Today was enlightening. I attended the United Way Convening on Human Trafficking in Atlanta. I attended because I work with middle schoolers and feel like I need to be aware and on top of this global issue. Not only that, but is a major hub for human trafficking because we have one of the largest international airports in the world. I also believe that as a citizen of this country and member of my community, I need to join the discussion and use my voice to bring light to the issue, hold our leaders accountable for strengthening laws and services. I also need to educate these kids!
I learned about a website that is like CraigsList, though it is a major hub for adolescent sexual exploitation. I’m not sure how this website is legal (at least in this particular area), but I did find out that American Express, MasterCard and Visa will no longer allow their cards to be used to purchase adult ads. “Adult ads.” Sure.
I listened to Dr. Alex Trouteaud, a sociologist that works at youthSpark, discuss the supply and demand of sex trafficking. It was fascinating! He spoke about it from an economical standpoint, as it is a $150 BILLION (annual!!) industry. He referred to the victims as “supply”, the pimps as “market facilitators” and the johns as “demanders”. [He assured us he was empathetic towards the plight of these people, which we all knew].
The average age for entry into sex slavery is 12 years old. Yes, I typed that correctly. TWELVE. A lot these kids have sexual abuse histories, which probably isn’t surprising. Many of them have shitty home lives, filled with poverty, violence and absolutely no support. Some are runaways, some homeless, some still live at home! the life expectancy once you enter “the life” is 7 years. If you enter at 12 and see your 20th birthday, you are the exception.
Obviously most demanders are men. Not all of them are pedophiles, and not all of them know they are buying service from a child. In Atlanta, the demand for sex services from females under 23 is 50% and 10-20% under 18. 15% of men in the U.S. exploit children for sex. 56% of demanders are married and 24% have children.
He shared that research shows that arresting a man for buying sex results in 70% recidivism reduction. That shaming piece is apparently a big deal, especially since many men are prominent figures in their community. I’m talking lawyers, teachers, doctors, clergymen, coaches, political figures.
He also mentioned that child labor in cocoa harvesting is a major issue. God. How many of us love chocolate? A good 95% of the world, at least. I had no idea. Now I want to hold these chocolate companies accountable and plan to look for chocolate suppliers that have appropriate labor policies. It will mean spending more for chocolate, but so be it. We need to demand more transparency in supply chains!
Speaking of the money issue, do you know how much we perpetuate human slavery every day, as consumers? We want a shirt for $5, but that shirt had to be sewn by someone. I know there are tons of machines that make things for us, but that isn’t totally the case in clothing and textiles. Lots of that shit is handmade still. If we buy it for $5, and the company had to make a profit, how much do you think that employee got for their time and work? We’ve all heard stories about sweatshops and dirty labor practices. That shit happens in America, too, as does “domestic servitude.”
Dr. Brook Bello from More Too Life spoke. I can’t even begin to explain all the feels I felt. I had no ideas she was a survivor, and while her talk was not about her personal experiences, she threw in some tidbits throughout her presentation that took my breath away. She is truly a beacon of hope for survivors.
She talked about how survivors can get their innocence back when they realize they are not to blame and are not the guilty party. She also talked about how you can’t buy sex, because sex is consensual and passionate, and that sex via slavery is never that. She also said that there’s a misconception that we can help restore these people’s self-identities , but she said you can’t restore something that was never there to begin with. If you think about, the beginning of identity development happens in early adolescence. If the average entry age into the life is 12, then those kids aren’t forming a positive identity. In fact, they are being dehumanized, which leads to no identity formation. Big problem. She talked about how we can help victims survive and thrive by helping them form an identity through self-discovery.
She also mentioned that since men are a large part of the problem, they need to be a large part of the solution. Amen. We need to teach boys not to view females as sex objects. Dads, stop making oogly eyes at your son when the Hooters commercial comes on TV. Don’t teach him that it’s ok to think she looks like vagina on legs. Women are MORE than tits and ass, and these young boys, full of hormones, need the adult men in their lives to model this way of thinking. Don’t eat at those establishments. Don’t buy products that objectify women in their ads. Talk to your kids about their icons – movie stars, celebrities, music stars – and how they may not portray women in a good light. I immediately think of this ad and this picture of a musician. Media has completely skewed our ideals about sex, relationships and love!
We learned a lot of the federal, state and local initiatives to combat human trafficking, but as citizens of the United States, it is OUR job to use our voice to make OUR world a better place.