The following information comes from information provided by Redeemed Ministries at their weekend conference on Aftercare Training.
Sex trafficking: When an individual makes a profit by selling a human being in the Commerical Sex Industry by means of force, fraud, or coercion.
Before studying trafficking in more detail, I tended to think of the women and children forced into prostitution as victims of force and fraud. Forced trafficking is the obvious nightmare: someone is kidnapped, taken to an unknown location, and forced into sexual slavery. Fraud is also fairly obviously horrible, and it occurs when a woman is offered a job that doesn’t exist in order to create a dependency and desperation that leads to sexual slavery.
Coercion, however, is trickier. Women who are coerced into prostitution often believe that it was their choice. From the outside, these are the women who are often scorned and looked down upon by “nice” men and women in the Church. But the reality is not so simple. Women who are coerced into sexual slavery are manipulated and abused, and they deserve our understanding and compassion.
There are five stages of entry into commercial sexual exploitation. Although the way in which each stage plays out is different from woman to woman, all five are generally present if a woman is successfully coerced into sexual slavery.
Abusers are brilliant people who can spot vulnerable women and children. The speakers from Redeemed Ministries said that 67 of the 68 women they have served had abuse in their childhood. I cannot stress how much childhood abuse alters a person. Children who are abused (especially sexually) equate pain with love, have extremely low self-esteem, and are desperate for any kind of attention and affection. Not all children who are abused become prostitutes, of course. Thank God that healthy adults filled the gap created by abuse and helped lead those children into a loving adolescence and adulthood. But far too many abused and neglected children live without positive influences, and they become extremely vulnerable to recruitment and coercion.
Most victims are recruited by their peers. In our social media age, Facebook statuses proclaiming anger and pain help abusers identify possible victims. Other exploited teenagers can recruit from within high schools. Pimps scout shopping malls. The first thing they offer is friendship and love.
The pimp, or trafficker, then goes about winning over their victim. The lower the self-esteem of the woman, the quicker this happens. He might take her shopping, give her “free” drugs, take her out on nice dates. Women who have internalized horrific messages about themselves will fall quickly for this act. Of course, she’s not an idiot. She will probably realize that he is not a nice guy. But, as I mentioned in a previous post, people who were abused as children are often attracted to abusers in the hope that this time things will be different. She might even know that he is a pimp, but during this stage, he will assure her that she is different, more special, and more loved.
During this stage, there is a good chance one of the drugs he gives her is ecstasy. This feel-good drug can act as a kind of truth serum, lowering the girl’s inhibitions. The trafficker will ask her all sorts of questions about her past and her family. Because the drug also affects memory, she will forget this conversation ever happened. But the trafficker remembers, just as he remembers every penny he is spending on the girl.
By this point, the victim is hooked. The trafficker has convinced her that he loves her deeply, and that he wants her all to himself. He will start screening her calls, and this jealousy feels like love to an attention-starved young girl. He will encourage her to drop out of school or run away from home. The tactics will vary depending upon the victim’s circumstances, but the end goal is the same. The trafficker wants his victim to rely solely upon him and have no one to whom she can turn when things go bad.
With her love and devotion firmly established, the trafficker can now demand payback. He will remind her of all the drugs, the dates, the presents he previously showered upon her. Because she knows he is a pimp, he will suggest that she help him out. After all he’s done for her, can’t she do this one little thing for him? Just sleep with someone for some money, and he’ll never ask again. He will blackmail her, either emotionally by threatening to stop loving her, or physically, by threatening to send nude photographs to friends and family, or even to hurt her or someone she loves. At this time, he might also remind her of everything she told him while on ecstasy. Because she doesn’t remember telling him these things, he will seem god-like in his knowledge and influence and all the more impossible to refuse.
At this point, the woman has a choice. Because the coercion is so skillfully manipulative, the victim actually believes the choice is hers. But between her emotional attachment and the threats of violence, her choice is more like the decision to stay in a burning building or else to take her chances and leap from the 25th floor window. Most of the time she will choose to be prostituted, and this choice haunts her, making her feel responsible for all that comes next.
All it takes is one time. The shame attached to being sold for sex by the man she thinks loves her can break the dignity inside each victim. As with all horrific things, the first time is the worst. Once she agrees to help repay her “boyfriend” by sleeping with one john, it becomes easier and easier for him to convince her to do it again.
Of course, this all assumes the pimp is a “Romeo” who blackmails and threatens, but never lays a hand on her. There is another kind of pimp, however, called a “gorilla.” These men inspire less loyalty and more fear. A gorilla pimp uses rape, beatings, and torture to plummet their victims’ self-esteem until they comply with the traffickers’ demands.
Whether her experience is violent or “loving,” the young women who are coerced into prostitution are manipulated. The brilliance of this plan cannot be overstated, because many women themselves believe that their life is their choice. Of course, I’m not saying that these women are helpless automatons. But I believe that the majority of responsibility falls on the men and women who trick, manipulate, and coerce young women into believing a life of sexual slavery is their only option.
The chains of her bonds were invisible.
Prostitution is trafficking, and whether women and children are forced, frauded, or coerced into selling sex for money, they deserve our compassion and support.
For more information, please read the article “You’re Pretty–You Could Make Some Money” for a well-written account of the arrest of a sex trafficker in the DC area. Pay special attention to the women’s accounts and how they align with the coercion sentiments described above.
Return tomorrow to read, Sex Trafficking (3 of 3): Caregiver’s Perspective