I just read this new article about a 25-year-old English woman telling her story–a horrific one in which she fell in love at age 14 with a man who forced her into sex trafficking. When you read the article, you might disagree with my choosing to use the word “forced.” The anonymous woman referred to as Megan admits that she technically could have left, that she in fact helped someone else escape. So why say “forced”?
Domestic violence, prostitution, and sex trafficking are interconnected. They are all systems in which women* are de-personalized into an object that can be used for someone else’s gain. Sometimes this is a husband, or a madam, or a boyfriend/pimp. Megan fell in love with the latter. I cannot imagine anything more devastating than my naive young heart falling in love with someone whose sole aim is to take advantage of me. The emotional and relational repercussions of such an event at such a formative age are enormous.
The majority of women who are trafficked have already experienced physical or sexual abuse in their homes from an early age. These actions by parents or older relatives teach young children to confuse love with sex, and primes them to think that they deserve to be hurt in order to make someone else feel good. It is little surprise, then, that if they run into someone who claims to love them, these broken young women are ready to do anything to keep that love. Even have sex. With other people. For years.
The hold these men have over women breaks my heart. Women like Megan have no sense of self, no internal morality that assures them that this is wrong, you shouldn’t be treated like this. They have no experience with unconditional love to know that the abusive love they experience is toxic. One of the saddest parts of the article, for me, was Megan’s admission of her continued love for her abusers, even after her escape.
Does Megan blame anyone for what she has been through?
There is a long pause. “I don’t want to sit here and say: ‘I blame my mum,’” she starts, uneasily. “I believe my upbringing could have been better and I should have been protected more as a child, but I understand why that wasn’t the case.”
It is interesting that she doesn’t immediately point the finger at her abusers and a sign, perhaps, of the complicated intermeshing of love and fear she experienced at the hands of the men who exploited her. She confesses that, shortly after returning to the UK, she called her former pimp, Christoph, “because I just… I actually felt in love with him, I did. I look back and it’s horrible. I felt trained into it.”
The hows and whys of abuse can be complicated. It might be simple to point fingers at women, wondering why they don’t leave husbands who abuse them or fight for freedom if trafficked. The reality is much more complicated. Abusers are experts at de-personalizing their victims, and unfortunately, the lesson is internalized. If a woman doesn’t feel like a real person with real desires or needs, then why do anything to change her situation?
I hope you read Megan’s story, whether the article or the book she wrote with a ghost writer, Bought & Sold. As those of us who have not experienced such abuse struggle to understand how such things can happen, the first and most important step is to listen. Listen to the stories of victims and survivors. Give them a voice, and let them share what they have endured and overcome.
*Throughout this post I will refer to women as the victims of these crimes. Unfortunately, many men also suffer from domestic violence, prostitution, and trafficking, and I do not mean to ignore their plight. The statistical reality is that women are disproportionately abused and oppressed in these ways, but if your passion is helping abused men, I would love to learn from you.