Why We All Need to Start a Conversation about Human Trafficking

Often we don’t have real conversations about human trafficking. There’s no simple way to bring up the topic around friends and family, and it’s certainly not easy to talk about. When it’s in the media — such as Bay Area police sex scandal that became public last May — the timely news give us reason to bring it up in our day-to-day lives. But a few days or weeks pass and we regress to our normal conversation.

“The only people having conversations about human trafficking is people at risk or the people providing services to victims,” said Sarai Smith-Mazariegos, co-founder of MISSSEY and CEO and founder of S.H.A.D.E. “In the community people don’t really understand what human trafficking is. The girl being sex trafficked doesn’t understand that she’s being trafficked. She knows that she’s a whore and hoe; that’s the language on the street. We need to have conversations in our communities, with business owners and in hospitals about what’s happening.”

The lack of conversation and awareness about human trafficking contributes to the issue at large. During our film screening and panel last week, we were inspired to see so many people ready to have open dialogue about human trafficking.

Sarai brought to light the racial issue associated with human trafficking:

“If you’re not in tune with the racial aspects, you can be blind to it. Society has been taught to not protect brown and black children. If it affects the Caucasian skin color, then we want to do something, and it’s all across the news and media. But if it affects black and brown, we ignore it. That person of black or brown skin color is treated as a prostitute, a criminal. She’s not considered a victim or child, nor even a person with human rights.”

Along with race, the panelists discussed the presence and role of a pimp. “Pimps-traffickers are smart unfortunately — they know how to manipulate and control their victim, to use everything against her or him. And the pimp doesn’t have to be physically present for the victim to do as she or he is told. Regardless of his presence, the victim has fear in the back of her mind that if she doesn’t obey her pimp, she’ll be beaten. In her mind, keeping herself safe means listening to her pimp-trafficker,” said Sarai.

“Exploitation and trafficking are one in the same,” said Sian Taylor Gowan, founder and filmmaker of Red Scarf Films and producer of Surviving International Boulevard. “The trafficker is just as bad as the buyer who’s raping the victim.”

Darian Eastman, director and youth employment specialist at Not for Sale, helps exploited youth get back on their feet and empower them to live normal lives and said being constant is key to helping survivors.

“You have to be consistent and present, even if they’re not listening to what you’re trying to teach them,” Darian said. “Hopefully they’ll come back to it one day. Some of the people I help don’t make it, but for me, I just need to see one of them feel empowered.”

An audience member who works in the nonprofit world asked how to help survivors who have been trafficked and still choose that line of work. Sarai responded that when she’s being exploited, she can become addicted to the sex. At that point in time, she is empowered because she’s in control and making the decisions.

“It’s important for her to learn what has influenced that choice and understand her or his victimization,” Sarai said. “Once she learns that and if she still chooses that line of work, then we can’t change her mind. We need to support that process. We need to provide a non-judgemental environment. Just questioning their choice can sometimes be judgemental. It’s about making sure they understand and continuing to support whatever path they choose, that is also being trauma informed and providing empowerment.”

We’re continuing the conversation about human trafficking and invite you to join in our efforts. If you’re interested in contributing a guest post about this issue or collaborating with us, please email goodness@goodsf.is.