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