06 September, 2008

Being Sold

What is our concept of prostitution? For many the idea is of glamorous girl, or beautiful at least, strolling the streets of Las Vegas or LA (or DC or Clearwater, FL). They are sexual and in control, they barter, flirt, get what they want and ride of to sleep with some guy. It is consensual (though that is very debatable). They are doing it to earn a living – prostituted women would rather be doing that then working in an office all day – and as long as it doesn’t bother/hurt anyone let them be. How is it really affecting your life?

But what it’s not like that?

27 million people are trafficked annually. The majority of those people are being pulled into the sex industry. The majority of women and children trafficked and destined to be prostituted. So, that girl on the Las Vegas Strip, if she doesn’t make her quota for the night by have “consensual” sex with multiple men she is going to be beaten, abused, raped, denied food, etc. etc. etc.

There are drugs involved, deep psychological trauma, and fear. For most of the women in the U.S. started being prostituted when they were 12 – being sold to men by a relative, a next-door neighbor, an older “boyfriend.” By the time these girls are 18 it’s all they know – which makes me severely question the whole “consensual” idea… But we’ll save that for another day.

But what if you are sold into prostitution? What if some woman comes to your rural village and tells your family she can get you a job in the city working as a maid. She knows it’s far from home, but the family will give you food, shelter, and a safe place to live. You can send your money home and maybe return for Christmas. Your mother hates to see you leave, but a flood destroyed the crops, and your father’s job is not reliable, and your younger siblings are hungry. She asks the woman if you will be safe, the woman says you will. Here, she offers, your first month’s wages. Reluctantly your parents agree. The woman takes your hand and you travel hundreds of miles, over the course of days, from your rural village that is quiet and calm, where you know everyone and the pace in slow, to the city. As you go you encounter a scooter, which you have never seen, with a family on it. There are trucks that are loud and dirty. It seems people are shouting at each other, the noise in unbearable! You ride in a car, which in new too. You don’t trust the thing but when you try to object the woman yells and hits you. She does not apologize and ignores your tears. She has not fed you since you left. You watch her cautiously, wondering what happened to the promise to protect and care for you.

Eventually you sleep. When you awake it is night but there are so many lights it seems like daytime! You are in another city, a bigger city. It is chaotic and loud; you are unsure and want to go home. The woman now sits in the front ambivalent to your presence. The car stops and you are ordered out. You follow the woman up flights of stairs. The apartment is dirty and gross, people shout in harsh tones. You don’t feel safe. You press closer to the woman, though you don’t necessarily trust her either. She knocks on a door and a beefy man answers. You hear another woman’s voice, shrill and uninviting. The woman pushes you in, calling the second “Madam.” Madam looks you over, calling you skinny and plain. The women begin to barter, the first saying you can be taught. Madam names a sum of money, the first scoffs, saying you are worth more. She points to your qualities, qualities you are not sure relate to cleaning. You speak up saying you can wash dishes and sweep. The women laugh. You see money pass hands and the first woman leaves without a word.

Then you understand you belong to Madam. Will you be her maid? Something inside says no. Something inside tells you to run but you can’t make your body move. Casting a glance over your shoulder you see the beefy man standing at the door. You are trapped.

Madam sniffs out her cigarette. Her voice makes you shiver when she asks your name. Frightened, you stammer. She yells at you to speak up. You repeat it. Madam repeats it. She tells you to go rest you’ll need it for what is to come…