28 October, 2008

How to Respond

The training on aftercare in Philadelphia brought up a barrage of feelings. The three day event was packed with information as the reality of the domestic problem of trafficking and prostitution became real to me for the first time. It became clear that when we address those who have been trafficked and those who have been prostituted the line between them needs to fade. Certainly those trafficked to the US face unique challenges – language, citizenship, being in a foreign land. But those who are prostituted domestically deserve to be fought for just as much. They deserve the same benefits – legal and financial – and the same legal protection and prosecution for those who prostitute and purchase them.

We also need a shift our mindset when we discuss these women and girls. There is this idea in the US that if a woman is prostituting herself that she is choosing to do so and therefore is not worthy of our sympathy or help. But, when the average age of girls entering prostitution in the US is twelve, how much of a decision does she have? Often the girls who are being prostituted have been sexually abused and have been “trained” (for lack of a better word) into that reality. We can no more look at a single moment in someone’s life then we can look at the moment someone buys a drink or acts out in anger or turns a blind eye. We need to take into consideration the entirety of a prostituted woman’s life and look at her past – often scared by rape and abuse, her financial situation – they often live below the poverty line or struggle to eke out a living, and those around her – does she have children or is her “boyfriend” the one selling her out, keeping her in this life? We want to pretend that leaving prostitution is an easy choice like where we’ll eat dinner or denying ourselves another cookie. But it’s not. Anyone who has walked out of addiction or left an abusive relationship can tell you that what you should/want to do and what you can do are often polar opposites. 89% of women in prostitution want out – so the reality of getting out is far from just “walking away.”

The training was a tangible wake-up call to action. We must realize that this dark world is all around us and that we are all responsible to do something. “We can all take a small bite, and those small bites equal one big one,” the organizer said. And it’s true.

The material was easy to follow and written for those who take the course to practically use what they’ve been taught. I could easily pull one session to do with a small group or with those I know in this field. The speakers did an excellent job at showing how faith plays into helping the survivors, and how we must have a deep understand of the survivors place and worth in God to be effective in serving them.

We cannot just look at the supply side, or demonize the woman, or assume that this issue just happens across borders or on the “other side” of town. We must realize the demand aspect is huge and largely unchallenged. These women are victims, regardless of how they came to be in this field, and, more than likely, some form of the commercial sex industry is hitting our neighborhoods, possibly our homes. To deny any of these truths is to give the rampant monster that is the commercial sex industry more room to maneuver.

The training was a well-planned and well thought out course for anyone who is in a field that may come into direct contact with those being sold, or for anyone who wants to learn more about the issue and feel empowered to act and move. It was a crash course into the world of prostitution and trafficking that leaves those who take it empowered to action.