Somewhere along in our history, society has come to accept that it is okay for people to purchase sexual acts from others. whether it is from people who are “voluntarily” in the industry or from trafficked individuals who have been coerced into the business, it is a crime against all humans.
Individuals in the commercial sex industry are exposed to violence, shame, abuse, medical problems, and humiliation. Most of the time, it is the individuals who have experiences in the commercial sex market who are caught and get into trouble with the law. More often than not, the traffickers or the sex buyers do not face repercussions for their actions or are even pursued by law enforcement. With a charge of prostitution on their records, it is extremely difficult for people to find other employment or safe housing to get away from the experience. The commercial sex industry is a vicious cycle that lures and entraps individuals from all walks of life and backgrounds.
Prostitution is known as the world’s oldest profession. In many movies or television shows, the lives of those involved in the commercial sex industry are glamorized. Women in particular are depicted as sexually free, confident or powerful. These portrayals are often more complicated and untrue. Traffickers actively seek and trap individuals to grow their businesses. Many individuals being controlled by traffickers must meet quotas and see little to no money for themselves. As for being sexually free, it is extremely difficult for individuals in the industry to not experience violence, rape, force, and degradation. There is no law that mandates the use of condoms during interactions in the commercial sex industry – which misses the bigger issue. Even if there was, the power deferential is real and undeniable, as paid access to your sex does not translate into ‘consent.’ Consent involves two equal parties who are not dependent on the other for survival for rent or more.
It is unfortunate that in this day and age, society only cares if people are not willingly selling their bodies to others. In reality, many people in the industry have had experience with trafficking. The average age that a person is introduced to the commercial sex industry is just 12 to 15 years old. If the age of consent in the united states is 16 years old, then it is a huge problem that so many individuals start before it is even legal for them to consent to sexual activity. Many people in the commercial sex industry were, or have been coerced by others before “voluntarily” continuing on in the experience. Others start selling themselves or services for survival or to feed addictions.
As long as the demand is present and the world continues to accept prostitution as a victimless crime, the commercial sex industry will thrive and prosper. People in the commercial sex industry will continue to face shame from the community, discrimination from the justice system, and violence from traffickers and sex buyers. Day after day, people in the sex industry are sexually exploited for the gain of others. in the words of author, Rachel Moran, accepting prostitution is accepting that individuals are “ being raped for a living”.
Student Intern Spring 2016, RIA House, Inc.
As a happily married, mother of three adult children who lives out in the suburbs, you may wonder why I have spent the past couple of years volunteering my time and giving money to RIA House, a organization devoted to providing support services to survivors of sex trafficking and prostitution.
So, why me?
My history may not contain survival of abuse or trafficking but it does contain some
questionable decisions as a teenager, that could easily have landed me on a very
different path. I also know that if something had gone terribly wrong at a young age I had a family and a community who would have done everything in their power to bring me back from whatever misstep I might have made. Likely many of us can recall youthful indiscretions that, if not for good luck, timing, happenstance.... whatever you want to call it, we might be struggling to overcome trauma (or worse) rather than having a few crazy stories to tell.
So while my life is a happy one, I do live in a culture that has commodified the female at every age and stage of life. We all do. We live at a time when young girls are developing body image issues and eating disorders at an alarming rate and the use of anti-depressants and other pharmaceuticals is higher than any other country on earth. Women’s vulnerabilities, groomed from youth, have been exploited by the multi-billion dollar cosmetic and plastic surgery industries that prey on our very human need to belong. American women, collectively are pouring massive amounts of time, money and energy into a more youthful version of their aging selves, while women in crisis in our own communities are invisible, or worse, recognized as disposable.
When I met the founder/director of RIA House, a few years ago and she
introduced me to the heartbreakingly complicated issue of commercial sexual
exploitation, there was only one possible answer to her question of whether I would
help, and that was yes. I have learned about the high rates of child neglect and sexual abuse in the histories of survivors, the use of drugs to deal with the pain and trauma of exploitation, the disruption of education, and the complete absence of a path away from a life of addiction and exploitation for adult survivors.
So while I have learned about the reality of sex trafficking in our communities - that it’s happening right here where we live, that it often begins with young girls who fall through the cracks and have the tenacity to survive, that this perceived ‘choice’ to sell yourself for the sexual gratification of another is actually a convenient illusion that allows the rest of us to keep our hearts and minds closed to the darker reality of abuse and trauma, the question is really not ‘why me’ but ‘why not me’?
- Member of RIA Board of Directors
A Presidential Proclamation
National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month
For more than two centuries, the United States has worked to advance the cause of freedom. Stained from a history of slavery and shaped by ancestors brought to this country in chains, today, America shines as a beacon of hope to people everywhere who cherish liberty and opportunity. Still, our society remains imperfect, and our Nation has more work to do to uphold these values. At home and around the globe, we must continue to fight for human dignity and the inalienable rights of every person.
Today, millions of men, women, and children are victims of human trafficking. This modern-day slavery occurs in countries throughout the world and in communities across our Nation. These victims face a cruelty that has no place in a civilized world: children are made to be soldiers, teenage girls are beaten and forced into prostitution, and migrants are exploited and compelled to work for little or no pay. It is a crime that can take many forms, and one that tears at our social fabric, debases our common humanity, and violates what we stand for as a country and a people.
Founded on the principles of justice and fairness, the United States continues to be a leader in the global movement to end modern-day slavery. We are working to combat human trafficking, prosecute the perpetrators, and help victims recover and rebuild their lives. We have launched national initiatives to help healthcare workers, airline flight crews, and other professionals better identify and provide assistance to victims of trafficking. We are strengthening protections and supporting the development of new tools to prevent and respond to this crime, and increasing access to services that help survivors become self-sufficient. We are also working with our international partners and faith-based organizations to bolster counter-trafficking efforts in countries across the globe.
As we fight to eliminate trafficking, we draw strength from the courage and resolve of generations past -- and in the triumphs of the great abolitionists that came before us, we see the promise of our Nation: that even in the face of impossible odds, those who love their country can change it. Every citizen can take action by speaking up and insisting that the clothes they wear, the food they eat, and the products they buy are made free of forced labor. Business and non-profit leaders can ensure their supply chains do not exploit individuals in bondage. And the United States Government will continue to address the underlying forces that push so many into the conditions of modern-day slavery in the first place.
During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we stand with the survivors, advocates, and organizations dedicated to building a world where our people and our children are not for sale. Together, let us recommit to a society where our sense of justice tells us that we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers, where every person can forge a life equal to their talents and worthy of their dreams.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 2015 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, culminating in the annual celebration of National Freedom Day on February 1. I call upon businesses, national and community organizations, families, and all Americans to recognize the vital role we can play in ending all forms of slavery and to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of December, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-ninth.
For more information, please visit: www.whitehouse.gov