–Article originally posted on MeetJustice.org May 11, 2011.–
After his case became widely publicized by the media, ex-football great Lawrence Taylor made some troubling remarks in an attempt to excuse his participation in the commercial sexual exploitation of a sixteen-year-old girl last March. (Scroll to the end of the blog to find the links to the interview.) He’s not the only one with serious misconceptions about sex trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). Read on for a handful of the myths surrounding sex trafficking.
Myth #6: The sex industry is a profitable source of income for financially destitute underage girls and boys.
This justification is prevalent among “child sex tourists”, wealthy individuals who can afford to fly to countries like Mexico, Thailand, and Cambodia to pay as little as eight dollars to have sex with young girls and boys. However, this justification is severely flawed. Victims face a number of mental and physical problems: “sleeping and eating disorders, Sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, pelvic pain, rectal trauma and urinary difficulties from working in the sex industry” as well as chronic and acute anxiety, depression, shame, isolation and social alienation, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other psychological disorders. (U.S Department of Health Services) The reality is that most victims of trafficking don’t see any part of the money that the johns pay for the transaction: it goes to the trafficker.
According to the twenty-eight pimps interviewed by the DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center, 52% of pimps don’t allow their “stable” of victims to keep any money at all. Others give 40-50% of the money back. According to Polaris Project, “part of the strategy for control over [the victim’s] activities is for pimps and madams to keep them economically dependent upon the system of prostitution itself. Anyprofit is often spent as rapidly as it is obtained, reinforcing the efforts that go into prostitution.”
Myth #7: The sex industry provides a glamorous, lucrative lifestyle.
Numerous case studies provided by the Atlanta Mayor’s report Hidden in Plain View explain the damaging consequences of sexual exploitation. Victims are denied an education, raped, beaten, manipulated, and systematically drugged with alcohol and hard drugs to make them more receptive to sexual advances. They describe feeling isolated at school and ashamed of themselves.
One “high-end” call girl in New York who arranged meetings with wealthy clients provides a testimony that pierces straight through the thin veil of the sex trade as a “fun” way to live:
“…whether you turn tricks in a car by the Holland Tunnel or in the Plaza Hotel, you still have to take your clothes off, get on your knees or lie on your back, and let this stranger use you in any way he pleases. Then you have to get up, get dressed, and do it again with the next trick, and the next. In the movies, call girls make lots of money which they invest in legitimate businesses when they retire from the life. It’s taken me close to twenty years to undo the damage that was done to me in prostitution. Not only did I leave prostitution impoverished, I was totally isolated from mainstream society. The only people I’d had contact with for almost a decade were pimps, tricks, and other prostitutes. I was deprived of a basic education. I had no job skills. My health was severely compromised. I required surgery and repeated medical treatment for reproductive damage and remain infertile. In addition to these tangible issues, I’ve coped with the trauma resulting from years of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse that is common in the lives of prostitutes. Like battered women who escape abusive partners, women escaping prostitution must totally rebuild their lives.”
Myth #8: Trafficking is a third world issue, and victims are from specific socioeconomic groups.
While those living in poor conditions are certainly at a greater risk for exploitation due to their financial vulnerability, anecdotal case studies describe a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds in victims, proving that no social class is immune to trafficking. “Karen”, for instance, told of growing up in an upper-middle class family that owned their own home and sent each of their children to private Parochial school. Break the Chains reports their recovering clients as having everything from a 2nd grade education to a college degree.
It’s difficult to know just how many adults are trafficked throughout the nation due to the existence of the prostitution industry and a lack of information about which women are trafficked against their will and those who go voluntarily. However, children are trafficked back and forth between state lines regularly. One pimp explains the need to keep moving to avoid the girls being spotted as “regulars” by law enforcement.
Myth # 9: Sex trafficking is a women’s issue.
While males make up 42% of human trafficking/forced labor victims overall, the extent to which males are sexually exploited is unknown. The International Organization for Migration reports that “research conducted… in 20 Honduran cities found that, from a sample of 1,019 minors victims of sexual exploitation, 42 of them (4 per cent) were male. Amongst the victims that have been screened by Casa Alianza there are also a significant number of persons who either identify themselves as gay or transsexual.” Male survivors of trafficking must endure the same consequences of their victimization as female ones, and they also must learn to come to terms with their sexuality and masculinity and also face a troubling lack of restorative resources.
Recently, male victims of a sex trafficking operation in Atlanta spoke out against their assailant. The full story can be found here: http://bit.ly/hTRAi7
Finally, sex trafficking can be damaging to males who are ideologically influenced by myths like Myth #4. Not only does sex trafficking promote misogynistic attitudes, it also perpetuates the harmful gender stereotypes that men must face: that a man’s not a man until he has sex with multiple women; that real men make enough cash to afford whatever they want, whenever they want it, have no ability to control their appetites, and don’t have to worry about the feelings of those in lesser social classes (for instance, as Taylor admits in Myth #4).
Commercial Sexual Exploitation is among the darkest, cruelest industries in the world, and it’s also among the most misunderstood. Movies gloss it over, and music glorifies it. Read the comments below any article featuring the Lawrence Taylor story and you’ll surely find a reflection of the poorly shaped ideas of sexual exploitation that people often entertain. Some journalists have even joined in the callous fun, referring to the victim as a “teenage hooker” or “teen prostitute”. A sampling of some of these comments:
It’s funny that all of sudden this prostitute would decide to call her uncle so she can “stop living like this.” I’m sorry, but I don’t feel sorry for this girl. Sounds to me like she figured she could cry rape cuz LT has lots of money. Next, there will be a civil suit. I don’t support LT for doing what he did either since he’s married and all, but I really think he thought the “H– was 19.
I feel the sentence is acceptable. Remember, the girl was a prostitute. It’s not like he attacked a virgin or something.
This is ridiculous. Now this little —–, who prostituted herself to begin with will not have to sell herself anymore cause shes gonna get millions. What a joke. He def got the raw deal on this one.
The misconceptions expressed here (and elsewhere) exemplify the ideological untruths about who does and does not deserve justice and how underage sex trafficking works. The truth is, these misconceptions about sex trafficking only help to perpetuate the crime, not solve it.