The #MeToo movement has shed long-awaited light on sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace. Alleged perpetrators like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Kevin Spacey have been fired, dropped from projects, and some may be prosecuted. It’s a start. However, to what end unless we do something right now to monitor and halt sexual abuses in the workplace, and in the long term listen to alleged victims and take their complaints seriously.
We are taking a good look at abuses in entertainment, government and journalism, but surely workplace conditions are not considerably different in legal, financial, medical, educational hospitality and retail industries. We have seen cases publicized about abuses in financial and religious institutions, so we understand this is not a problem limited to only certain environments.
And what of abuse, or even criminal behavior, that is perpetrated against those without the power and resources to defend themselves? If there is a stratum, and status to responding to sexual abuse, women in the commercial sex trade are the subterranean workforce no one sees, or cares to see. Therefore, it’s not a problem, right?
Until we take the deep dive into trauma among populations that are traditionally overlooked – the poor; immigrants; transgender people; racial and ethnic minorities; and women within those groups – the incidents of abuse will continue, in the most insidious of ways.
The fact is most women – and some men – are ensnared in the sex trade at a very young age, on average 15 years old. They can share similar stories of exploitation, sometimes by someone close to them, such as a parent or significant other. Children in the foster system, or kids who live on the street are easy prey for ‘recruiters.’ Young women are hijacked from their native countries with promises of safety, good jobs, and housing only to find themselves betrayed. A cycle of adversity, lack of education, and desperation leads to a vicious cycle of social injustice and further exploitation.
Sex trafficking is big business in the United States. In Atlanta alone, the commercial sex industry brings in almost 290 million dollars a year. A 2014 study by the Urban Institute reports some traffickers there make more than 32 thousand dollars a week. Yes, young people in the commercial sex trade are stigmatized and vilified, with no social network, or safety net, and a dependence on their traffickers, they sink deeper into a life of exploitation and isolation.
During January, Human Trafficking Awareness Month, RIA House, Inc. offers information not only for those with experience in the sex trade, but also for you, so you can help.
At RIA House, we have met many of the goals we set for 2017. The number of women we support and mentor has grown to consistently include 35 women every week. We received approval from the Massachusetts Department of Corrections as Re-Entry Volunteers to ensure a continued relationship and consistent accompaniment as women we know reenter the community after prison. And under the direction of William James College, we have secured Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval of our latest research project studying adult attachment.
Our work continues this year, with a goal to deepen our program capacity, ensuring an even stronger approach and delivery of services. In 2018 we plan to offer women additional services such as financial coaching and parenting support. Our hope, also, is to hire additional staff.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of our staff, the work of dedicated volunteers and the financial partnerships of many individuals, grants and foundations, RIA House has stretched resources to achieve so much good. If we can double our current budget of $150,000 we can accomplish so much more.
At RIA House we are always reminded that there are more people to reach who can benefit from our services. In the last two weeks we have met six new women in the community of survivors that we walk with.
Our vision is that no one should be bought or sold, trafficked or exploited for the sexual gratification of another. Our mission is to walk with and support women who have experience in the commercial sex trade. Your caring provides a safe and loving community for so many women in our communities. Thank you.