their own ‘dates’ themselves on the streets, online, or via magazine advertisements, giving themselves and others the illusion that they are in control of their own sexual engagement and transactions. These ‘hustlers’, as they may call themselves, often have a higher rate of drug addictions than other exploited youth, and typically do not self-identify as a victim or admit any involvement in the sex trade.
For those boys who are trafficked under a pimp, it is extremely difficult for law enforcement to identify the victims. Pimps practice a greater caution with boys, as they are treated more harshly in prison by other prisoners if arrested for trafficking boys. This often leads to the requirement of a buyer to perform the sexual act while the pimp is still in the room, which limits undercover law enforcement’s opportunities to successfully identify and rescue victims.
Another difficulty in identifying exploited boys is the lack of self-identification. Many boys hesitate to self-identify as being trafficked or exploited within the sex trade out of fear and shame that they may be labeled as gay. While the majority of buyers and exploiters of boys are adult men, in reality only 25-35% of victims self-identify as gay, bisexual, or transgender.