By Sonsie Zamora
Human trafficking generates $9.5 billion annually in the US (www.thecoveringhouse.org, 2015). This is startling. It gets worse. The average age of entry into prostitution for a child victim in the US is 13-14 years old. We always think this could never happen to me, not to my family. But it does happen to children in all walks of life. There is no stereotypical child that this happens to. I watched a documentary recently called ’Tricked’ (2013), where this happened to educated college girls, girls from wealthy families, girls sold by their own families and many other examples. About 300,000 children in the US are at risk of being prostituted.
First let’s break down the stereotypes and barriers so we can better understand these situations. Many times we think, ‘well, if the girls don’t want to be prostitutes, why don’t they just leave?’ There are many reasons why not. These girls (and boys) can be young, naive and vulnerable for one. Also pimps have an approach called ‘boyfriending’ where they pretend to be your boyfriend initially in order to lure you in, then they’ll suddenly change the situation and get physically abusive, cut you off from family and friends, lock you in rooms and threaten you, among many other things. This is their tactic to gain trust and then control over the prostitute. A pimp can also wine, dine and promise these young individuals lots of money and pretty things to entice them into believing this lifestyle is glamorous and promising. Many times these young people have zero choice about being where they are. They are trapped. This is modern-day slavery, to say it mildly.
So the system is flawed already because it’s designed to prosecute the prostitute, who likely doesn’t want to be there in the first place, and not the pimp. The prostitutes are the ones making the transaction and the one in the limelight doing the act, so they make for easy targets. The pimps hide easily and if they do get caught, the prostitutes will usually lie for them for fear of retaliation. Because these vulnerable and mold-able young women are dragged into this lifestyle so young, after some time, they might not know any other way. Even if they did, they are fearful for their life, their families lives and don’t know how to get in contact with anyone that will believe and help them. If they do contemplate it or have means, they are filled with so much fear and shame over what they’ve been forced to do, so they don’t want to come forward. It’s easier to give up. Their spirits have been broken.
So what can we do to change this? We can start by teaching ourselves and our children to be cautious of whom they trust. If someone is promising you the world and it sounds too good to be true…it probably is. There is no ‘easy money’ in life. Everything in life has a price, just like everyone in life has a value. We need to be aware of the facts as adults, parents and neighbors, and don’t turn a blind eye. Don’t think your family cannot be touched by this. One in three teens on the street will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.
We also need to change the way the legal system works. We are persecuting our youth for prostituting when we need to be asking who is behind it. Can we offer the youth help? Can we get in contact with their families? We need to crack down on the johns that enter into this behavior also. The documentary ‘Tricked’ that I watched interviewed johns justifying their behavior of purchasing sex because they said the girls ‘were earning a living just like anybody else’ or that they ‘appeared to be happy and enjoyed what they did’. This isn’t the case. No little girl in the US dreams of becoming a prostitute when they grow up…and certainly not when they haven’t even grown up yet.
The Covering House. (2015). The Facts. Retrieved from http://thecoveringhouse.org/act/resources-2/sex-trafficking-statistics-source-documentation/
Wells, J. (Producer). Wasson, John-Keith & Wells, J. (Directors). (2013). Tricked: The Documentary.