Do you support sex trafficking? Chances are, you don’t; at least you don’t think you do. It’s common for people to feel sympathetic towards young girls who move to America and are forced into a life of prostitution and violence. When it comes to American teens in the same situation, condemnation usually outweighs any amount of sympathy one might give.
Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times discusses why trafficked American girls are viewed as criminals rather than underage victims. He argues that many of these girls are runaways and very often captive victims of their controlling pimps and circumstances even if they don’t happen to be locked in cages like their foreign counterparts. According to Kristof, trafficking in America and Cambodia is much more similar than it is different, never mind if we the public think that young teens are ‘free’ to come and go as they please. So often they are not…
nytimes: The problem is that these girls aren’t locked in cages. Rather, they’re often runaways out on the street wearing short skirts or busting out of low-cut tops, and many Americans perceive them not as trafficking victims but as miscreants who have chosen their way of life. So even when they’re 14 years old, we often arrest and prosecute them — even as the trafficker goes free.
In theory, American girls, may not be directly pushed into sexual trafficking, but that doesn’t necessarily stop them from so often fall into it and seeing it as their only route of escape. They may suffer from sexual abuse at home or physical violence from an alcoholic parent or boyfriend. Just because they live in the land of the free, doesn’t mean they are immune to struggle and the occasional beating or sexual molestation that drives many of them onto the streets.
Mentioned in Kristof’s article is British author Rachel Lloyd’s new book Girls Like Us. Dropping out of school as a young teen, Lloyd wound up working as a stripper and prostitute with misdirected romantic feelings toward her physically abusive pimp. Lloyd finally escaped her pimp, moved to the United States and started Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) where she now counsels trafficked girls.
In her book, Lloyd struggles to answer the commonly asked question of why she didn’t escape from her pimp sooner. Accrediting it to a lack of self-esteem, lack of alternatives, a deep fear of the pimp, and a misplaced love for him. These reasons are common among women in the same situation as Lloyd. It may be hard for a confident American middle-class teen of the same age to understand this reasoning because it is a completely opposing reality.The inability to identify with female prostitutes usually translates into condemnation rather than sympathy.