Green Bay’s Dirty Little Secret
Sex trafficking is a global and community issue. It victimizes children and adults- these could be family members, friends, school or workmates, and it causes serious trauma in the lives of the victims. There has already been a proposed bill by Wisconsin senators to tackle this issue, yet there are many citizens of the Green Bay community who could benefit from more awareness of this issue. I want parents, students, local store clerks, teachers, healthcare providers, and law enforcement to be informed so the community will be able to support the rehabilitation of these victims.
My proposal begins with this story: I walked into a public restroom once and there were these pocket-sized cards that said “love is” on them, followed by a list of things love does and on the bottom, things love does not do, with a hotline for girls in trouble.
As a young woman, it caught my attention and I put it in my wallet, where I kept it for years. I never saw another card like that, but I still remember it today because it was an effective way to reach out to someone who may be looking for a way out. My solution is to have pocket sized cards, with a hotline number where someone can call for help and the local police, that are placed in public restrooms, in school restrooms and classrooms, in hotel rooms, hospitals and clinics, and at the checkout counters in stores. This way they are somewhat clandestine, yet easily accessible. By making these cards accessible in areas where sex trafficking victims frequent, victims can initiate seeking the help and support they need to better their circumstances, which allows them to take a more proactive involvement role in their recovery.
The cards I mentioned earlier were created by National Domestic Violence. What I appreciated is the fact that they were placed in a public restroom where even a woman being watched could grab one casually. Why I also want them at the checkout register is because, well how many of us grab or at least look at products as we checkout? Advertisers know this is effective. Stores like TJ Maxx receive a good percentage of their annual revenue from stockpiling their checkout aisles with goods. So why not add a small card that could save someone’s life to this list of items to grab as you check out? Teachers could have them on their desks as well, after all, what students don’t like poking around to see what trinkets are on their teacher’s desk?
I also believe hospital clinics could use this resource. Victims often seek medical attention for STI’s and physical abuse, but are often not recognized as sex trafficking victims, but are viewed as. domestic violence victims, victims of lifestyle choices, drug abusers, or in need of mental health assistance. It is certainly true that all these factors are likely additional crises that develop for victims, but the big picture is missed by most healthcare professionals. (Connell, Jennings, Barbieri & Gonzalez 2015). The victims having access to these cards, with lifesaving resources, is a simple solution, that wouldn’t cost much more than Vistaprint cards and permission from companies to display the cards. Just think of how we could get the word out all over the community by placing these cards at some of the most frequented areas by consumers and victims? Also, it would alert some, like healthcare professionals, to the opportunity to provide more appropriate assistance.
There are other approaches people can take to help victims as well.
The Green Bay school district for example, has had parent and child community meetings to keep up awareness. Local non-for-profit organizations also support awareness by various means. One such organization, Eye Heart World (https://eyeheartworld.org), based in De Pere, WI, sells handbags and some accessories which funds go to help support survivors transition back to independence. While I truly believe all these approaches have value and are necessary to help keep up awareness and support victims long-term, my main disagreement is the passive role it allows many victims to take.
The school district, for example, educates parents and students on signs to look for, which mostly creates awareness and opens an avenue for families to better protect themselves. Yet, once those avenues are revealed, it allows those who are truly trapped in the cycle of sex trafficking to better mask their “symptoms.” For example, if the school reveals that many sex trafficking victims are tired during the day, a victim now is aware that they should look and act livelier, or may be forced to.
When considering the approach of Eye Heart World, whom refreshingly aid survivors, an area of support which is often lacking, their approach allows the public at large to also become involved in supporting victims. Their aim is to create a movement of sorts, and through that movement, create positive change. My only issue with this approach, is that while movements can attract attention (who doesn’t remember everyone wearing Tom’s shoes?), once they die down, they may create a huge void where once an entity was able to sustain many, but then suddenly they are forced to deny aid to victims as their resources dramatically dwindle down.
In addition to that, the why of a movement can get lost in the crowd. It’s easy to recognize something is a popular trend, but much harder to remember what is the point of the trend. This puts the emphasis of a movement supported by consumer purchases on the consumer and slowly shifts it away from the victim, as the product gets the focus, the cause may fall to the background. Not to mention, the funds acquired through any movement may go to waste as they are offered to victims who may not have put forth continuous effort to receive the aid. There is less guarantee that the funds will be used in the manner intended.
On the other hand, one card, one victim, allows an individual to get more personalized aid. This not only is more sustainable in the long term, it helps better insure that these victims are ready to receive the support offered them.
This approach will also sit well with many who are wary of the current laws in place to combat human and sex trafficking, such as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 (Peters, 2013). Some feel that the problem of sex trafficking is largely exaggerated by those whose greater aim is to police people’s sexuality, as when there are prostitution raids and arrests (Weitzer, 2011).
This idea however, that law enforcement uses too many resources to arrest those involved in prostitution, comes from the misinformed opinion that most prostitutes voluntarily engage in sex trade. Research has shown that many adult prostitutes have been coerced from before they were legal adults and because of the cycle of emotional, physical, and drug abuse they have developed as children or teens, know of little resources to pursue as adults (Connell, Jennings, Barbieri & Gonzalez 2015). The number of adults trapped in sex trafficking in the form of prostitution in the United States is not known, mostly because research is geared towards children and immigrant populations exploited into this industry. Currently there are an estimated 250,000 children in the US who are vulnerable to sex trafficking (Connell, Jennings, Barbieri & Gonzalez 2015).
What many fail to realize is that when these children become adults, they will be subjected to arrests, jail time, and treated as criminals by law enforcement because they will now be viewed as voluntary participants. In reality, they are just children who were never rescued. The argument then, that law enforcement should let prostitutes do as they please, displays ignorance of the reality that prostitutes and sex trafficked individuals are usually one and the same. They are not consenting adults.
Furthermore, this same line of reasoning has led others to advocate for the legalization of prostitution. While this of course would stop arrests, would this necessarily allow more freedom of choice to prostitutes? I considered the case in Australia, where sex trade is legal. Like sex workers in the US, Australian sex workers have higher rates of STIs, suffer physical abuse, and are victims of emotional trauma (Pyett & Warr 2013). They also deal with substance abuses, mental and emotional disorders, paranoia, as well as limited education and adult coping mechanism skills. (Pyett & Warr 2013). Thus, while it may be legal in Australia, many involved in sex trafficking still find themselves trapped, with limited awareness of resources to get out of the sex industry. This is largely because, as previously mentioned, these sex workers began as minors, with no choice. The fact that they are still trapped in the industry as adults simply means that their pimps or other perpetrators can no longer be prosecuted for their detainment (Connell, Jennings, Barbieri & Gonzalez 2015). There is no evidence to suggest then, that legalizing prostitution in the US would help victims of sex trafficking.
Others believe that sex trafficking laws get special attention not only to enforce morality, (Peters, 2013) but that the means of doing so through arrests of solicitors of prostitutes or police raids, glamourizes sex trafficking for the perpetrators and is not an appropriate approach for victims (Musto, 2013). I agree that, after being beaten and subjected to other abuses, that being hand-cuffed and arrested would do little to assure me that law enforcement is an ally. Law enforcement, however, is often the first line of contact for sex trafficking victims. (Connell, Jennings, Barbieri & Gonzalez 2015). Arrests and raids also may allow the perpetrators to be captured. While the prostitutes being viewed as giving full consent to their activities is not a helpful attitude, with the retraining of law enforcement, they can be a great resource in helping victims. (Connell, Jennings, Barbieri & Gonzalez 2015). If, for example, officers were trained to view all prostitutes found in raids as victims and ask if they need help, instead of arresting and hand cuffing, they could easily become essential allies in ending sex trafficking. Also, if they had on hand resources, like the proposed card mentioned earlier, or brought victims to social services rather than a jail cell, they would help connect them to vital resources. Arrests and raids then could focus on those who have trapped and coerced these victims.
Creating awareness of sex trafficking in the Green Bay area an important first step to community involvement which will help bring an end to this crime. Yet, awareness alone isn’t enough to unmask the scope of the issue or rescue victims. Many vital resources such as healthcare care professionals, misread the signs identifying sex trafficking victims and opportunities to rescue victims are too often missed. Law enforcement, who frequently are the first line of contact with victims, fail to identify them as such, being trained to view them as willful participants. While retraining law enforcement and healthcare professionals in identifying individual victims is an important step, providing resources to help traumatized victims identify themselves could be lifesaving. One card, one girl, one boy, one soul at a time- it just may silence the objections, cut through the trend seekers, and shine a lasting light on these individuals in crisis.
Peters, A. (2013). “Things that Involve Sex are Just Different”: US Anti-Trafficking Law and Policy on the Books, in Their Minds, and in Action. Anthropological Quarterly
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Musto, J. (2013). Domestic minor sex trafficking and the detention-to-protection pipeline. Dialectical Anthropology, 37(2), 257–276.
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Connell, N. M., Jennings, W. G., Barbieri, N., & Reingle Gonzalez, J. M. (2015). Arrest as a way out: Understanding the needs of women sex trafficking victims identified by law enforcement. Journal of Crime and Justice, 38(3), 351–360. doi:10.1080/0735648X.2015.1007614
Pyett, P., and D. Warr. 2013. “Women at Risk in Sex Work: Strategies for Survival.” In Girls, Women, and Crime: Selected Readings, edited by M. Chesney-Lind and L. Pasko. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.