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Sex Trafficking in the United States

I Had No Clue What Was Going On.

I’ve walked by the dancing girls in Bangkok. I’ve shaken the hand of a pimp who owns 20+ women in a red light district in India. I’ve been in a private karaoke room in China while a line-up of girls are brought in for me to choose from. (FYI – I declined the offer and was made fun of by the local businessmen.)

Baltimore Sex Trafficking

I knew it was happening overseas, but I had no clue what was going on in the United States.
I started to watch the news clips. I read a few reports online. But – I still had no clue.

Something about this subject captured my heart, and I approached Word Entertainment about the possibility of distributing a film, album, and book to fight against sex trafficking in America. They said yes, but I didn’t know what I was getting into.

So far, we’ve filmed in three cities – Nashville, Baltimore, and Washington, DC. We’ve interviewed prosecutors, law enforcement, child protective services, non-profit leaders, researchers, educators, survivors, women who are prostituting, and even one john (customer) as he was driving around looking for a girl to pick up.

I had no clue what was going on. 

My eyes have been opened to the degree of darkness surrounding this issue. I am straining to put into words what I’ve heard and seen. It’s dark. So dark. Heinous. Depraved. Absolutely deplorable. I’m no expert on sex trafficking, but here are a few things I’m learning on this journey:

  1. Victims, pimps, and johns (customers) are deeply wounded.
    It is easy to focus only on the victim, but all three parties are broken in a major way. The john (customer) is seeking out an experience in order to fulfill a need for connection and the rush of adrenaline (oftentimes a sex addiction). The pimp has a need to gain power by seducing, manipulating, and controlling the victim – ultimately for the sake of money. The victim has been preyed upon because of her vulnerability, and she has a “chain on her brain” preventing her from breaking away.
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  2. Baltimore Sex TraffickingBroken families produce children/teens who are vulnerable to sex trafficking.
    I’m seeing a theme among victims, pimps, and johns, and it’s the lack of a loving, stable, connected home of origin. Each one is seeking something that is missing deep within. The pimp wants control and money. The victim wants connection / care and falls prey to the pimp’s promises. The john longs for an elusive connection that he isn’t getting in his life. If a child grows up in a home that lacks stability, lacks a meaningful connection with his/her parents, lacks the value of education, lacks self control, and lacks a vision for the future, he or she is more vulnerable to being involved in sex trafficking in some way. (Remember, the average age that a victim is trafficked is between 12-14 years of age.)
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  3. Sexual abuse is an onramp to sex trafficking.
    In speaking with prosecutors and non-profit leaders, my understanding is that almost every single victim of sex trafficking and every single woman who chooses to traffic herself (prostitution) was sexually abused as a child or teen. Many individuals who have been sexually abused think that this type of experience/behavior is normal, and it predisposes them to think that “unmutual” sexual experiences are somehow okay.
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  4. Prostitution is rarely (if ever) a woman’s choice.
    This is one of the biggest learnings I’ve had thus far. Every woman who participates in commercial sex (i.e., someone paying for a sexual experience) is “vulnerable” in some way. She is economically vulnerable (desperately in need of money), physically vulnerable (coerced or manipulated by someone else), or relational vulnerable (in need of connection and approval from another). I’ve heard quite a few stories of “boyfriends” who coerce their “girlfriend” to dance at a strip club as a way to support them as a couple. This usually leads to her having sex for money (in the club, via the internet, or by walking the streets), and the boyfriend (pimp) keeping all the money. If the boyfriend doesn’t start out having her dance, he may ask her to have sex with someone for money “just this one time” – which leads down a dark road of grooming her to sell herself 5-10 times a day.
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  5. Baltimore Sex TraffickingViolence is rampant between everyone involved.
    Pimps threaten violence (physical beatings and rape) in order to keep their victims under control. When the victim does something that the pimp doesn’t like, the victim is beaten in ways that won’t show to the customers – usually beating her on the head. Victims oftentimes think they desire to be beaten, because that’s what the pimp tells them. (“You’re making me do this to you.”) Being beaten by a john (customer) is a reality for many victims, and the john knows that she will never go to law enforcement.
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  6. Pornography fuels the demand for commercial sex.
    The number of males who view pornography is skyrocketing. Unfortunately, the experience of porn is no different than a drug. It is an elusive high that’s never quite enough. There’s a need to take the experience to the next level through more perverse content and ultimately a desire to experience what is being watched. Many men feel awkward asking their wife or girlfriend to try something new or they often just want the rush of being with someone different. Watch pornography long enough, and you’ll want to experience the real thing.
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  7. This is happening in your city.
    It’s not as though I want to cause you to stumble into something that will harm you, but I want you to know that this is happening in most cities and towns across America. Look in the Adult Escorts section on Backpage.com in your city. (Those girls have pimps who control them.) Look on Eroticmp.com to see the massage parlors in your town where customers have rated the sexual services that are offered. (Most of these Asian girls are controlled by the shop owners.) If you dare, read the reviews of women who are prostituting (or prostituted by a pimp) in your town on USAsexguide.info. This is the most vile commentary on women you’ve ever read in your life. (WARNING: This is not a safe website to view at work or if you struggle with porn/sex addiction. Very descriptive with photos and videos.) I was told about this website by a Baltimore prosecutor, and I couldn’t believe the way that johns (customers) described the “product” they were buying.

I had no clue what was going on.

Baltimore Sex TraffickingMost of these victims are NOT being flown in from Asia or driven across the Mexican border. They are US citizens. They are our sisters and daughters and children. They are vulnerable children, girls, and women who are coerced, manipulated, or forced to sell themselves.

We live in a world where people take advantage of others in deplorable ways. It’s dark. Very, very dark. Yet, there is hope. Hope is emerging in cities across America as courageous men and women are standing up against sex trafficking.

While many are blind to what’s happening in plain sight, others are opening their eyes and shining a light of hope into the darkness. Organizations are focusing on…

  • Prevention – educating teens in high-risk areas to be aware of trafficking and boys to respect females as equals who should be valued and not objectified.
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  • Training – helping medical professionals, transportation workers, and law enforcement to see the signs of trafficking and how to respond.
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  • Aftercare – rescuing and caring for victims of sex trafficking in residential homes.

I had no clue how dark this issue really is, but I’m incredibly inspired by the organizations that are bringing about transformation in cities across America. From the beginning, we’ve been committed to making the IN PLAIN SIGHT documentary a hope-filled film about stories of hope and healing.

Will you open your eyes to the darkness?
Will you join me in being the light that’s so desperately needed?

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