Sex Trafficking: Black Girls and Women and 21st Century Slavery
Human sex trafficking is a multifaceted human rights and public health problem that represents a “borderless” and global epidemic, and according to the International Labor Organization it is a lucrative industry which rakes in $150 billion globally; while the US Department of Homeland Security states that it nets $32 billion nationally. It is the second largest global criminal enterprise. Consider a 2007 study, conducted in the city of Atlanta Georgia that found that the underground sex trafficking economy was two-times larger than the Atlanta Falcons payroll.
While the problem is well understood in terms of an international epidemic, domestic sex trafficking goes ignored, and the victims remain invisible; and the disproportionate majority of those who are abused and exploited by domestic sex trafficking are Black girls and women. Now, when you look at most of the social marketing images and infographics, you wouldn’t know that, due to the complete erasure of Black women/girls. And this harkens back to the stereotypical belief that they cannot be “victims”, are never seen as being possible damsel in distress, and using their faces in these Awareness ads would simply not elicit the same degree of compassion and concern.
See below for examples of this:
This lack of concern is now being reflected on social media, where primarily Black women are reporting on an epidemic of missing Black girls, because their disappearance has failed to garner coverage from the National news media. And these missing girls are rightfully believed to be victims of trafficking — caught up in what is referred to as Guerrilla Recruitment – which is literally a snatch & grab technique, where the trafficker doesn’t bother with the more complex forms of recruitment: coercion, personal threats to victim and/or family, manipulation and pretending to be a boyfriend. It is a truly a more aggressive act, which speaks to the unfortunate increase demand for this commodity.
Yes— sex trafficking is a form of modern day slavery. Far too many Black women and girls remain in bondage, under the control of another, and their bodies are still not their own. They are not free to say who has access to it, and who doesn’t. Much like their enslaved foremothers in the antebellum South.
So, what is different?
The fact that the vast majority of those who are trafficking Black women and girls in the United States are their male counterparts. Black men are the “Masters”, traffickers, and exploiters — along with others who have learned that it is easy to prey upon this ignored and vulnerable population. It is what led convicted Oklahoma Officer, Daniel Holtzclaw to prey on Black women. He truly believed that no one would care about them, let alone believe them.
Many years ago, Malcolm X said it best in a speech that he gave on May 22, 1962:
The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.
The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman.
The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.
Black women and girls have been Sex trafficked for centuries, it is only the faces and techniques of the traffickers that have changed; and sex trafficking is just the apex of a topic that I have lectured on – the Global Exploitation of the Black female body. I can recall an older co worker, my mother’s contemporary, in her 50s, recalled a story about going out for a night of dancing in Los Angeles “back in the day” — and having to run for it, after security escorted her and her friends out of a back door, because a man that she had the audacity to decline to dance with, had returned to the club upset and with a gun.
Then there is the recent and heartbreaking story of Mary Spears a mother of three in Detroit, who was murdered after turning down yet another man — also Black. Saying NO, and refusing to give a stranger her phone number, resulted in her death.Even when not being sex trafficked, Black women’s bodies are still being treated like community property, and not something that they have individual rights to. Their bodies are not their own. They cannot decline a dance, a phone number, or choose not to smile, without the threat of violence — even when it is just a verbal assault.
When a Black woman says NO, she is a bitch – who may be harmed.
When a Black woman gives in and gives it up — she is called a ho.
When a Black woman/girl is trafficked — she is called a whore and more.
While the johns and traffickers, the exploiters, are often glorified. The entire blaxploitation genre was built on the backs of “trafficked Black women”. Player’s balls were seen as cool, and Snoop Dog arrived on red carpets with women in chains and on leashes, unaccompanied by Pimp Magic Don Juan.
This problem is not new, it has just been ignored for far too long. So, let’s stop the shock and awe bullshit. For many, many decades now the people who have primarily preyed on Black women and girls, have been their male counterparts. Black women/girls are not the one’s who have made their neighborhoods unsafe, and while there are Black women traffickers, they do not account for the vast majority — including those behind these cases of missing girls.
What to do?
Realize that talking about this issue is not going to be enough. Talking didn’t set enslaved Black women and girls free in 1865, and it won’t do it in 2017 and beyond. ACTION is going to be required. And that is going to have to come with dealing with the uncomfortable Truth that this isn’t a problem that others are carrying out against the Black community — there is no blaming “Blue Eye” Devils here, and talking about despicable rapes that occurred in 1807, 1817, or 1857. No, Black women and girls are being raped day-after-day, nigh-after-night (servicing up to 20 men a day..at times), and it is again being orchestrated by their male counterparts.
Understanding this, is important for taking action, because many are breaking bread, sitting in barbershops, and shooting ball with these slave masters. They are accepted, while their victims are shunned and stigmatized. That needs to be reversed, and we need to begin advocating for harsher penalties for traffickers and johns alike. No more taps on the wrist — after they have ruined and permanently impacted lives. Should we really be treating the enslavement of another as nothing more than a simple misdemeanor? No, increase those sentences, and decrease the likelihood that they would take the risk of trafficking in human beings. START making those demands. Speak to your legislators. Let the District Attorneys know how you feel.
Still, laws take some time to change, and in the meantime we have to be our Sistas Keepers. When it comes to Black girls we need to be vigilant and have a certain degree of hyperawareness when it comes to their safety. If you see something, that doesn’t look or feel right, ACT, report it, because you may be helping to free someone from bondage; and talk to your daughters, sisters, nieces, cousins, godchildren, neighbors — and realize that the average age of domestic trafficking begins between 12-14 years. You may think that they are not ready to hear it, but there is a sick twisted Trafficker sitting down some where, bumping R.Kelly, singing along to the pedophilia-laced chorus “Seems like you’re ready”.
And realize that Guerrilla recruitment is something not to be taken lightly, especially now that it seems like incidences are increasing. Black women and girls need to be more smart about where they go, who they are going with, and how they are getting there. If you are out for a jog, take those headphones out of your both ears and listen for footsteps, look at shadows, monitor cars near you and the speed that they are going. I was a latch key kid, and have actually been doing this since childhood. And Black women need to realize that you can be 30, 40 years of age, and still find yourself snatched, especially since Black women tend to look younger, and traffickers are not stopping to ask for ID; nor are they going to just let you go, because they misjudged your age. If they couldn’t tell the difference, need can a potential client.
Choose A Side..
When it comes to the epidemic of human sex trafficking and its victimization of Black women and girls, you will have to decide whether you are going to be an abolitionist or silent co-conspirator of the traffickers. But, keep in mind that you or your loved one can also fall victim at anytime. Pick up a copy of the book Anybody’s Daughter by NAACP award winning Author-Attorney, Pamela Samuels Young for a more detailed explanation about that.
Get involved. Volunteer your time or donate in kind or monetary gifts to organizations on-the-ground, such as Journey Out, a non-profit in Los Angeles, that provides direct intervention services for victims of trafficking, as well as prevention and community education and awareness services.
Article by Cherise Charleswell, MPH, Independent Outreach Manager to various anti-sex trafficking agencies.
Don’t forget to see if any agencies in your area offer support for sex trafficking victims.